Sticks and Stones

While teaching English in Daejeon, South Korea, I found myself out late one particular night with a number of students. We were sitting around a Pojangmacha (포장마차), enjoying whatever various Anju (안주) were being served, along with some cheap Soju (소주) and good conversation, when this rather intoxicated fellow sat down next to me, and started intensely telling me what it was he had to say. My Korean skills at that point consisted of asking directions, and ordering food, so his diatribe was all but lost on me. His tone and body language clued me into his intent, but it wasn’t until his friend had taken him away that the students would tell me what he’d been saying. He was trying to insult me, derisively commenting upon all the standard topics á la Junior High: my appearance, my heritage, my mom. His intent was to hurt my feelings and make me mad, but as ill-intentioned as he was, I remained unscathed.

Of course it was easy to dismiss what he was saying; I couldn’t understand a word. Even after I was told what he said, I still was simply amused by his antics. The things people say have zero impact on our well-being; it’s only what we hear that matters. How we receive the message and process it is really what dictates its effect on us.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

As adults most of us are pretty adept at filtering the things people say. We are confident enough to not worry that much in the first place, and smart enough to recognize that the source, the intent, and the setting all play a role in how we accept it. A close friend making a snarky comment about our hair is much different than an acquaintance at work saying the same thing. Still, we all know how hard it can be at times, to not take some people’s words personally.

It is even more challenging for younger people to navigate these waters. Even with the frequently heard, “just kidding,” or “it was only a joke,” often times children’s feelings get hurt. They simply haven’t had the time and experience to develop effective discernment, and thus struggle with the nuance of sarcasm, hypocrisy, humor, and teasing.

One of the greatest tools we can give our children to help them weather this learning period is self confidence.

Being confident in who we are is like being vaccinated against the terrible things that people say.

Training in Brazilian Jiujitsu is a sure-fire way to develop a strong sense of self. As students repeatedly drill their skills and continually put them to the test, the grind makes one physically, mentally, and emotionally tough. Successfully “tapping out,” or submitting training partners with an ever-refining, ever-increasing arsenal builds confidence. Simultaneously, getting tapped out teaches resilience; our ego can take a “loss,” and thrive. Additionally, people who train in this manner are in little need of validation from others, thus what they say carries less weight.

It’s important to note that the most serious forms of teasing are committed by those who wish to build themselves up by tearing others down. Whether they’re seeking attention, or trying to establish their superiority, the perpetrators are looking for a victim. Just like bullies and criminals, they look for easy marks – people who appear unable or unwilling to stand up for themselves. The body language of a jujiteiro/a says, “I am NOT a victim;” it is a subconscious deterrent to predation.

If you want to teach your child how to deal with people teasing them, get them into a jiu jitsu class. They can train BJJ and learn to handle the trash talking with aplomb.

See you on the mat.

photo credit: kT LindSAy

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. This is a great corollary 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.

Perseverance

As a youth I had little appreciation for tennis. The whole system made no sense; sets, games, matches, advantages and tiebreaks. Why does the score go from 15 to 30 and then to 40? What does love have to do with it? What a silly sport for the polo-shirt class.

Over the years my perspective has changed. Understanding the scoring system, and how the match is broken down into sets of games helped me begin to realize the beauty of the game. The precision with which they can place the ball is amazing, but for me, the real beauty lies in the psychology of the game. No matter how far behind one player may fall, each successive game and set provides yet another opportunity for the comeback. The epic matches between Borg and McEnroe, Sampras and Agassi, and Federer and Nadal were extraordinary demonstrations of perseverance. To see those guys lose a set, only to come back and win the next, or to battle back-and-forth in extended tie-breaks, neither one willing to give up or concede the match, right up to the end was truly inspiring.

The ability to maintain “steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success,” is a powerful tool in the pursuit of one’s goals. It’s easy to work towards something that requires little time or effort. However, most of the things we desire require both. A college degree, a world championship, a beautiful home, an exciting vacation, or a comfortable retirement all take a concerted effort over a long time to achieve. Over such an extended time there is ample opportunity for distractions and hurdles that can make one falter. We need to develop perseverance in order to assure success.

“A dojo is a miniature cosmos where we make contact with ourselves – our fears, anxieties, reactions, and habits. It is an arena of confined conflict where we confront an opponent who is not an opponent but rather a partner engaged in helping us understand ourselves more fully. It is a place where we can learn a great deal in a short time about who we are and how we react in the world. The conflicts that take place inside the dojo help us handle conflicts that take place outside.”

– Joe Hyams, Zen In The Martial Arts. Jeremy P Tarcher/Putnam, 1979

Training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu provides the perfect “proving ground” to help us develop the ability to remain poised under pressure, both figuratively and literally. There are times in training when we find ourselves in inferior positions, trapped under larger, stronger opponents. For the uninitiated, this can be pretty intense, as one feels the pressure of being stuck, claustrophobic, and unable to do much other than wait it out, or submit. The beauty of BJJ, however, is that at some point in such situations, if a person can remain calm, and position themselves well, there will be opportunity to make an escape and change one’s fortune.

By developing our perseverance, we can weather whatever proverbial storm may come our way. Life is full of distractions and hardships, but by staying committed to our goals, regardless how difficult, we can succeed where others fail.

See you on the mats!