BY SAVANNAH WRIGHT
I need to begin this story by acknowledging that I got into jiu-jitsu for all the wrong reasons:
First, my ground game sucked. I finally learned after 8 years of a striking background that was steadily approaching an amateur MMA debut around the time I started to focus more heavily on grappling. This reason wasn’t terrible, but it seemed like a chore that had to be done in order to achieve my higher dream of being a cage fighter (which lacks passion and therefore isn’t a great reason to do something).
Second, my mom was sick of me getting punched in the face and coming home with bruises all over my body, constantly reminding me that the head trauma would affect my academic success. This mom was also my Sensei in my earliest years of martial arts where I ranked up through Tatsu-Do and got bored by the time I was 13. After switching into more combative striking at 14, this reason didn’t seem very negotiable, nor would it ever really go away.
Third, I was being bullied in school, which sounds really lame now coming from someone who regularly dismantles grown men. But believe it or not, I wasn’t always confident, I spent the first 17 years of my life being scared, and I had been more emotionally beaten up and bruised than any MMA round had ever done to me. This justification for poor reasoning was that I wanted to be able to fight all the people who had caused me pain and discomfort for 9 years in middle and high school, to which my mother always told me “violence is never the answer”.
Finally, I wanted to be untouchable. And this one you’re probably thinking “this doesn’t seem like a wrong reason to get into jiu-jitsu”, but I promise you, untouchable is almost always accompanied by an insatiable hunger. I was so cold and so numb, that being untouchable genuinely seemed like the only way I could survive the isolation that came with my middle and high school years. It wasn’t the good kind of untouchable that I experience today (the kind where I’m on a straight path and hungry to achieve all the goals that I set). It was the kind that was filled by fantasy and could never actually be obtained.
Fast forward, I started to like jiu-jitsu. And I showed up to practice excited one day (after a few months of dragging myself there). I remember the first time I showed up during a day full of heavy emotions and immediately felt the release of energy that came from a good sweat in the Gi. I remember the first enlightening energy exchange between myself and my rolling partner when our 5 minute round flowed like water. And eventually, each of these markers became pivotal points in the journey of my falling in love with a sport I had no intention of falling in love with.
I didn’t necessarily fall in love with jiu-jitsu because of coaches, teammates, or techniques (although those were also interesting things to navigate). Rather, it was how it made me feel about myself and how it forced me into a routine that I could tell was good for me. It forced me into sober Friday nights so that I could wake up for Saturday morning practices, and it taught my damaged, 17-year-old self how to keep showing up to something. I got instant gratification from knowing that I was doing what 99% of the population would never be able to commit to. My love for this sport is so deeply rooted in my emotional wounds, the way I view my work ethic, and how I react to situations, both in jiu-jitsu and in life. The way I navigate through jiu-jitsu (level-headed, with the intention to learn and refine) inspires me to keep the same mindset in all other aspects of my life. Because of this experience, I am a firm believer that we will always accidentally stumble upon the things we need the most.
6 years later, I’m doing things that my 17-year-old self wouldn’t believe. My credentials are great, but those aren’t the things that keep me coming back. I have great and awful practices, and I’m still learning to adapt to adversity. But I’m young, healthy, inspired, and a part of something so much bigger than myself (that I never would’ve found if I hadn’t lived through the lowest point of my life). I fell in love with jiu-jitsu because it was there for me every single time nothing else was, and it continues to be a safe haven outside of all the things I endure in this lifetime.
You cannot run from things - in jiu-jitsu, or in life.
If your frames are not perfect, someone will pass you. If your neck is exposed, someone will choke you. And if you run from adversity in jiu-jitsu or in life, you will never meet the better version of yourself. This sport is brutally honest, and it will keep you accountable. To see your best side and all of your potential, you must first be ready to see all of your weaknesses. Work hard, stay humble, remember where you came from, and figure out where you want to go.
It will always be worth it.