This post is almost two months in the making. All apologies to the faithful readers. Life’s challenges (selling a home, buying a home, promotion at work, etc.) stacked up to a place where I needed to place the blog on a low priority level. I hope you enjoy this installment of the “BJJ White Belt” series on In Pursuit of Mastery.
Learning Jiu-Jitsu has been a worthwhile endeavor for me; a beautiful tri-mixture of challenge, frustration and reward. It is commonly said within the BJJ community that you either win or learn. Believe me, I’ve been doing a whole hell of a lot of learning! The more mistakes I make however, the more I learn, the more kinks I find and work out, the better my game will eventually be.
As a kid I didn’t like getting stuck in small spaces, it was borderline claustrophobia.  I hated even entertaining the idea of being stuck. I cringed everytime I would watch the Grinch inch his way down the chimeny and get stuck in that akward position. I remember exploring a small access tunnel to an apartment complex I lived in one time, back in the day. Instead of reversing course to get out, I tried to turn around and I got stuck. It frightened the shit out of me. Being stuck or pinned down reaches deep into some primal part of us. You aren’t able to move, you can’t escape, you feel helpless, defenseless, vulnerable and I think in some deep primal sense, it reminds us of our own inescapable death. And we will do anything to get out of that situation.
I wasn’t stuck long, and like the Grinch, I was able to unstick myself… but this kid didn’t like it!
I also had a fear of drowning. I remember my Dad and Mom individually bringing me in to the deep end of the pool. The bottom of the pool might as well have been 1000 feet down for all I cared. This seemingly harmless element that I splashed around in was going to drag me down into its depths. I would be unable to breathe, grasping and clawing at the surface to no avail until I passed out and drown. My Dad says that, like the Calvin & Hobbes comic strip, I was scarred from being thrown in by my mother. That may be so, I’m not sure. I don’t recall. Maybe that’s why my eye twitches really bad when I am poolside with my kids and my mom walks by. I guess we’ll never know…
Now, take those two feelings – drowning and claustrophobia – and put yourself in a live roll against someone who understands leverage and how to maneuver and position themselves better than you do. Welcome to Jiu-Jitsu!
That was June as we worked the mount all month long.
Under pressure. Claustrophobic. Near drowning.
I’m laying there, mounted by someone who’s at least six months my senior, who outweighs me by a good 50lbs or so. He’s in a higher mounted position and I’m doing my best to stay small, move and survive. His chest is pressed against me hard, my breathing is labored and the light around me starts to fade – not from being choked out – but from his arms covering and working me into submission. My training partner is patiently working his attack as I use the little knowledge I have to try and survive. It only prolongs the inevitable and shortly the submission is made, I tap and I am pulled back to the surface.
And I go again.
Willingly.
I am enjoying this.
I know I have some deep rooted masochistic tendencies, or at least I have a twisted willingness to endure pain.
The partners I have had the opportunity to train with are great. And in BJJ, I know that all I have to do is tap and it’s over. Regardless of that safety net, it seems there are ample opportunities to confront those primal parts of my genetic makeup, like the fear of drowning and claustrophobia, by being placed in uncomfortable positions and put under pressure. These opportunities, from my view, demand that I find the harmony between clearing my mind, staying calm, thinking and reacting. My beginner’s impression is that as a white belt, one is always trying to find this harmony when rolling and training but even moreso when you are in those dark, uncomfortable positions. If you freak out and lose your cool, you die.
This white belt’s impression from both receiving it and giving the mount, is that proper application of the mount makes it feel like the person applying the technique has doubled in weight.
It’s interesting, this path I’ve begun to walk down over the last couple years, pursuing mastery of self. I mentioned in a previous post how hard training gets me into this reflective mode where all my internal shit gets magnified, clarified and sometimes sorted out. It’s fascinating how hard, rigorous training at the gym or at jiu-jitsu brings out those thoughts, emotions and reflections. I find that some of my most clearest of thoughts, emotions or reflections happen through this physical process. I get to the point where all the masks come off and I find my center, in it’s purest state of being. It’s not perfect, but it’s real.
And it’s the best way to combat any kind of pressure in my life.
In jiu-jitsu, for example, the more I train, the more I push myself to keep going, the more I embrace the process, the easier it is to handle the pressure – both physically and mentally – of being in uncomfortable positions.
Whatever and however you pursue mastery of self in your life, keep at it. Keep pushing forward.
Pursue Mastery.

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