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Using Jiu Jitsu to Gain Self-Mastery

I hate people who start blogs with quotes, so I’m not doing it. Instead, I’ve typed these two sentences, and NOW I’m going to put the quote in-

"The frequent employment of one's will power masters all organs of movement and trains them to perform feats which otherwise would have been difficult, painful, and even impossible.

The man becomes independent and self reliant; He will never be a coward, and, when real danger threatens, he is the one who is looked up to by others. The knowledge of one's strength entails a real mastery over oneself; it breeds energy and courage, helps one over the most difficult tasks of life, and procures contentment and true enjoyment of living."

That’s from George Hackenschmidt, late 19th century strongman, bodybuilder, and wrestler.

If you know me a while you’ve probably learned that I have an interest in the history of physical culture. I find the intersection of political and social movements with the rise of physical training as a leisure activity particularly interesting. We had another one in the 80s with Arnold et al, and we’re probably in the middle of one now.

But the first one goes something like this- in the mid to late 19th century, people suddenly have leisure time, and non-taxing jobs. They are no longer digging the fields or breaking stone. Instead, more people may be clerks or work in a shop. They have time and energy, and a physio-cultural movement begins to emerge, with wrestlers and strongmen like Hackenschmidt and Karl Gotch espousing hard physical exercise as a way to use your leisure time and improve yourself.

Now you could argue (and it’s not a stretch) that Jiu Jitsu as we know it today in the western world is more related to circus wrestling challenges like these men would take part in than it is to any Japanese feudal roots, but maybe that’s for another blog…

But today, let’s look at the quote above. Hackenschmidt was referring to using your body as a method of self-knowledge. To him, struggling under the weighted bar both built and revealed character. Anyone who has struggled under a squat will know the inner battle of one-more-rep. It’s too often dismissed as the preserve of meatheads rather than as a philosophical pursuit, and the same goes for fighting.

One way of really knowing yourself is when the going gets tough, what do you do? Grapplers know this well, and understand it inherently. If you’re struggling, you could tap, or you could try to escape. You can have both the courage to attempt, and the humility to accept. I’ve been there.

I had this conversation with a kid last week! The medals will one day mean NOTHING I said. NOTHING! Things you have in a drawer. Pieces of metal, tied to a ribbon, made in China. But the experiences, the struggles you meet head on and don’t quit on, the challenges you’ll face, those are here forever. Win or lose you’ll write new code in your character. Something to dip back into later on.

I mean he’s only 4 so he probably didn’t get it…

No! I’m kidding. He’s 16. But he still may not have got it.

See you on the mat,


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