On The Shoulders of Giants

“I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.”

-John Adams, 1780

As a parent, I’ve come to a greater appreciation for the sentiment in John Adams’ letter to his wife.  We do what we must to provide a good life for our children, and we try to give them more than we had, just as our parents did for us, our grandparents did for them, and so on back through the ages. With a little historical perspective we see that humans have been highly successful. Historical perspective also helps us not lose sight of the traits that led to that success.

Since the 18th century, life has gotten better. The global life expectancy has more than doubled – from around 30 years to nearly 70. Literacy rates exploded from under 20% to almost 100%! A little closer to home, consider the early pioneers of this country. Our trials and tribulations pale in comparison to the hardships they faced as a matter of course. Imagine what the Donner Party would think of Interstate 80 today; 30,000+ vehicles cross over the Sierra-Nevadas without incident almost every single day. Through scientific understanding, technological advancement, democratic institutions, and free-market economics we have transformed our world into a much more hospitable one.

Surely we have achieved what John Adams aspired to. Current generations now have the luxury to study “Painting, Poetry, and Musick.” We also have immediate access 24/7 to safe drinking water, flush toilets, medicine, and just about every food imaginable. Indeed, most of us are so far removed from any real struggle, that it’s easy to take what we have for granted.

The conveniences of our modern life allow us to become soft and weak. This is why training in a martial art like Brazilian Jiujitsu is so important. BJJ is the perfect activity for helping develop and nurture strength and resilience of mind, body, and spirit. On the mat we learn to push our limits, to remain calm under pressure, and to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. We learn to accept defeat as an opportunity for growth, and to be gracious in victory. BJJ conditions us to be hard and strong.

“We [the Moderns] are like dwarves perched on the shoulders of giants [the Ancients], and thus we are able to see more and farther than the latter. And this is not at all because of the acuteness of our sight or the stature of our body, but because we are carried aloft and elevated by the magnitude of the giants.”

attributed to Bernard of Chartres by John of Salisbury

As we enjoy the benefits of the world past generations helped create, it’s important that we do not lose sight of their accomplishments, and the hardships endured to get to where we are. We must be diligent in passing onto our children an appreciation of what it means to live in this era, to have gratitude for all that they have, and to value the traits that enabled our ancestors to get us here. That past should stand as testament to the strength and resilience that lies within each of us. Indeed, our children have the right to study the arts, but not at the expense of mathematics, science, or philosophy. They must also study history, politics, and war, in order to continue the tradition of passing on a better world to the next generation.

See you on the mat.

You Are Not Just a Rock

“Like a rock, I was strong as I could be,
like a rock, nothing ever got to me,
like a rock, I was something to see.
Like a rock.
Like a rock, standing arrow straight,
like a rock, charging from the gate,
like a rock, carrying the weight.
Like a rock.”

-Bob Seger (1986)

We admire rock. We use it as simile and metaphor throughout literature, from the old testament, “Ascribe ye greatness unto our God. He is the Rock, his work is perfect,” (Deut 32:3-4), to a cheesy ad in a fitness magazine for “rock-hard abs,” to Bob Segers’ pop hit, “Like a Rock.” Rock symbolizes strength, steadfastness, and honor. To be like a rock is to be reliable, consistent, and resolute in conviction.

Of course, there is a downside to being a rock. Nobody aspires to be as “dumb as a box of rocks.” Rocks are inflexible and extremely slow to change or adapt. Such rigidity is the antithesis of one of our most powerful human traits – our amazing capacity for growth.

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”

-Winston Churchill

Nowhere is the capacity to grow more apparent than in the world of sports. World-class athletes, regardless their area of expertise, are shining examples of this. It is a common misconception that world-class athletes are simply gifted – the fortunate recipients of gifts endowed upon them by fate, or more scientifically speaking, good genes. Such “gifts” can only take one so far, however. In the final analysis, the commonality among world-champions is not having won the genetic lottery, but having the ability to improve.

