“What Are You Working On?”

My life has been a constant balance between Eastern and Western teachings. The East advocates the importance of being, of full immersion in and acceptance of the present moment. The West urges us to become, sacrificing the present moment in hopes of a greater future. Too far in either direction and we lose ourselves.

Self-improvement seems to be walking a tightrope between these poles on the way to our greatest experience.

The Western Approach: Becoming

It’s a question as old as the Jiu Jitsu players who ask it, “What are you working on?”

The purposeful practice of a specific technique or concept coincides well with a western mind. The more specific our aim becomes, we narrow our focus toward the minutiae of grappling and seek to gain as many reps as possible in a very particular place of study. I have adopted this approach for most of my training–finding ways to navigate my partner into the position of my daily focus, all the while trying to disguise (or sometimes overtly telling my teammate) my goal.

This is a hard and fast approach to training. There is no room for ambiguity. Success is measured by the achievement of a particular technique.

The Eastern Approach: Being

But then there is another way. There have been times when I was asked that same question, “What are you working on?”, and I had no response.

At first I felt ashamed. Was I being lazy or complacent in my training? No, I was training differently.

Not having a specific aim and simply playing Jiu Jitsu, I was practicing the art in its purest form. Rather than impose my own expectations on the training session, I allow circumstance to dictate my optimal path. Beholden to no technique, I am free to let the Jiu Jitsu happen itself, free from my biases.

Call to Action: Finding a Balance

The Taoist symbol of Yin and Yang reveals our solution.

The “Tao” means the way, and our way is the line which ebbs and flows between the two paisleys of light and dark, in this case, being and becoming. This is our path. To achieve our potential as grapplers, we must walk that razor’s edge between being and becoming.

I believe without firm grounding in both styles of training we can never achieve the technical proficiency to excel in grappling nor develop a real understanding of what Jiu Jitsu is.

I hope next time someone asks you what you are working on, you have an answer. And sometimes “nothing” is the most profound answer you can give.

Further Reading: Check out Professor Chris’s new book “5 Rules for White Belts“.

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