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8 Lessons On Personal Growth I Learned From 8 Years of Jiu-Jitsu
Your ego can be your best friend.
The picture above was taken when I was 18 years old.
For several brilliant years in my teens, I was a full-time martial artist. Much like Pokémon trainer extraordinaire Ash Ketchum, I traveled around the region taking part in tournaments. I cared for neither love nor money; my singular overriding obsession was winning fights and collecting medals. This culminated in me amassing over 60 Jiu-Jitsu matches and 4 mixed-martial-arts contests by the time I turned twenty.
These days, I have mostly retired from active competition in favor of running martial arts events of my own. But the wonderful lessons that Jiu-Jitsu taught me will forever remain. I have taken the liberty to compile 8 of the most life-changing lessons I learned from my 8 years of Jiu-Jitsu.
If applied, these lessons will lead you to tremendous personal growth — with the added side benefit of saving you from the scrapes, bumps, heartbreaks, and bruises I suffered along the way.
Let us begin!
To Grow, Seek Out What You Fear Most
“Everything you’ve wanted is on the other side of fear.” — George Addair
Fear is a tricky emotion.
On one hand, fear keeps us alive. Fear tells us not to stick our hand in the lion’s mouth, to not play with loaded guns, to keep our guard up when we walk past that dark alley.
But fear can also serve to cripple us.
This comes in the form of opportunities we’re too afraid to seize. The pretty girl you’re too intimidated to ask out, the business venture you talked yourself out of starting, the risky move that, should you have had the courage to execute, would have won you the match.
One of the biggest lessons I learned from years of Jiu-Jitsu is that fear is something to be sought out, not fled from. Fear is the feeling you get right before you grow.
I was deathly afraid right before I signed up for my first martial arts class.
I was scared out of my mind before my first Jiu-Jitsu tournament.
I was so terrified before my first MMA fight, I literally had to excuse myself and run to the toilet ten times before the bout!
These challenges forced me to look at myself squarely in the mirror. I was faced with a choice; to stay and grow, or to run and hide. I chose, most of the time, to face my fears instead, and this transformed me into the person I am today.
It goes against every sense in your body to run towards your fears instead of away from them, but keep this in mind: Fear is the barrier separating the you of today from your dream self of tomorrow.
Remember, by conquering your fear, you conquer yourself.
Humility Is The Key To Continuous Growth
If you swagger into a Jiu-Jitsu class thinking you are the man, you will be humbled very quickly.
That’s because you will be tossed around and strangled by women half your size. You will have your arm wrenched and your best moves countered by the most unassuming of men: smiling, bespectacled men who look like they might be accountants off the mats — and they often are.
It’s in Man’s innate nature to want to be on top of the world, but paradoxically, it is only in the deepest valleys that the sweetest fruits are to be found. Like Lao Tzu wrote, “All streams flow to the sea because it is lower than they are. Humility gives it its power.” Even Jesus concurs, saying, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and everyone who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The sages of old know that we learn best with an open heart and an empty mind. Moreover, if you are humble, approachable, and eager to learn, potential mentors would be far more willing to extend a helping hand to guide you further along the path.
So be humble. Open your mind. Learn.
Humility is the key to continuous growth.
Your Ego Can Be Your Best Friend — Or Your Worst Enemy
That being said, having an ego may not always be a bad thing.
I know this is a controversial thing to say.
wrote an entire book called Ego is the Enemy. This is, in my humble opinion, only a half-truth. Ego, you see, can be likened to fire. Having an ego is not inherently bad. It’s how you use it to serve you that matters.
Let’s say you get your ego crushed when the aforementioned women and nerd assassins dismantle all your moves and serve your ass up on a platter. When this happens, there are only three things you can do. You can:
1. Mope, give up, and never return to the gym again.
2. Pretend it didn’t happen and go on thinking you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread, or
3. Feel the pain, let it wash over you — then think of ways to improve so you won’t have to feel it again.
Like Patrick Rothfuss so eloquently wrote, “Anger can keep you warm at night, and wounded pride can spur a man to wondrous things.” Everyone has an ego. We all feel the sting of bruised pride sometimes. This is good. Use it. Control your ego, and do not allow it to control you. Used wisely thus, your ego can transform from your very worst enemy into your very best friend.
Master your Ego and watch your learning curve explode.
Winners Have Winning Schedules
When I was a competitive Jiu-Jitsu player, I trained 5 days a week, twice a day.
Not every day was a good day. There were some days I was so sore I could barely move. There would be some days I was so overtrained that my hands would tremble from fatigue. What allowed me to grow past those hard days was the fact that I was determined to stick relentlessly to my schedule. And that’s the key to continuous growth. The key is to allow your schedule to dictate your life, and not the other way round.
This is a lesson that is applicable for all areas of life.
Take writing for example. So many new writers ask for writing advice when most of the time it is not writing advice they need. It is a winning writing schedule, one they can stick assiduously to every day.
As aforementioned, when I was a full-time Jiu-Jitsu athlete, I had a rigorous training schedule. And now that I have transitioned to writing full-time, my schedule is spiritually the same. I write two thousand words a day, five times a week. I use the other two days to read and recharge. This allows me to come back to the laptop stronger.
Remember, winning is not a single big act, done on gameday, but many little acts accomplished when no one is looking. Like Muhammad Ali said, “The fight is won or lost far away from the witnesses, behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road; long before I dance under those lights.”
And the best way to make sure you get those many little acts done is to find a winning schedule — and stick to it.
