My journey in the martial arts began like so many others, watching Kung Fu films and Bruce Lee. When I was young, I actually saved money I’d earned from doing yard work to buy a Bruce Lee medallion. It was one of my crowning achievements for my young life. In High School the very first UFC came out and I was enamored with all the different martial arts represented there, and I was especially taken with this Jiu Jitsu that I saw Royce Gracie doing. I was a wrestler at the time, so it was especially cool to watch this guy do what I did but somehow submitting people instead of pinning them. From that point I was sold on the art, but I was unable to find a teacher. So, I waited many years until I found a place to begin. Once I started, I didn’t stop, except for work or injuries and have enjoyed the journey so much. I have met so many good and interesting people along the way, from many different countries and walks of life, but all bound together in this single pursuit, growth in the art. We are all chasing maturity in the way of Jiu Jitsu.
It did not take me long to understand the parallels between my spiritual journey and my Jiu Jitsu journey. The premise of Jiu Jitsu is more like a chess match than a fight, when the people engaged are of similar skill levels. Each player is searching for a weakness or a hole in the other's defense to exploit for the win, and often this takes quite a bit of time and intense physical output. As you move up in experience you find that skilled players will begin laying traps for you. They will pretend to open a hole for you, all the while ready to exploit your anticpated reaction. It’s very clever and devious, and easy to miss because the trap is not obvious many times. This reminds me of Scripture where the Apostle Paul tells his protégé Timothy to watch out for the craftiness of the Devil. He says in 2 Timothy 2:26, that the devil uses snares to trap people to do his will, which is the opposite of seeking life.
The enemy sets up snares and traps all around. Sometimes they are so obvious yet sometimes, they look like good things. In fact, they are good things. I have been trapped more than once in doing good works but neglecting those around me that I am called to minister to, namely my family and friends. I get trapped by my own desire to please God, because the enemy knows that it also makes me feel good about myself, so it’s not really and truly for God but for me. Just like Jiu Jitsu, I see the arm slipping out of place and think I can go for that armbar, just to find out that it was a set up for me to break my grip and get my guard passed. You may not understand that reference but trust me, it’s not a good thing. I went from relative safety to dire straits in about ½ a second.
I have learned in Jiu Jitsu that in order to survive, I have to keep a clear mind, and breathe. It's easy to get desperate and panic, which only places me in a worse position because I get worn down so quickly. No, in order to survive you have to learn to relax when you can, breathe when you can, and keep your mind clear and sharp.
You learn a form of patience because you know the attacks are going to come, but you also know that you can rely on the truth that you have learned to protect you from those attacks. There is no attack in Jiu Jitsu that does not have a corresponding counter, which makes it even more like chess in my opinion. The Scripture also tells me that there is no weapon formed against me that will prosper (Isaiah 54.17). Even more, the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans that because of Jesus, “we are more than conquerors.” In essence, Jesus has won the day already and the game has a predetermined outcome.
Maybe in Jiu Jitsu there is no predetermined outcome, but if you stick to the truth of the basics in what you know, and have practiced that truth regularly, you stand a great chance of making it through the attacks and coming out on the other side, safely. Which reminds me even more of Scripture because we are told that if we hide the Word of God in our hearts, we will keep ourselves clean before the Lord (Psalm 119.11). Jiu Jitsu and spiritual life are so similar here.
We practice the basic movements in Jiu Jitsu over and over again until they become muscle memory. So that when something happens we are just able to respond because it is there, just under the surface ready to go. The Word of God is exactly the same. It resides in our hearts and informs our actions, and no matter what comes our way, we are so washed in the truth of God’s Word that we respond just as Jesus responded, who incidentally, was the Word of God made manifest for us.
What incredible lessons I have learned throughout this journey, and likely will continue to learn as I move forward in maturity, year after year. Yes, I am speaking of Jiu Jitsu and my spiritual life, as I see them mirroring each other daily. I thank God for giving me this living example of his truths - what an honor and a blessing.