What The Dragons of Mythology and Garry Tonon Taught Me About Jiu Jitsu

Updated: Oct 14

I have recently found much value in my study of Mythology. Myths are more than stories, they are windows into the collective unconscious, revealing the archetypes we inherit and act out, often with our complete unawareness of doing so.

The study of myths is the study of ourselves.

A common motif is the dragon, the final trial of so many hero’s journeys. The dragon is a winged, four-legged serpent, an amalgam of all the predators that lurk in the dark, breathing destructive fire, an embodiment and manifestation of chaos. And though we are unclad in armor, make no mistake, we face dragons daily, both in ourselves and our world.

That stack of bills you ignore, that conversation with your partner you won’t have, that painful memory from years ago which still evokes an emotional response, are all dragons that lurk in the unknown, whose presence heightens our anxiety and robs us of our ability to see beauty in the world.

In mythology, the dragon is often the hoarder of virgins and gold, items for which he has no use, but is that which the knight most desires. There is a great lesson to be learned from this:

“The things that terrifying you contain things of value.”- Jordan Peterson, from his lecture Reality and the Sacred

Jiu Jitsu is difficult.

To constantly improve is to repeatedly fail, and the moment we develop competency of a technique, we move on to a new challenge for which we are ill-equipped. It is nature of skill acquisition: to acquire is to be humbled.

We each bring our pride into training, and often when a training session escalates with a peer, we revert to the techniques of which we are most skilled: increasing our chances of immediate success while missing opportunities for growth.

We will progress to the degree that we are willing to face the unknown.

My good friend Garry Tonon, ADCC Vet and IBJJF World Champion, is an embodiment of this courage. He constantly puts himself in positions where he is weak so as to acquire strength, tapping in abundance in training to become seemingly  invulnerable in competition. We would all do well to develop this relationship to the unknowns of training.

And myths have one more piece of wisdom to offer:

“Fairy tales are more than true- not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”- Neil Gaiman

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