(originally published at The Gateway Boyfriend, April 2, 2013)
I’m used to grappling in pain. In my short career in jiu jitsu, I bruised my shoulder, pulled my thumb, stretched my groin. As I struggle to defend against the triangle choke my partner is closing around my neck, all of those body parts are making their discomfort known.
But the real pain, the one I can’t ignore, is in my heart.
My posture is broken. My head is down. Legs come around my neck; one arm gets pulled across my body. I wedge my free hand between my neck and his thigh, not much, just a crack of space barely a finger wide. I do the only thing left to me both for my position and for my broken heart.
And wait for the situation to change.
What else can I do?
Unlike other martial arts, I rarely hear my instructors talk about the ‘philosophy’ of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. They are practical people with practical concerns: the foot goes here; the hips move this way; the arm pulls now. Yet that very lack of philosophy makes BJJ the truest metaphor for life. Instead of focusing on lofty ideals or spiritual principles, jiu jitsu deals in reality.
And reality--as many of the competitors in the first few UFCs can attest--can be a hard thing to face.
Rolling Doesn’t Lie
Rolling doesn’t lie. The position you are in is the position you are in. I could pretend I’m not in a triangle choke right now. I can make all the excuses in the world--I didn’t eat breakfast, it would be different had we started standing, I’m distracted by heartache--but none of that changes where I am.
I could say the same thing about my relationship. If only I’d tried harder or less hard. I should have paid attention to those voices inside my heart. Everything would have worked had she been more open or less of a perfectionist or been anybody but the person she actually is.
But rolling doesn’t lie. The position I’m in is the position I’m in.
Little things become big things
A problem that could have been avoided by paying attention to that grip. That little thing.
I remember little things in our relationship. I remember the first little thing.
It comes back to me in a split second flash as I’m being swept. In the fragment of time before I hit the mat, I feel her in my arms, lying on the couch together. I hear the words she said to me, and I hear the words I said back, offering comfort. But I also hear the words I didn‘t say, the fear I kept inside.
It was the first time I kept something from her, the first time I decided not to trust her. It was the first brick in a wall we built together, brick by brick standing on opposite sides, until finally it was so high we couldn’t see each other anymore.
I wish I could go back and strip that first grip.
I wish I could go back and undo that first little thing.
There is no winning or losing. Only learning
I’ve been tapped out dozens of times. Sometimes it happened quickly, before I even knew what happened. Other times it was slow but inevitable; I could see what was coming, but with no way of stopping it, the goal became to prolong the outcome as long as possible.
But defeat was never personal, and I learned something--sometimes several things--each time.
It’s a hard lesson to apply to the end of a relationship, especially one I’ve worked at for a long time.
I feel like a failure, like I‘ve given everything I had and have nothing to show for it. It feels personal.
But it isn’t personal. It’s never personal. It’s just the way things happened.
That’s the last, and perhaps most important lesson, I learned from jiu jitsu.
A triangle choke isn’t personal. Nor is an armbar. My partner and I got together and thanks to our combined experience, attributes, choices, and maybe just plain dumb luck the situation became what it was. Sometimes things don’t go our way. We take time to learn, to look at our decisions, to seek help when necessary, and recover from our injuries.
Then we find our next partner, put the past behind us, slap hands, and try again.