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.

Hammers and Nails

“Sometimes you’re the hammer, and sometimes you’re the nail.”

Everybody who trains in Brazilian Jiujitsu gets it. There are those days when everything “clicks.” Our defense seems impenetrable, and our offense unstoppable.¬†We are the hammer. Then there are those days when nothing seems to work. Our opponents pass our guard like the proverbial hot knife through butter, and we spend the day on the run, while fine-tuning our arsenal of various tap-outs. We are the nail.

This is the nature of Jiu Jitsu: we are continually pushing our limits, as we work to build a better, stronger self. In order to improve, we need to fine-tune our strengths and improve our weaknesses; we need strong partners to train with and put those skills to the test. Just as one needs both a hammer AND nails to build a house, we need to experience the full spectrum of training in order to build ourselves.

We learn to rejoice in our victories with a bit of gratitude and humility, while we accept our defeats with an appreciation for the learning opportunity it provides. In this regard, BJJ is analogous to our daily lives, in which we will experience both success and failure. We should enjoy the rewards of our successes, while being grateful for the people and circumstances that helped us get there. On the flip side, it’s important to remember that we can survive those times when things don’t go as planned; even when it seems our life is in a shambles, we can not only survive, but come out stronger. Often these lessons are the most empowering of all.

Whether you’re the hammer or the nail, embrace the grind. We’ll all be that much better because of it.

See you on the mat.