On Incremental Progress

Updated: Oct 14, 2020

In this week’s blogs, I went to the bookshelf to share some books which have influenced my Jiu Jitsu.

The first is Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, an enjoyable read about the adventures, loves, and struggles of writing. Lamott chose the title for her book from an interaction she observed between her father and brother:

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

In the past, I have felt “immobilized by the task ahead” in Jiu Jitsu. We all have. The art is so vast and our time is so limited. Every new understanding opens us to a greater world of unknowns. We are like Hercules combating the Hydra: we sever one head and two grow back; the more we reveal, the more becomes hidden.

As a blue and purple belt, I felt frustration to point of Nihilism while pursuing such a Sisyphean task. Years later, I realize this is precisely what I find so attractive about Jiu Jitsu. It is a game that cannot be won, only played.

I am free because of my limitation.

At 31 years old, I know that I will never “master” Jiu Jitsu. I will develop my abilities to the furthest extent I am capable within the confines of my particular experience. I will do nothing more or less than this.

This is why I find the quoted passage so profoundly useful. Insurmountable tasks are only insurmountable in the aggregate. When we take it bird by bird, we come to know the whole flock.

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