In 2008, I became hooked on martial arts. I do not mean the Bruce Lee, Kung Fu, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon craze from my youth. I have always loved these movies! However, my spare time spent hanging out with trained security guards on music tours opened up a world of self-defense techniques that I never could have imagined. These guys had endless cool, efficient ways to deflect and control aggressors and would generously show me basic concepts of “leverage & movement” vs. “size & strength.” I had a desire, at the very least, to scratch the surface of this painful new hobby.
The first couple of years were spent training in the arts of Kenpo, T’ai Chi, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and Muay Thai. Later, I added a bit of Judo, Escrima, and Wing Chun. Each of these styles offered its own unique and valuable techniques for handling violent situations. Eventually though, my spare time was becoming increasingly limited. I had to narrow down my training and decided to focus primarily on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (which is known as a street self-defense and grappling submission art).
This brings me to the actual topic of this article. “Why would a drummer, whose career relies heavily on the healthy use of his arms, legs, and neck, choose a hobby where the main objective is to hyperextend arms, twist legs, and choke necks?” This is a valid question, and one that I get asked quite often.
I grew up in a quiet, suburban town in New Jersey, where we rarely, if ever, had to worry about everyday physical altercations. Yes, there were the occasional schoolyard punching matches, or the much-to-be-expected pushing and shoving battles amongst the bullies and rivals of the neighborhood. But rarely did I feel as though my life was on the line. Simply acting “tough” could get a kid out of most problems. As I got older though, I started to see the true value of being “calm under fire” in stressful situations. There were bar fights, car-jackings, muggings to consider. I was never so delusional to think that I could be a Jason Bourne-type figure against a group of armed thugs, but I did sense that it would be a practical skill to have confidence and to keep a level-head during “fight or flight” scenarios.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is exhausting. The constant jumping up, falling down, rolling, pushing, and pulling is a true total-body workout. I leave most classes feeling as though I have been through a war, or sometimes flattened by a Mac truck! But at the same time, I feel as though I am in the best shape of my life. Sore, but functional. Keep in mind, one must learn to train safely, which means knowing your own body and its limits, trusting your sparring partners, and always being on guard against accidental injuries.
3) Mental Chess
Jiu Jitsu is often referred to as “mental chess.” As you train, especially under the guidance of experienced black belt professors, you come to learn that there are virtually endless combinations of sequences depending on the “action/re-action” of your opponents. As you progress through your years of training, your mind buzzes with replays of everything that occurred during your recent class or match. If you happened to defeat your training partner, how? What worked well, and what could have worked better? If you lost to your partner, why? What did he do correctly, and what did you do incorrectly? If you spent 20 minutes sparring with a classmate and you both ended in a stalemate, what should you both do to improve?
4) Sense Of Brotherhood
Not only have I spent years training with my friends in my hometown of Los Angeles, but I have also graciously been allowed to visit dozens of esteemed Jiu Jitsu academies across the globe during my travels. I must admit that I was surprised by the incredible bond that exists between almost everyone who chooses to put time “on the mats” sweating and pursuing this particular martial art. Jiu Jitsu is a bizarre community where, one minute you’re trying to kill your classmate, and then immediately hugging and congratulating each other on doing such a great job. Somehow that strange cocktail of danger and positive energy creates a special camaraderie amongst the brothers and sisters of Jiu Jitsu.
5) Keeping The Ego In Check
A professor once told me, “It’s a true test of character for a grown adult to start from scratch and suck at something.” Brazilian Jiu Jitsu will constantly “hand your ass to you” at every belt level. From white, to blue, to purple, to brown, to black, there always seems to be someone who is light years ahead of you. At times, it can feel extremely discouraging, but this fact can also be turned into a great motivator. And, if you’re truly honest with yourself, life in general behaves in a similar system. If you can learn to focus on your own progression and your own pace, and not worry too much about the people younger than you, faster than you, stronger than you, more talented than you, more privileged than you, then you will be equipping yourself with valuable tools to handle life’s hurdles.
I still feel like a novice in this world of beasts, but I plan on sticking with Jiu Jitsu until I am one day too old to get out of bed.