Sunday, October 6, 2019

Can We Talk? Jiu Jitsu is a Conversation.

Lately, Shark Girl has been thinking a lot about what jiu jitsu means to her.

As I face a terrifying start at a new gym , I wonder whether it’s time to give up jiu jitsu forever in favor of less injurious pursuits. Therefore, I keep coming back to this: why do I do jiu jitsu?

A few reasons bubble up.

The first is that I am a control freak. Undisputed. Capital C. But that’s not what I want to talk about today. I’ll save that for another post.

Today I want to talk about how for me, jiu jitsu is a conversation. My partner says something to me and I respond.

"How you doin', pal?" "Not bad, how 'bout you?"

I grew up in a family where verbal sparring was the main form of recreation. The person who was the loudest or could overtalk the other person was usually the victor. To even enter these arguments as the smallest, youngest person there, I had to stealthily choose when to assert my point of view. I had to be quick and concise, and I had to understand that most likely, no matter what I said, I was going to be brushed off, overpowered, ignored. Or worse, someone would use twisted logic to turn my thoughts into something I didn’t even recognize anymore. 

These days, I have found that it is not really worthwhile getting into one of these family-style arguments. Last night on the phone Shark Dad tried to goad me into a lame shouting match over whether I had a lot of stuff left at his house from thirty years ago. (Spoiler: I don’t.) He complained that it was causing him and my elderly mother stress because they had to clean out all my shit and figure out what to do with it. 

I tried to deflect with a joke: “Oh, those rolls of quarters from when I was a waitress? Please save those for me. It’s my escape money if things go south with me and Husband.”
Watch out, Husband! Shark Girl could be movin' on out with this bank!
I tried to rationalize: "Those empty photo albums (that aren't mine)? No one uses those anymore, Dad."

But Shark Dad wanted contention. Stymied by my stonewalling, he pushed it forward: “Now your mother is getting mad at me because I’m upsetting you,” he said.

“You’re not upsetting me, but I’m not going to argue over this. If I have a lot of stuff left there, feel free to throw it away or leave it for me to sort through when I come home. I really don’t care.” 

And then he passed the phone to my mother. 

I think we were both sadder for that conversation. My 84-year old Dad was trying to connect the only way he knew how, but he only succeeded in causing tension. I saw a lonely, old man cleaning out his house so his kids don’t have to. But instead of having a meaningful conversation about that, Shark Dad made me feel guilty. I had disappointed him because I did not take his bait (chum?). And I disappointed myself because, in the heat of the exchange, I failed to realize what it was really about: (I’m not going to be here much longer. You better come see me and) Get your stuff
Just take the bait, Shark Girl! Doesn't it look tasty??!
That made me feel guiltier. 

I get frustrated rolling with people for whom it’s a fight. I’ve had enough fights in my lifetime. I don’t want to fight. I want a conversation. A communication. Something that when we are both finished, we do not have to agree, but we can respect each other and we know each other a little better.

I don’t play closed guard, but I respect yours. I don’t have long legs, but I enjoy learning how to get around yours. 

I do jiu jitsu to connect with the person I am rolling with. When that person smashes me or uses disproportionate strength, then I have nothing to say. I feel like, Why am I in this conversation, anyway? I have nothing to contribute and you wouldn’t listen if I did.

I recognize that not everyone is on the mats for the same reason. People have different demons to exorcise. But I need to understand what I want and need from this sport/art.
Check out this jiu jitsu demon by tattoo artist Fabien!
For me, when my partner does something clever, I laugh out loud. When they frustrate me, I try to find a different way to answer their moves. I walk away from those rolls feeling like I know my partner, and myself, better. 

When someone uses their full muscle and crushes my little person so that I can’t move, I usually walk away disappointed, defeated. I feel brushed off, overpowered, and ignored. Inconsequential and unheard. I’ve experienced that a lot in my life and it’s not fulfilling for me to experience that on the mat. Sure, I could learn to “speak louder,” but then, wouldn’t I just be doing the same thing to someone else? 

Maybe I need to give my Old Shark Dad a call. Perhaps we both didn’t have the best conversation skills last night. Maybe I was passing his guard (avoiding his sadness) while he was trying to choke me (with crushing guilt). Sometimes a conversation is not about what it seems on the surface.

Sometimes jiu jitsu is not about who wins the match. It’s about how much we listen to each other.

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