Updated: Feb 12
I wrote On Jiu Jitsu in the winter of 2017, a book about how Jiu Jitsu impacts our character and the process by which that development transcends across the entirety of our humanity.
The readership since publication reveals what I have long thought: that our community has little desire for any further written instructions on the application of techniques. Our instructors and YouTube more than meet that need. What we want—what we tacitly seek—is an explicit narrative of what Jiu Jitsu is in the context of our lives.
On Jiu Jitsu has been my most read book and has the least to do with the actual practice of Jiu Jitsu. I believe this is because we are becoming increasingly aware of the problem we face and the solution we’ve discovered.
Life has become too easy to make us hard. Jiu Jitsu serves as the foundation upon which we grow in the ways our modern environment does not demand, by creating the resistance which develops our virtues and pacifies our vices.
Survival in the gentle art requires an adaptive response to the resistance the environment creates. All facets of our being are trained—body, mind, and spirit—often without our conscious intent. It is the implicitness of that which is trained which explicitly demonstrates a need unmet.
Society serves as the foundation upon which the individual confronts his or her inherent weakness and the challenges of his or her environment. But when a society protects the individual from the struggles of nature, the easy access to primary needs results in a lack of adaptation, the adaptation which the individual uses to ultimately revivify and improve that society.
The ease of our living makes for the difficulty of our development. Our communal successes have sacrificed inner development at the altar of our comfort.
Jiu Jitsu is the antidote to the shortcomings of our environment. Success in this discipline requires the development of transdisciplinary skills and character traits which permeate into the rest of our lives. We are training our most fundamental self, the “I” with which we act out the various roles of our lives. Should we proceed properly through the resistance we encounter, we must let go of that which does not serve us—our vice—and acquire modes of behavior which lead to success in this discipline and therefore all disciplines—our virtues.
For many of us, Jiu Jitsu is the only avenue in which we consciously pursue the development of virtue outside of our religion. Religion offers a clearly articulated ideal to strive toward, a judge with which you measure the quality of your behavior, strengthened by the shared pursuit the community of the church offers.
We find something very similar in the Jiu Jitsu academy occurring with an uncommon sincerity. We pay attention to our thoughts and actions and judge ourselves according to a worthy ideal. We purposefully aim up, and it is this development that leads to the growth of our teammates.
We are only as good as the people we train with; therefore, when you develop your abilities—and your capacity to articulate the knowledge you have acquired—you become more valuable to your group. You allow your development to inform their own, embodying the role of the guide as you share your discovered truths with your teammates.
We embody the same process off the mat, albeit more discretely. We tacitly share the development of our character with all whom we interact. You may not bring your guard passing into the office; but you bring the sincerity, attention, and humility you cultivated in the attempt to learn that guard pass.
In On Jiu Jitsu, I described this progress along the continuum of virtues and vice with three fundamental pairs: humility and pride, resolve and weakness, efficacy and ignorance. When the positive aspect of these poles is practiced and improved, its accompanying negative aspect is invariably lessened.
“Really, the fundamental, ultimate mystery—the only thing you need to know to understand the deepest metaphysical secrets—is this: that for every outside there is an inside and for every inside there is an outside, and although they are different, they go together.” – Alan Watts
When a student wants to understand how to better defend leg locks, often his best path forward is to learn how to attack with them. This principle holds true in physiology, as a sure-fire way to increase flexibility of a stubbornly tight muscle is to activate its antagonist.
In the same fashion, if you seek to pacify your consuming pride, focus on the cultivation of humility rather than the removal of the vice. Virtues, like leg locks, are skills—habits of action, a process—and rather than changing a bad habit directly, we are far more likely to succeed should we seek to develop its counterpart.
Jiu Jitsu addresses our first pairing of humility and pride because everyone knows something we do not, and though we may be senior in rank relative to our teammate, we may be junior in our understanding of a position, technique, or concept. Humility frees us of our self-imposed limitations by helping us repeatedly find value outside of ourselves, coming to an awareness that if we are to achieve anything, our success is due to all those who cross our path.
Our teammates are embodiments of the unknown, that mysterious other which possesses the key to our continued evolution. We are confined to a perpetual process: as we confront the unknown and acquire new skills, we stand on the foundation of our knowledge and can now see a greater horizon of ignorance. An increase in education, when viewed through the proper phenomenological lens, should be accompanied by an increased understanding of one’s limitation in an ever-increasing unknowable plane of existence.
The only way to progress through Jiu Jitsu is to fail repeatedly and with each failure come to a better understanding of your own limitation. By feeding your humility, you starve your pride.
The second pairing of virtues and vices is Resolve and Weakness. Whether you are a steward of your abilities, or actively stifling your potential, depends upon where you lie on the resolve-weakness continuum. Our highest selves are found on the far side of a lifetime of choosing continuous effort in the face of resistance.
The resolve which we show in Jiu Jitsu, leading to our unique form of mastery, is the same resolve which allows us to achieve skill in any other area of our lives. Our opportunity for success in grappling reveals an opportunity for success in all activities. I’m not good at that. Nonsense. You require a high number of repetitions to achieve mastery, and you have yet to achieve that number. Meet that number and you’ll find your skill.
But in the skill of living we possess no commonly agreed upon metric for success. Our values are uniquely our own. There is rarely observable punishment for weakness in adult life. The real cost comes at the loss of life we will fail to live, the potential we squander—a missed opportunity due to an improper use of finite time and attention.
This is codified by the final pairing of Efficacy and Ignorance. This is the measure of all skill, the ability to create what is intended. I never realized how inefficient I was until I began my study of Jiu Jitsu. The organization of this practice revealed how haphazardly I had pursued everything else.
“There are remarkable people who come into the world from time to time, and there are people who do find out over decades long periods what they could be like if they were who they were. If they spoke their being forward.”-Jordan Peterson
This is the goal of this book—to efficiently speak that being forward. To offer the reader a simple schema through which to interpret his or her training that allows for the continual adaptation our progress requires. Picking up where On Jiu Jitsu left off, we are going to explore the best path forward through Jiu Jitsu: to embody the behavioral process of the archetypal hero.
Jiu Jitsu is a vehicle for immense personal development. We’ve all experienced this. The following is an attempt to understand this process clearly—to make its constituent elements explicit and semantic—so that we may manifest this development as efficiently as possible.
To do so properly, we must define the terms.