This may sound a bit weird coming from a guy who runs a grappling site, but I want you to ask yourself a question: why on earth are you spending hours and hours rolling around on the ground with men wearing spandex and/or pajamas?
Really… I mean it’s not the easiest of activities. And it’s sweaty and sometimes it’s even painful…
Obviously there are self defense benefits to training, but if that was your only concern then you should just buy a gun! There are health and fitness benefits, sure, but wouldn’t it be easier to just hire a personal trainer a few times a week?
I think that a large part of the appeal of grappling is that it ISN’T a walk in the park!
We don’t train because it’s easy. We train because it’s hard!
And the major milestones in your training – attending your first class, competing in your first tournament, getting your black belt – function as a sort of rite of passage, which is something that we’ve mostly lost in our society.
We have to remind ourselves that in bygone times rites of passage weren’t easy. There was no guarantee of success.
But you need the possibility of failure to get the transformation and transcendence.
Let’s look at some historical rites of passage. Not only is there the possibility of failure, but many of them were actually pretty brutal.
Did you see the movie 300? Do you remember the flashback to King Leonidas killing the wolf as a teenager? That was actually part of the brutal krypteia ritual that young Spartan men had to undergo in order to come of age. And not all of them survived.
Old navy rituals for pollywogs (new sailors crossing the equator for the first time) sent many injured men to sickbay, but also marked an important transition in the sailor’s career. And not all Australian Aborigine adolescents who took off into the bush for months to do their walkabout returned.
Am I saying that you have to go out and assassinate slaves bare-handedly like ancient Spartan youths?
Am I saying that you should get beaten with boards and flogged with wet ropes like a sailor in the Royal Navy?
But there is a certain glory in dragging your butt to class and getting it royally kicked. Or waiting to compete at a tournament, scared s***less.
Most people get up, go to work, come home, watch some TV, and go to bed. And repeat it all the next day. Repeat, repeat, repeat…
That’s NOT what you’re doing – you’re doing something tough. Something challenging. You’re putting it on the line in a public setting and you could publicly fail. It’s not easy, but it’s probably going to change you and make you a better person.
Of course I’m not suggesting that all modern rites of passage need to come from the martial arts.
For example in my career with the fire department there have been certain ceremonies that served to mark the the transition from civilian to recruit, and then from probationary to a full-fledged firefighter. And there was also an 1,800 mile (2,880 kilometers) solo canoe trip across the Canadian North that I undertook as a sort of vision quest. It remains one of the pivotal experiences of my life.
Whatever the rites of passage have been in YOUR life, they’ve served as markers of psychological time. They’re lines in the sand where you can say “there, regardless of what happens now, I’m a little different from when I began.”
The martial arts – training, competing, conditioning – are an entirely voluntary, self-imposed, self-improvement ritual.
By pushing yourself physically, mentally and emotionally you’re going to grow as a human being.
You train because it’s hard. Good for you.
This article was revised and republished on March 22nd, 2017