Practice Does Not Make Perfect. Conscious Practise Makes Perfect
Yes, having a schedule, and sticking to said schedule, is important.
But what’s even more important is you do not make the deadly mistake of simply going through the motions. Because if you keep doing the same things over and over, you, despite working hard and sticking to your aforementioned schedule, are going to remain largely the same.
If you’re able to do ten push-ups a day, seek tomorrow to do twelve. If you’re able to write five hundred words a day, seek the next day to write a score more. And when time constraints became an issue against sheer volume, seek to change things up.
If you’ve always written self-help articles on the internet, seek next to write a work of fictional prose. This is the very reason why I took a break from Medium to write my very first novel. I was getting too comfortable here. I needed to shake things up.
Knowing where your current limits are, where your comfort zone is — and then making a conscious effort to push past them, is the surest way for you to become a better version of yourself. Remember, the comfort zone is comfortable, yes…but it is also where your dreams go to die. Rest there, yes, but never linger.
Push forward instead, and watch yourself become the person you are always meant to be.
Surround Yourself With People Who Push You To Become The Best That You Can Be
Many of the above points sound difficult.
This is why you need a crew of good people around you, a crew that will motivate and inspire you to try harder and climb higher. When I was a Jiu-Jitsu athlete, this came in the form of my fellow training partners in the gym. Now that I’m writing, I make a concerted effort to befriend and talk to the writers I admire.
I even paid $2000 to attend a week-long writing retreat in Bali. I did it less for the techniques I could learn, but in a bid to immerse myself completely in the writerly life. I often quote Sun Tzu in my articles, but this one, once again, rings especially true: “Even the finest sword plunged in salt water will eventually rust.”
If you want to be a person of quality, do a mental evaluation of the company you’re keeping. Are they corrosive? Are they a plague against everything you want to be?
If the answer to the above is yes, run.
You can always find new friends, but your goals, once tarnished, can never be accomplished quite the same way again.
Confront The Truth Everyday
“Truth is not what you want it to be; it is what it is, and you must bend to its power or live a lie.” -Miyamoto Musashi.
One of the coolest things about Jiu-Jitsu is it forces you to confront the truth every day.
There are no two ways about it. You’ll rarely find a “master” or a “guru” peddling woo-woo techniques that don’t work. The reason? In the sport of Jiu-Jitsu, we spar every day. So if your technique doesn’t work, you’ll know it. You’ll be exposed — often in a brutal and painful way.
Eddie Ng, a mixed-martial artist and coach I admire, once stated that: “Martial arts is applied philosophy. We’re all in search of the truth — the truth being defined as whatever works against meaningful resistance.”
I couldn’t agree more.
You can try out all the get-rich-quick schemes you want. You can bumble around on dating apps. You can believe that the Earth is flat, and that reptilian lizard beings live as lord and jury among us. But the fact of the matter is this: are your ideas true? As in true true, not true in the sense that you want to believe it, but true in the sense that it stands up to resistance, to reasonable and scientific debate?
Remember, wanting to believe in something is one thing, knowing that your beliefs are real is quite another. The truth is a powerful, powerful thing.
And you must bend to its power or risk living a lie.
Love Is The Secret To Success
“Anger brought me to Jiu-Jitsu, but love made me stay” — Abmar Barbosa
This is a lesson that I have only recently learned.
You see, when I first started training Jiu-Jitsu, I was mainly motivated by anger. I was doubted a lot as a child. I was always that kid who was “intelligent but unable to apply himself.”
Little do my detractors and teachers know that I had — and still have, undiagnosed ADHD.
These criticisms I bore growing up made me angry, made me bitter, stirred up something vengeful in me. And in my childish way, I thought that if I managed to use this anger for strength, then instead of falling into depression I could channel my negative feelings into something positive.
In many ways, I was right.
Like Patrick Rothfuss wrote, “Anger can keep you warm at night, and wounded pride can spur a man to wondrous things.” Using my childhood rage as fuel, I was able to work harder. I was able to stay motivated and stay in the gym to crunch out more reps when many of my other saner peers had already went home. This work ethic allowed me to win many fights and medals.
But as I got older, I came to a most startling understanding.
Anger is fuel, yes. But it is a most insidious and dirty fuel. Anger can be likened to diesel. It powers a motorcar well, yes — but in the process of powering it, the diesel fuel also tarnishes the engine, corroding the machine from within.
The Buddha once said that: ”Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” When I was training in an angry state of mind, I was rarely happy. I kept feeling like I had to prove my detractors wrong. Thus, I separated my happiness from my actions and left it in the hands of the people who couldn’t care less instead. A most dangerous thing to do.
Far better for you to use love as fuel instead.
If anger can be likened to diesel, love can be likened to electricity. A clean fuel. It powers devices without leaving waste. This is good for the device in question, yes, but it is good for all things surrounding the device, too.
Instead of focusing on your haters and detractors, focus on your supporters instead. I recently had a stranger comment on how much they liked my first book, and although I strive to be, as Marcus Aurelius wrote, “Unshaken by neither praise nor blame,” I have to admit that that comment sent me over the moon.
On your journey to become a better you, try to focus on yourself. Do not use anger or pride or feelings of vengeance as fuel. Try to use love instead. The former, for the lack of a better word, feels cleaner, and in the long run is better for you and the people around you at large.
This is a lesson that has taken me 8 years of Jiu-Jitsu and a lifetime to learn. I hope that it will serve you well.
Today’s guest post was written by Alvin Ang (@alvinthewriter).
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