Lessons from Writing that Apply to Jiu Jitsu (Or Any Martial Arts Practice)


Advice, Martial Arts / Saturday, March 17th, 2018

You will never get any more out of life than you expect. — Bruce Lee

Earlier this year I embarked on a journey of writing more often and with more authenticity. It hasn’t been an easy journey so far, but it picks up where I left off several years ago in college, when I used to blog about every three days. Somewhere along the line of working insane hours and not trusting myself to say important things, I stopped writing for both myself and an audience that cared. In re-reading some of my old entries I’m struck by how I wrote even if I didn’t have anyone listening, even if I didn’t know the solution to all of my problems and my anxiety.

Journaling is therapeutic in many ways, and so is jiu jitsu. For those who want to, journaling has been shown to allow us to “ease stress and anxiety, depression and despair.” I journal because it lets me talk to the page, without interruptions, and without fear of being judged. The fear of being judged has always been a big fear of mine; one that thrives because I am a perfectionist who has been trained to appear only in her place, and to fit in at all costs. I’m starting to learn more and more that this type of thinking can be destructive; it is a belief system that may no longer serve me well as I continue to grow older and face more adversity. This is the first time I’ve actually felt a little wiser as I’ve gotten a little older.

I’ve done martial arts now for a decade — a fact that comes as a surprise to some given the fact I like to wear ballet tights and dresses to work and that I have a disarming smile. But make no mistake, my training means I can take a beating but also hand some out too. For the majority of my life I’ve focused on how martial arts could apply to “real life” — helping with grit, focus, and awareness — but lately I’ve been realizing that the lines between what happens in training and what happens in real life can go the other way. I have been training in martial arts, but I’ve been telling stories much longer than that.

There are so many ways to tell stories and to write, just like there are so many ways to practice martial arts. The forms are limitless and if I’m not careful I can get too intimidated or overwhelmed. Part of my daily writing practice has been to realize that perfection is something that doesn’t serve me well. Instead, it’s best sometimes to let the ideas flow in the moment, and then edit later if I want to. It’s better to try to perform in the moment when I’m presented with a situation, or have a lot of thoughts jumbled in my head, than to sit there trying to figure out the best strategy. There are times when I’m writing that I feel completely uninhibited by the doubts and anxiety that have plagued me my whole life. In these moments, I feel profoundly powerful.

If someone starting out were to come to me for advice, I would say that sometimes jumping in with the den of lions is the best way to go. As a person who has suffered trauma and other types of pain, it can be hard to do something like this. Part of me doesn’t want to come across as suggesting that people should be triggered or purposely put themselves in a situation where they aren’t prepared. But like when I get the urge to write, the urge to go out there and fight my heart out, even if I don’t think I know enough than my opponent, is something that can be empowering in of itself. It’s the sheer refusal to give into the avoidance behavior and the easiest way out.

If you’re reading this and you think it is a bad idea, then you’re not ready, and I love that. I love the fact that we can be ready in our own times, in our own ways, to fight the demons inside of us. When we write we can choose to lay our souls bare, or we can choose to limit ourselves to certain topics. Martial arts is the same way too. On some days, risks are not necessary; it is actually better to stick to what you know. In other times, like moments of danger, it might be the time to strike back when the opportunity presents itself. It’s never a matter of what is right or wrong; it’s a matter of what you feel.

I am a lawyer by day though that title feels less and less relevant to me these days as I write more and read more about the world around me. I read articles that catch my eye and note what is interesting about them. Being an analytical person, I used to try to force the analysis by breaking things down into their component parts, but it’s not always that simple.

A piece of writing, just a beautiful kata or a well-executed series of jiu jitsu transitions-to-finish, must be viewed as a whole in the end to be truly understood.

And it also has to be personally experienced. That is why I feel like the best practice for writing is to do it more; the best practice for martial arts is to try as many new things as possible. This is hardly novel advice, but one that bears repeating as the lesson is lost from time to time

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