I’m on the floor with a beautiful Brazilian girl. Both of us covered in sweat, the air seems to stick to us, as it blankets our bodies. I look down at her in a daze, I try to take in all of her, my world is spinning. My hands move up and down her legs, she smiles at me, it feels as if my heart is about to stop and I can’t breathe. Literally I can’t breathe! This girl is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt and her legs are wrapped tightly around my throat, as I desperately try to remain conscious my arms scrambling frantically to free myself.
I tap, surrender. She releases me, we laugh and shake hands, I look up at the clock as it hits zero, the round ends. I survived, kind of. I’m in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil and I couldn’t give up a chance to train with some of the best in the world, in the birth place of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Jiu Jitsu is still a relatively new sport for me, but martial arts in all its forms have been a major part of my life, for quite some time.
Martial arts is a place where I find peace, it has taught me so much about myself and others and moulded the way I approach life in general. I find solace when I lose myself in a moment of combat, when I step into a ring, onto a mat, or into a cage to train or spar my mind is clear. It is a meditation that brings me calmness.
To those who have never practiced martial arts this might seem somewhat counterintuitive. How can a seemingly violent sport create peace in your life?
That’s an interesting question. I feel that there is this primal energy inside all of us that cries out to be exercised. It is this survival instinct, this ferociousness, the animal inside of us that we and our societies often try to repress, pretend it doesn’t exist. After all, with all our progress, our cities, inventions and leaps in consciousness at our core we are still those monkeys, who learnt to walk on two legs, think, and talk, still animals.
Fighting enables you to let that animal out, set it free for a brief portion of time. It’s exhilarating it’s not about hurting someone. In fact, I really don’t like the idea of hurting anyone at all. It is testing yourself, and what you have been working on against someone else, eye to eye, both with the same goal. Win or lose you learn something.
Just as I want to become a better martial artist I want to become a better person. For me traveling is part of a bigger puzzle, It is all part of my own personal growth and development. I am continually striving to challenge myself and put myself in uncomfortable situations. I want to see what I am made of, what I can improve, how I can be that better person?
I believe we have this same primal energy for adventure and discovery, and travel is the best way to satisfy that desire. Like martial arts you want to test yourself, to see how you react in certain situations. You want to discover your limits, what you are capable of, and then push them. You want to learn new things, see things from a different perspective. Experiencing situations you have never been in and grow from it. These moments of growth and realisation in both travel and martial arts are when you feel truly alive.
While martial arts can be practiced in a gym or at home in a safe environment, travel cannot. There are no travel gyms or practice locations, you never really know a place until you get there. I’ve been lost countless times, in places where I don’t understand a thing people say, wandered obliviously into dangerous neighbourhoods, stranded without money or a phone and just generally been in difficult situations.
The lessons I’ve learnt from practicing and learning martial arts, chasing that primal feeling have prepared me for these difficult situations I encounter when traveling. But also given way to unique and fulfilling opportunities The cool calm, satisfaction of besting a situation, of getting home safely, of doing something you didn’t think possible is powerful, it really feels like you grow with each one.
One of the first lessons you learn in any martial arts is not to underestimate anyone. Going back to the black belt in Rio, physically there was no contest. I was a foot taller than her, and far stronger, by appearances it would seem she didn’t have a chance. But her knowledge of how to manipulate the human body and instead of relying on strength, use leverage and position were far beyond me. As a result I couldn’t beat her.
Appearances are not always what they seem and this has helped me to avoid some nasty situations, but more importantly find myself having the time of my life in places I couldn’t possibly have imagined. Many of my greatest memories have happened because I haven’t let the look or sound of something stop me from experiencing it.
At the core of every martial art is honour and respect and it’s a beautiful thing to learn. It means that after punching, kicking and choking each other for a few rounds you can hug, shake hands and say “thanks”. It also does wonder for your ego and being able to forgive and understand differences can be invaluable when connecting with people from other cultures.
People no matter where they’re from appreciate these qualities. It is amazing how much fun two people, with almost nothing in common, can have together, or even how willing strangers are to help. From basic directions to offering a place to sleep, there are a lot of great people out there. If you are humble and respectful enough to ask for help, or company more times than not you will get it.
Although, Perhaps the greatest lesson of all from martial arts is an insatiable hunger to learn and to discover. In martial arts it’s learning how to use and control your body, its learning how to move. Martial arts by its very nature is an art of movement. But travel is a different kind of movement it’s the seemingly impossible goal to see and experience it all that drives you from one place to the next. That allows you to suck every ounce of experience out of a place before you leave and still want more. It’s just as exhilarating and can’t help but make you a better person.
The parallels between martial arts and travel are many and they complement each other as tools for personal growth. Both have been a huge part of my life and impact the way I live it every day. So join a Jiu Jitsu class, or book a plane ticket, or both! I guarantee you’ll be a better person because of it.
“A black belt is a white belt who never quit” – Anonymous
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