Finding Unity on the Mats: What Jiu-Jitsu Taught Me about the Value of Togetherness
"If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together." - African proverb
In my late twenties, I nervously walked into a Brazilian jiu-jitsu school for a series of security trainings, which I was required to take as part of my employment agreement for a restaurant I worked for. I was always intrigued by martial arts - if my memory serves me correctly, I participated in two hours of karate in my youth before that day. After completing my classes, I quickly made the decision to join the school. Regardless of my experience (which was zero), the color of my skin, my religion, or my political beliefs, I was accepted with open arms into a community where none of that mattered.
Almost five years later, that same feeling of belonging hasn't changed; in fact, that feeling has become more robust. My bonds with my teammates are more solidified and less surface-level. In the past eight months, we faced a global pandemic that continues to burden our personal and professional lives, coupled with the battle between the "maskers" and "anti-maskers" and our country's social justice issues. However, despite these issues that would normally divide us, they are transcended when we step on the mats.
The beauty of the martial arts community, especially in the jiu-jitsu community, is that it is inclusive and diverse. I have the privilege to train with individuals from various backgrounds and occupations - Black, Latino, Caucasian, Asian, LGBTQ, teachers, cops, firemen, blue-collar, white-collar, mothers, husbands, and the list goes on and on. In today's social and political climate, it is very rare that you see individuals from different sides of the table come together for an hour or two to make each other better, whether that it is in the arts of Brazilian jiu-jitsu or Thai boxing, or in life.
I have always tried to approach my life with an open mind, and for the most part, I have, but I have also been blinded by my ignorance more times than I can count. In hindsight, I should recognize it, learn from it and educate myself so I am better informed in the future. My fiancÃ© often says, "I'm crazy" when I tell her how much I love having a kick or punch thrown at me, as well as being placed in a chokehold. I know what you're thinking "Yeah, she is right; you're crazy!" However, my experiences with sparring with my teammates allowed me to better understand them and myself. There aren't too many situations where you can toss or strike someone and then smile and say, "let's do it again!"
Training with people from all walks of life has not only helped me better understand myself and other people, but it has helped me find my confidence, which I felt has eluded me for most of my life. Moreover, it has helped me professionally as well. I often have those moments where I feel like an imposter, and doubt what I am capable of, but I think back to when I have a two hundred and fifty pound person lying on my ribcage and trying to submit me and I think to myself, "If you can get yourself out of that situation, then you can certainly write about x, y, and z." Furthermore, it has been crucial for my mental health in regard to easing my anxiety and depression.
The founder of our Firm, Francine Griesing, is a lifelong advocate for promoting diversity and inclusion. Her goal is to make the legal profession and the workplace in general, an environment in which everyone is respected by and connected to one another. Now more than ever, that idea could not ring more true. In these uncanny times, let's "go together" instead of going alone.