Sunday, November 4, 2012

Breaking Out of the Box

“. . . I knew I needed to do something completely different, something I had no idea I wanted to do—no, something I actually didn’t want to do. I needed to get off track, to completely challenge every assumption I’d ever made about who I was and what I wanted. I had to do something that would quite possibly make me miserable. It could end up being a terrible mistake.”
 Shark Girl read these words today in “Regrets of an Accomplished Child” by Pamela Paul in the “Education Life” section of the New York Times.

I could have written them myself two years ago. This is how I felt when I started learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. In my very first post, I describe a middle-aged longing for something different. The blog was a way to force myself to stay in something that could have made me miserable. And, of course, if I broke an arm or lost a tooth, BJJ would have been a terrible mistake. But something drove me to get out of my comfort zone, challenged me to see myself in a different light—not the tiny woman who grew up getting good grades and going to college, finding a job, paying the mortgage and playing by the rules for women in our society. I wanted to see something underneath this outer shell, something mysterious and unexpected.
This chick can omaplata your ass off!
In her article, Ms. Paul warns against the dangers of “checking off boxes” in our lives: homework done–check; college–check; job–check; marriage–check. Box-checking keeps us focused on completion, not excellence. It is the antithesis of learning and stretching. Box-checking leads to safe choices and failure avoidance. But the very possibility of failure is what can bring the best out of us and give us a chance to excel.

For me, Jiu Jitsu was breaking out of the box. I had no expectations of even liking it, never mind being good at it. It scared me to even go to class. I had to psych myself for a half hour to get out the door.

I could write a cheesy litany of things jiu jitsu has taught me. Indeed I started one and then stopped when I realized how much cheese was dripping off of it. (You’re welcome for my editorial restraint.) Probably the most important thing I have learned is what it is like to “play,” that art lost when we enter middle school and become self-conscious and start to notice that the world has its own ideas for us, and no you can’t be an altar girl.

I could have played it safe; I could have taken a Zumba class (or maybe Boot Camp, if I wanted to be a little edgy). I would have stayed fit and even enjoyed it. And I wouldn’t have learned anything.


  1. A Zumba class. I just laughed out loud. And I am in public right now.

  2. Most excellent post! I hadn't heard that thought before - that by starting BJJ as adults we learn how to play again. That rings so true!!

    I was 23 or so when I did my first BJJ class. It was so strange, awkward, and playful to jump on someone's back while they're in turtle and "attack". It was like that meme with the dog behind a chemistry set -- I had no idea what I was doing. But I still played - and boy was it fun to not give a shit and just do it! In my memory, I was smiling the whole time - didn't care how I looked, didn't care that I didn't know what to do, didn't care that I was jumping on some random dude's back...

    BJJ is awesome.


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