BJJ- the new Religion?

This year the Worlds Masters was held in Las Vegas; the city that seemingly never sleeps in a show of hedonistic debauchery. It is a fun place if nothing else.

Four and half hours’ drive away, in the neighboring state of Arizona, lies the town of Sedona; the antithesis of Vegas. Arguably the spiritual capital of the U.S, it sits amidst red rock peaks as a beacon of the very best that religion and spirituality strive to offer.

For generations, religion has provided its devotees with systems and structures that offer social connection, community, and unity; moral guidance, lifestyle compassing and outlets to repent; faith, hope and charity; pathways toward happy, fulfilling and, ultimately, meaningful lives.

But now, in the 21stCentury, religion is failing us. Ideals have given way to power- struggles, war, hypocrisy, and atrocities so heinous that gods and deities would quiver at the interpretations we have layered over their well-intentioned teachings.

Still, though, we covet all that religion originally promised us; we must, we’re only human after all. Our desire for community, kindness, solace, and meaning have not changed. Our DNA still reaches for higher states of being beyond the basics of our Neolithic forefathers. So where will we find it? Where can we look? Who or what will be the Avatar that brings it? Could the answer lie on the mats of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

Could BJJ offer the best that religion has to offer without the worst that has drastically brought it to its knees? I think, possibly, it could.

It is an ambitious assertion I know, but, regardless, I present to you a code that may be an alternative to other, failing, religions and a compliment to the more successful ones.

The Ten Commandments of BJJ

  1. Love thyself

Like all great commandments, they are applicable on several levels depending upon the needs of the devotee. Our first commandment is no exception.

By loving ourselves, taking care of ‘us’ first, we are helping both ourselves and others simultaneously. Other religions have called this ‘selfish selflessness’.  Just as the evacuation instructions preceding aeroplanes take off tell us, in case of loss of cabin pressure, to ‘attach our own oxygen mask before helping others with theirs’. As we develop our skills and attributes we honour the gift of life that has been given to us. We pay it tribute by living to our full potential.

On a purely practical level, loving thyself could simply represent enough self-respect to regularly wash your gi (Jiu Jitsu uniform)!  Selfish persistence of personal hygiene will be more than beneficial to fellow sharers of the mats. The world will be a better place with just this single choice.

  1. Love thy neighbor

Once we have learned to love ourselves our self-confidence and esteem grow to the point where we are now better suited to helping others: the black belt is more suited to aiding white belts than the blue.

We have evolved emotionally, technically, tactically and physically beyond the primary motivations of personal survival and we start to appreciate that life, and our Jiu Jitsu, involves others. We need them, as they need us, and the truth dawns that the cooperation necessary to improve on the mats is the same that helps us lead happier and more fulfilling lives off of it.

Loving our neighbor has been a staple of religions worldwide for generations but we have seen this ideal erode in recent times. It is still, thankfully, a primary ethic in our Jiu-Jitsu training and, maybe, our continued commitment to it, day after day, class after class, will shine a light that those who have lost their way may follow back toward its benefits.

  1. Listen to the ‘Voice on High’

To listen to the Voice on High, you won’t need an intermediary in robes to translate; it will be unnecessary to be in a meditative state; sacred lands will not have to be traversed to find it; simply look to the front of your next class, and there he or she is: your teacher, your Voice on High.

With their belt comes a guarantee of knowledge, experience and troubles endured that make BJJ so wonderfully authentic and ‘pressure tested’.

Now just listen to them. Pay attention to what they are sharing with you. Suspend all other thoughts, judgments or ego statements that may stand in the way. They, more than likely, have forgotten more than you have yet learned. Humbling isn’t it?

Humility is the gift of this commandment.

  1. Look after the meek

As we continue on this journey, our personal power combines with humility and we begin to feel a responsibility toward others. An emerging voice starts to speak out against tyranny, or at least the little things in life that we used to ignore but now meet head-on.

We look after newcomers to the academy; guide them, encourage them, stay on after class to show them, again, parts of a technique that they didn’t absorb first time around. Our burgeoning strength helps us take others under our wing. We tell heavy handed students, yet to learn humility, to ease off and settle down.

By now, we begin to comprehend that, actually, our Jiu Jitsu could be a possible method of self-defence. These are skills we can take back to our worlds outside of the academy. Our skills on the mats are growing and our personal communities are better for it.

  1. Do not covet your neighbors’ possessions

So much more than ‘not stealing’ is covered by this fifth commandment; in fact, this is a pivotal time in our personal growth and an opportunity, if we continue to commit, to reap the highest levels of attainment that our religion, our BJJ, has to offer.

With each day of BJJ servitude, with each humbling submission reigned upon us, with each frustrating bind to a position we cannot escape, the grandiosity of our ego is tamed.

At a certain point, by the time of commandment five, we no longer envy and covet the possessions of our peers. We no longer feel anger at their competition victories, jealousy at their promotions or secretly joy at injuries that interrupt their relentless progress ahead of us.

