Essence of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu


by James Eke

Someone asked me the other day what Jiu-jitsu was and I answered with a clinical text book answer. Then they asked me something that made me think, they asked, ‘what is its essence?’

Now giving a short answer on a question like that is a tough one. Especially if you know me and understand that I’ve been involved with martial arts for over 35 years. The essence of the martial arts is something I have been digging into and rooting down through for a while now. It is the kind of deep thinking that I love.

The simple answer would be respect for each other, respect for the art, respect for your teacher. But while this is truth and I really believe that we need to, as one of my instructors used to say to us in his broken English, “Always respect! Begin. End. Respect. Don’t forget! Breathe respect. Bow respect.” Too many schools and systems these days seem to forget that. I’ve even read something once that said that we shouldn’t bow because it is some ancient Shinto thing…huh?…what? This is also the kind of place you’d probably hear swearing and fighting in the school. If you don’t understand respect you sure aren’t going to practice it.

The essence of Jiu-jitsu. You could say that it is about efficiency and effectiveness. About learning how to use the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses against them. This would all be correct as well. Jiu-jitsu, if you learn it properly has little to do with aggression. In fact, aggression only breeds more aggression and mix that into a confrontation and you’ll gas out quicker than you’d realize. Jiu-jitsu requires you to leave your ego outside the Academy and to enter with the view not to tap anyone out but to work with your partners so that you both will become awesome.

Maybe the essence of Jiu-jitsu has something to do with getting into great shape and learning things about your body, mind and soul that you wouldn’t have otherwise figured out. Few martial arts will show you the mirror of what you are, your fears, your abilities, your weaknesses with the no-BS-lense quite like BJJ does. You might think you are in great shape and realize that this older dude who doesn’t look like he has been to the gym in a decade or two kicks your butt. You might think you are awesome until someone takes your back and chokes you out. You might think your Jiu-jitsu is superior until someone gets you with a knee-on-belly that feels like you’ve been stapled to the ground. Jiu-jitsu is a levelling ground that keeps you humble and yet constantly improving each and every day.

Jiu-jitsu is all of these things. It is also a whole lot more.

When I looked back at this person who’d asked the question I thought about all of this, I thought about the kindness I’ve personally found through legendary BJJ black belts, I thought about the friendships I’ve made from the mats, I thought about how excited those of us who truly love the art feel every time we tie our beat up belts around our uniforms, I thought about the times I’ve wanted to train but couldn’t because of an injury or sickness, I thought about how much I miss my teachers in Los Angeles, I thought about how much this new spin on an ancient art has come to mean to me in only five years, and the last thing I thought about was something that my teacher and BJJ black belt Guro Dan Inosanto said to me once and I smiled and nodded before answering.

“The essence of BJJ is love.”

A raised eyebrow told me that this person who’d asked didn’t either understand or didn’t buy it.

The essence of BJJ is love because when you start training you are doing it 100 per cent for you. It is a selfish thing but something you know you need in your life. It like a special present for you wrapped up in an awesome bow with a cool suit. With time BJJ becomes about your school and your teacher and the people around you — they all become central to your life, you are proud of them all and feel a kinship with them like you haven’t really felt in your life before. Eventually BJJ becomes something that is alive and breathing and you can feel its heartbeat every time you walk onto the mats — it is like a baby that if you nurture it and help it grow you know that it will become something absolutely incredible. Then BJJ becomes this mystery that you have to unravel — you read everything you can find, watch everything you can find, listen to everything you can find because you know there are missing piece that have to fit together and you are going to unravel it. Eventually though, BJJ becomes something far greater — it becomes, in a way, a place where not only you can grow but where you can help foster the amazing journey you have felt in others. You want them to discover themselves. You want them to see what you feel. You want them to succeed. It becomes not about competing against others but helping them. All of these things and more are the reasons why the essence of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is love.

Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is a journey which may well take you here and there. You might decide to compete, you might not. You might get to train with a lot of different teachers or just one. You will definitely see people come and unfortunately you’ll also see them go. But through all of this, Jiu-jitsu is a journey not through time and space and people; Jiu-jitsu is a personal journey through yourself which happens through the grace and love of others.

What you will find at the other end is a far greater gift than you could have anticipated when you began.

Jiu-jitsu is for everyone. You don’t have to be fit. You don’t have to be young. You don’t have to be anything. Jiu-jitsu is about YOU and US and at its heart it is about what life itself is all about. Love.

That’s not a bad thing, is it?

Why not give it a try?

You will love it.


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