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Jiu-Jitsu: The Beautiful Dance of Control and Surrender

The most profound life lessons often unfold in unexpected places. For me, a blue-gray mat marked with sweat, grit and discipline became my teacher. The enlightening world of Jiu-Jitsu has imparted an unconventional wisdom that transcends the peripheries of the sport - it has taught me the art of embracing and growing within the absence of control. The art of surrender.


By nature, I am a person who thrives in control - the pulse of authority at work, the rein of the car under my grip (fortunately, my husband quite enjoys the fact that I drive everywhere), the command over routine activities. I thoroughly enjoy the role of ringleader. I love making big calls, taking risks, reaping the rewards. But it comes with pitfalls.


Once during a heated discussion with my husband, I admonished him for not making enough decisions for our household (such as what to plan for dinners through the week). I was tired of making the calls. He responded, "If you want me to make decisions, you have to be okay with the decisions I make." I realized that, until that moment, I had fully expected he not only make decisions, but that he make every decision exactly as I would make it. A completely unrealistic expectation. And as they say, expectations are pre-meditated resentments.


This necessity to control is more than a personality trait; it's a coping mechanism, a veil of security wrapped around the chaos of the world. It helps me prove to anyone who observes that I am powerful - I am worthy.


Enter Jiu-Jitsu.


In Jiu-Jitsu, you win not by commanding, but by navigating the mind and body of another human being. It's an equally mental and anatomical chess match. It's a system built upon the flux of control, where power doesn't always come from physical strength but rather from the ability to adapt and respond effectively. It's about syncing to the rhythm of unpredictability, of learning to be in harmony with the ebb and flow of limbs, pressure, traps, and threats. Your power and worth are measured by your ability to relinquish and reassess.


One key lesson that Jiu-Jitsu whispers to me over the course of training is – "In controlling, we are controlled."


This ancient paradox pierces through the grappling, the chokeholds, the armbars and mounts I cannot escape. No, it’s not about keeping the reins tight at all times. Of that I am physically incapable. Often, doing so hinders my game as my desperate attempts to maintain control only weaken me and allow my opponent to take advantage.


When I am in someone's mount - I cannot control them. If I try, my partner rests while my muscles fatigue and my willpower dissipates. Every time, I inevitably find that my spastic movements have only extinguished my strength and thereby allowed my partner more control. Instead, I must yield and welcome the threat, then find my escape by leveraging the space they create. I have learned that power lies in my ability to yield, to observe, to adapt and, against every cell in my body screaming to keep fighting, to 'tap out' when necessary.

The first few sessions of Jiu-Jitsu can be quite unsettling for a control freak. It's unfamiliar territory, a rogue land that challenges everything you thought you knew about yourself. You are pushed out of your comfort zone into a realm where 'not being in control' is not only the rule of the game but its beauty.


When control is ripped away from you, you are awakened to a world of new possibilities. Your flaws are exploited, yet in that exploitation, you learn to trap arms before standing in guard to avoid a dummy sweep. You learn to protect your neck from a guillotine when transitioning. And eventually, you learn to wake up one day and let the house be messy, because it's a beautiful day and adventure is calling.


And with each roll, each submission, the old addiction to control begins to loosen, and the horizon of acceptance, of surrender, expands.


Jiu-Jitsu is not just a combat sport; it's a philosophy. A philosophy that echoes the timeless wisdom of Lao Tzu, "By letting it go, it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go. But when you try and try, the world is beyond winning."

Embracing Jiu-Jitsu’s teachings made me realize that not being in control does not mean weakness; it means adjusting your sail according to the winds of circumstance. It is about understanding that sometimes the best way to win a fight is not to overpower, but to outmaneuver. An art I will forever try to master.


It's through this martial art that I am learning to let go of my compulsion to control and discover the profound peace and freedom inherent in acceptance and perseverance.

Today, I carry these lessons wherever I go, extending them to my workplace, my relationships, my overall way of living. And when I find myself sliding back into old patterns, I remember the mat, the taps, the rolls, and I am reminded again; I can take a step back, breathe, yield, and continue.


In this magnificent dance between control and surrender, I learned that control does not equate my power, and it does not define my worth. We do not always need to command; sometimes, following the flow can lead you to freedom.

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