Basketball’s Michael Jordan is a perfect example. Considered by many to be the NBA’S GOAT, anybody old enough to remember knows of his accomplishments on the court. What many are not aware of, is all the work he put in off the court. As a sophomore in high school he was initially deemed too short to play varsity. Rather than quit, he used that to motivate himself. “Whenever I was working out and got tired and figured I ought to stop, I’d close my eyes and see that list in the locker room without my name on it,” Jordan would explain. “That usually got me going again.” (Newsweek 2015) Regarding Jordan’s work ethic, Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson wrote,

The thing about Michael is, he takes nothing about his game for granted. When he first came to the NBA back in 1984, he was primarily a penetrator. His outside shooting wasn’t up to pro standards. So he put in his gym time during the off-season, shooting hundreds of shots each day. Eventually, he became a deadly three-point shooter.

Playing outstanding defense didn’t come automatically to him, either. He had to study his opponents, learn their favorite moves and then dedicate himself to learning the techniques necessary to stop them. He’s worked extremely hard to perfect his footwork and his balance.

Nowadays, so many kids come into the league with arrogant attitudes, thinking that their talent is all they need to succeed. By contrast, there’s a certain humility in Michael’s willingness to take on the difficult work of making himself a more complete player. For me, one of the signs of Michael’s greatness is that he turned his weaknesses into strengths.”

Through proper training, we can become faster, stronger, and more agile; we can continually develop an ever increasing level of skill, and become more in-tune to the nuances of the game, whether it’s basketball, Brazilian jiujitsu, or life.

This capacity for growth isn’t restricted just to our physical selves. It’s important to remember that we have just as much ability to improve ourselves mentally and emotionally. We need to nurture what Stanford University psychologist Carol S. Dweck calls a growth mindset, and reject the fixed mindset – the belief that ability is static(Dweck, 2016)

With a growth mindset we acknowledge our potential. We don’t fear challenges, but see them for the opportunity they represent. Through the proper effort, we can deal with what life throws at us, and continually grow in the process. We can build our bodies and our minds. In this manner, we are not so much like a rock, but more similar to a plant. We continually grow stronger, adapting to the conditions of the world around us.

See you on the mat.

Dweck, C. (2016). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York, NY: Ballantine Books

Jackson, Phil (June/July 1998) Michael and Me. Retrieved from http://www.nba.com/jordan/is_philonmj.html

Attitude of Gratitude

November is here and we find ourselves gearing up for the upcoming holiday season. Thanksgiving is only a week away, and the kids are already getting a bit giddy with excitement. In the spirit of the season, we’re focusing on having what Zig Ziglar termed an “attitude of gratitude.” We’re considering the full extent of our good fortune, living as we do here in the burbs of NorCal in the 21st Century

We humans are problem-solvers. This is advantageous for obvious reasons, and the evidence of our success is all around us. World-wide, child mortality rates continue to drop, while we are also living longer, healthier lives. Over the last century, the number of people living in extreme poverty has halved, and now the majority of the world lives in the middle class. (Rosling, 2018) While we’re surrounded by the fruits of our labors, we still see the many problems that need to be fixed, and the tendency to focus on them often leads us to believe things are worse than they are. Thus, it’s healthy to remind ourselves from time to time of all that we have to be thankful for.

On a personal note, we are thankful for the opportunity to participate in this Brazilian Jiujitsu experience. We are grateful to be living in a time and place where it’s possible for a person to provide for his family by sharing his passion for the sport of Jiujitsu. We are grateful for the wonderful families who have become a part of our extended BJJ family, and for the amazing friendships we’ve developed along the way. We are thankful for all of our training partners who help push us on the mat, fine-tuning our BJJ game, and becoming better versions of ourselves. We appreciate each and every one of you who chooses to join us on this adventure, and we will continue to do everything we can to give back to the community in kind.

Obrigado. Thank you for becoming a part of our family, and for your continued support.

See you on the mat.

Rosling, H. (2018). Factufulness: Ten reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things are better Than You ThinkNew York, NY: Flatiron Books.