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Birka: Martial arts

The Joys of Meaningful Suffering

The Joys of Meaningful Suffering


I reached the peak of my skateboarding career while being drunk. It was when landing my first kickflip. What is weird about it, is the fact that I had already quit skateboarding for a couple of years after a very unsuccessful two year period of having it as a hobby, age thirteen to fifteen. I hope it is apparent how bad I was at it by the fact of considering one kickflip a highlight.

I thought a lot about why no tricks worked. Every time I failed to land something, I would automatically think about what principles I might be missing. What are the moves I haven’t considered? What is left uncalculated? All that burning of brain matter never led to anything and as I now realize, I spent way too much time thinking when I should have been acting. The one time the kickflip worked was probably because alcohol had shut off many of the mental blocks I would normally think myself into.

My natural tendency is to overanalyze. I love science, take part in debates and have easily spent a hundred hours watching TED. All of that contributes to scrutinizing way too much. I remember even thinking to myself that sports is a waste of time, since unlike acquired knowledge, any athletic gains I achieve through practice will be lost with age, and therefore learning stuff is a better investment of my time. Looking back at that opinion now, I recognize it to be a whine dressed up as a clever insight. Merely a justification to postpone.

At age twenty two I had fallen into a bit of a routine with studies I did not like and a job I did not enjoy. I thought of ways to escape the boredom and because sports was something I had never done consistently, it made a lot of sense to get into it as a way of escaping routine. The choice in favor of martial arts was immediate, because the skills gained through martial arts are transferable beyond the gym to a much greater extent than anything I would learn through “working the ball” whatever shape it may be. Karate was my first choice because I had heard the name so many times, but I quickly changed my mind after learning about two key attributes of Jiu-Jitsu. Firstly, its effectiveness is proven since the first Ultimate Fighting Championship in 1993 where Royce Gracie, a man with a surprisingly unimpressive build dominated opponents from other fighting styles purely through his skills in Jiu-Jitsu. Secondly, unlike with martial arts that involve kicking and punching, you can go full speed in every session of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). That is way more fun if you are doing it as a hobby and not possible if striking is involved – any sane person would lose their appetite if teeth had to be replaced twice a week.

Like with learning anything, you accumulate a set of meta-qualities besides the techniques provided by the discipline itself. In addition to chokes and clinches, Jiu-Jitsu allows me to experience a set of mental states that I would like to touch upon in this article. But before I dive in – one cautionary note. Up to now I have spent two years of my time on the mat practicing Japanese Jiu–Jitsu (with a bit of other styles that include striking sprinkled throughout the training calendar to mix things up) and two more years practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I am still far from being even average at either Brazilian or Japanese Jiu-Jitsu. I am merely sharing insights that far precede mastery.

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