At 26 I thought I’d finally made it. I had my dream job working in San Francisco for an ed-tech startup. The company was growing rapidly, my team was succeeding and I was making more money than I ever had before. There was one problem.
I was pretty miserable.
The combination of working in front of a computer all day, long hours at the office and having a personal life entangled in work affairs made it hard to ever “get away” from my work world.
“Come to jujitsu tonight” my colleague Tony would say. Each week he’d make his rounds in the office asking different people if they wanted to join him. He was a really hard worker, but he generally left the office at a decent hour in time in order to make it to his jiujitsu class in Japantown that night.
Now, working long hours in a startup seems like a heroic thing to do, but there’s nothing glamorous about the burn out and misery it can cause. Fortunately for me I decided to join him one day and unbeknownst to me Jiu-jitsu helped change all that.
You may have heard Jiujitsu is a great workout and is awesome for self defense, but it can actually improve a whole lot more in your life than that.
Here are some things learning armlocks unlocked for me.
Jiujitsu Allows You to Be a Beginner Again
If you work in a startup or corporate environment you might find everyone spends a great deal of energy trying to “always be right.” This is especially true in the tech world where people attempt to create something from nothing and therefore need to assert their own “certainty and intellect” onto infinitely complex and uncertain problems.
Jiujitsu provided an environment where it was okay for me not know something. I became more comfortable in a beginner’s mindset which inspired me to try a whole bunch of new things at work and in my personal life. By letting go of my ego I was able to explore new possibilities and also felt more supportive of others who were trying to learn new things.
Jiujitsu Makes You More Confident During Conflict
Working in Silicon Valley you may run into big egos and people who try to overcompensate with one aspect of their life because a deficit in another. Talking to a strong willed client or colleague would sometimes rattle me, throwing me off my conversation or thought process.
I’m guessing this triggers my “fight or flight” response and by taking a moment to stop, breathe and recognize I’m not in a life or death situation (and if I was I could defend myself) I’ve gotten more confident during conflict. In jiujitsu it’s fine if you stumble or get yourself into a bad position. Don’t panic, assess the situation and then begin to regain your ground by playing your game and not letting an overly aggressive opponent dominate you the entire time.
Jiujitsu Helps Ground You in Reality
Working in front of a computer all day can take a toll on you mentally and physically. This combined with the fact you are often solving problems in abstract, detached, and “scalable” way can take you far away from your own body and emotions.
While my mind was focussed on “high level strategy” and “how we were going to change the world” sometimes it was a jarring transition to the thought of how to change my bike tire. Jiujitsu class is great because within the first few minutes all of those thoughts swirling around your head begin to simmer and suddenly you become very present in the human body you are in.
Jiujitsu also doesn’t allow for quick fixes, hacks or shortcuts that can often be employed when you’re working in the digital realm.. When you’re on the matt it doesn’t” matter who you know, how much money you’ve raised or how well you can BS someone. Instead you’re given a realistic perspective on where you are in the sport and forces you to work hard and listen openly if you want to improve.
Jiujitsu Reduces Anxiety and Increases Euphoria
After work my colleagues and I would often go out for drinks or even stick around the office to enjoy the array of beverages we had there. We all need to blow off steam and have a little fun and ever since college this was the way I knew how to do it.
After the first few classes I realized jiujitsu gives you a way better feeling than most drugs, especially alcohol. Once I got into a bit better shape the day after jiujitsu I woke up energized, refreshed and ready to take on the world. While this is common for most people who exercise I think jiujitsu brings a whole new level of body cleansing, mind opening exercise that can give you, as my roommate calls it, “that jiujitsu swagger.”
Now I don’t know what that means, but I do know I feel re-energized, refreshed and ready to tackle obstacles with less anxiety and in a more mindful way.
Jiujitsu Introduces you to a New Group of Friends
Before jiujitsu my social life was filled primarily with other people who work in tech. People often talked about companies, their side projects and the lines between professional networking, friend introductions and dinner parties blurred so much I felt like everyone was on a sales call all the time.
Getting away from that can be tough in SF, but the gym introduced me to so many people from all different backgrounds. Sure some work in tech, but others are students, bartenders, or working in a dozen other capacities that didn’t involve talking about their next round of fundraising.
At first wresting a group of strangers can be a little strange, but I’ll never forget the realization I had during my first competition.
Looking over into the crowd after winning my match I realized all of these “random people from the gym” felt like family. Something about the primal nature of competing against someone until submission triggered me to be so incredibly thankful for all the sparring partners I’d been working with the past 6 months and it was so great to see all their smiling faces.
Increased confidence, physical health, mental health and a new group of friends. Just a few hours a week and this new hobby opened up a whole new world for me.
Special shout out to Tony, Stephen, Travis and all the other teachers and students who I’ve been able to learn from!