Instead, as our ego shrinks, we feel happy for all that they are enjoying and use it as inspiration rather than a threat. We are honored to share the mats with them, no longer threatened by comparison. The fruits of our labour are paying off and we are becoming a better person all around.

  1. Teach fishing

Life and religion are filled with stories of ‘tough love’: the seeming retraction of compassion in favour of harder lessons that strike to the core of the recipient.

Rather than providing direct answers, it is often a better tactic for long term growth to empower those in need to think, learn and discover solutions for themselves: to teach them to fish {rather than feed them fish}, to use old religious parlance. There is much evidence to suggest that the retention of information is more comprehensive using this method. Concepts based teaching and specific sparring in BJJ is commandment six in action.

Outside of the academy, it is possible to use the same idea to raise independent, confident and self-directed children; a goal every parent aspires to.

  1. Pray regularly

You may or may not realise it, but prayer is happening all the time during our training, or certainly should be. To identify it, let’s first change our possible understanding of prayer.

Each of us is familiar with traditional religions use of prayer: a direct and deliberate act of communication with their chosen God or deity in order to ask for help, comfort or other requests and desires.

But the psychology of prayer is happening with or without a belief in a God or deity, and it is called ‘goal setting’. In goal setting, we replace the deliberate communication with a formal God to one with our own selves. We actively ask our deepest levels, whatever we believe them to be, to help us ‘improve our guard game this week’, ‘work toward purple belt next month’, ‘don’t tap to this white belt this roll’. Had you ever considered to whom you were internally talking?

Prayer- goal setting, is helping us all the time both on and off of the mats regardless of our race, colour creed or religious persuasion.

  1. Honour the Sabbath

Religions share some advice that is merely practical, down-to-earth healthy advice. Commandment eight falls into this category.

‘Sabbath’ is religions terminology for a day of rest. It doesn’t matter which day; Christians typically honour Sunday as this day, Jews often Saturday, Muslims Friday. Those of the BJJ religion can choose any day, but do choose one. It is easy to get swept away by our passion for our art and ignore the burnout that can creep up on us unannounced. Rest for athletes is essential for both mind and body.

Use this commandment also to rest from the busyness of the world. Switch off your phone for a day, shut down your computer and spend the time instead with those you love. They will thank you for it.

  1. Have faith

Standing central to all religion is the issue of faith: our BJJ version equally. Faith is arguably the most contentious part of religion; it can be used either positively or negatively but it is unmistakably powerful. We would hope that the self-attainment procured so far, via the previous commandments and our hours on the mats, will help us use our faith constructively.

In the religion of BJJ, our faith is to the art itself. Our solidarity is to the ideas of leverage, technique and efficient use of our bodies to overcome power, brawn, and aggression.

Many have come before us to show the way of BJJ and we stand in their wake trusting the paths they have walked and the seas they have crossed.

Faith contains hope and trust and although it certainly can be abused, it can also be used as fuel for building healthy and happy communities both on and off of the mats. Have faith in faith.

  1. Enter the Divine

The ultimate aim of any and all religion is to connect its followers with its highest levels and ideals: to enter the Divine, whatever definition that may entail.

It encapsulates the belief that there is always a higher level to attain than the crude and troublesome one we may find ourselves struggling with currently. Surfers transcend themselves via the search for the ‘ultimate wave’, athletes plunge unknown depths by trying to get and stay, in the ‘Zone’, and meditators strive for ‘expanded consciousness’ through meditation and ritual.

For us, followers of BJJ, we honor the ‘Holy Grail that is ‘flow rolling’: that moment when we become one with the energy of our partner. All that we attempt falls into place without struggle or strain; time slows as we see all that is necessary to defend many moments ahead of time; previously disjointed ideas line up in newfound comprehension. In this state we experience, maybe for the first time, true peace and effortless ease; and it is joyful.

The journey from unknown to known is the longest one, and although we may not be able to replicate this state with consistency or by choice, we know now that it exists. It is a reality in our consciousness, this state of effortless ease; this state of grace, and we hold dear the peace and joy that comes with it.

The many hours on the mat, pressure testing our art, have led to glimpses of commandment ten’s ‘superstate’; many classes have eroded our ego and anger. Aggression and fighting for our cause seem medieval now; the way of the thrashing white belt gives way to the ever finer realms of blue, purple, black and beyond.

As the commandments suggest, there is great and good to be gained from our BJJ religion, as there is from more traditional religions across the world. But maybe our unique experiences learned on the mats in academies globally have taught us that it is no longer necessary to struggle and strain to defend ourselves: our bodies, minds or, indeed, our values. Why bother? We’ve all had many fights; lost and been beaten; tapped many times, and it’s not so bad after all.

Once we let go of the violence of defending that in which we believe; once we ease into the ideas of leverage, flow, and cooperation, we get to keep our ideals, our friends and, wonderfully, we live to roll another day.

Now they are ideals I’m prepared to worship. How about you?

Matt Jardine is a  writer, author. and martial arts teacher. This article first appeared in Jiu Jitsu Style Magazine in 2016.

Published by Matt Jardine

Author, writer, teacher and Martial artist

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