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Progress, not Perfection: The Jiu-Jitsu Way

In the ascension of life, whispers of wisdom often guide us along the steep and winding path. One such drop of wisdom that resonates profoundly with both the martial arts world and life's broader canvas is: "Progress, not Perfection."

This mantra, hailing originally from the halls of Alcoholics Anonymous, echoes seamlessly within the arena of both Jiu-Jitsu, and life as a whole. It's a calming reminder that throughout this mortal journey, learning and growth come bit by bit, step by step.

The Aspiration for Perfection

In our quest for excellence – whether it's grappling on the dojo mats or navigating life's complexities – we often aim for the moon, dreaming of that 'perfect' performance, that 'perfect' life. The flawless sweep, the immaculate armbar... Yet, in this quest for perfection, we place upon our shoulders a weight that often hinders our performance more than it helps.

I find myself frequently forgetting that Jiu-Jitsu, like life itself, is less a destination and more a journey. One day I'm writing a blog about creating space or accepting the absence of control, and the next I'm leaving the gym frustrated and confused.

Still, I do find space to pause and reflect upon the journey I've embarked upon and the miles I've traveled thus far. Renowned motivational speaker and author Denis Waitley encapsulated it well, “Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing.”

Well, I guess I'd rather be tapping to a chokehold than sitting on my couch doing nothing.

Progress: The True Triumph

Jiu-Jitsu is a complex, intoxicating art. It demands time, patience, and ceaseless practice, and rewards you with runners' highs and spiritual awakenings. Even Jiu-Jitsu luminaries, now in the depths of black-belt territory, executed a sloppy pass or found themselves submitted time and again at some point in their careers. Their journey to the top wasn't marked by immediate perfection, but by consistent, dedicated progress.

Consider the story of world-class Jiu-Jitsu athlete Marcus "Buchecha" Almeida. His career started with EIGHT consecutive tournament losses, and Buchecha himself shared that he lost all eight matches in the first round.

Despite the defeats, Buchecha did not surrender to disillusionment. Instead, he subscribed to the philosophy of 'Progress, not Perfection,' and trained harder, learned from his failures, and returned stronger. His resilience and commitment to progress rewarded him with 13 IBJJF World Championship titles - cementing his place as one of the greatest Jiu-Jitsu practitioners ever known.

Buchecha's story, among others, paints the portrait of progress – the truly admirable victory. And it's not an isolated narrative. Roger Gracie, often touted as the greatest BJJ competitor of all time, suffered defeats early in his career. Yet each brought him closer to the plethora of gold medals in his wake.

The Philosophical Take

Stoic philosopher Seneca once wrote, "To err is human, but to persist (in mistake) is diabolical" (translated). He taught that while we aim for virtue and wisdom, we should not beat ourselves up for the failures we encounter along the course. We are human - naturally imperfect and prone to missteps. Still, we must learn to correct our mistakes before pressing onward.

What's important is committing to continual learning, improvement, and hence, progress. As Carl Jung conveyed, "I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become," emphasizing the importance of the individual's journey towards self-improvement and growth. I cannot focus solely on the fact that I lost a match (or two, or three, or... I lost count), but I can choose to get back on the mats and train harder.

Moreover, embracing Eastern philosophy, we find Taoist concepts highlighting the 'path' or the 'way.' The destination, the end-point, isn't the focus; the journey itself is the focal point of any life worth living.

To find references to the "Progress, not Perfection" mindset throughout the course of history plays into the power of the concept. If it's agreeable to Jung, it's agreeable to me.

Along the Way

In Jiu-Jitsu and life alike, the mat and the living arena become less about achieving textbook perfection and more about welcoming progress – growing, improving, adapting. Elegance lies in our bruises, our sweat-soaked gis, our grappling trials, our life battles. Each error becomes not a defeat, but a lesson – a stepping stone on the path to progress.

Just as the twelve steps steadily ease one's path to sobriety, each movement, each grapple, each tap in Jiu-Jitsu gets us one step closer to our higher selves.

"Progress, not perfection" is about bewaring the allure of a flawless performance and, instead, embracing the beauty of the landscape surrounding your path – ditches, rocks, bees, bugs and all. It's about standing up after every fall. It's about learning from every tap out, and returning to the mat, day after day, a smidge wiser, a bit stronger.

As we commemorate our journeys – on the mats, in the ring of life, in the humbling path of sobriety, let's pledge to celebrate the trials, the errors, the lessons. For each tells a tale – a tale of progress, however small, lighting the path for the many steps ahead.

So, plunge once more into the dance of life, into the grip of a grapple, cherishing your own journey of Progress, making peace with the elusive Perfection.

For as we strive, as we move, as we grow – we are already triumphant.

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