For the past four years, I’ve been diligently devoting a large portion of my life to the martial art and combat sport, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Over the course of this time, I’ve maneuvered around several trajectories in both my personal and professional life. The numerous ways in which jiu-jitsu has helped me develop is uncanny. This is my experience—
The Beauty of Jiu-Jitsu
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a martial art that is unlike any other. The beauty of it lies in the interpersonal connections that you encounter during every training session. It’s an aggressive yet gentle sport that requires patience and very strong attention to detail. The better you become, the more gentler it becomes. I love this paradox.
Jiu-jitsu is about leverage and using your opponent’s energy against themselves. The more pressure they apply, the more pressure you’re able to apply back. If they lean into you, you can use that energy to flip them over your head. By having an understanding of the human body and its weak points, you’re able to neutralize your opponent into submission—it’s a wonderful experience, a conversation without words, and an opportunity to truly test your psyche.
Practice humility and patience, employ strategy in every action, and have good intentions in all that you do. This philosophy is essential to propel in jiu-jitsu, without it, the journey will be long, weary, and bleak. I attempt to use the same moral compass in everything.
Jiu-Jitsu applied to Design
In design, we are given briefs and asked to creatively solve problems through a visual medium. In jiu-jitsu, every position encountered is an opportunity to creatively solve problems through a physical medium. The differences between design and jiu-jitsu: none.
Imagine you’re asked to do the impossible or you’re given a request right at the pinnacle of your exhaustion. How you go about finding the solution is completely up to you. In this situation, I imagine that I am pinned down by a much stronger opponent. He’s closed all the space necessary between him and I, so it’s hard for me to push him off, so I’m left feeling defenseless. If I continue to use force to counter his attacks, I’ll eventually get weary and be placed in a much more uncomfortable position. This is what I want to avoid.
In both of these situations, instead of swimming against the current, I go with the current and I break down the problem or situation into tangible parts. How can I use this specific situation to my advantage?
I run through the various options I have in my arsenal, and I think about what their impact will be. If I try to push my opponent away, I know he’ll push back, but if I do it 5 times with a third of my strength, when I do it on the sixth time with twice the strength, it’ll catch him off guard and I’ll be able to bridge him over me. Or. If I start here with these three distinct words, I can develop three different concepts. Each concept will consistent of these elements. If I multiply that by three, by 3pm, I should have enough to show during our design review.
This is just an example of how breaking down problems can help drive solutions. However, it doesn’t all work this way. You can have the greatest action plan and a very detailed strategy in mind but when you execute it, everything backfires and you are now ten steps behind the starting point. When this happens, there are two options to take: you can either surrender to failure and let the situation prevail or you can take this opportunity as a moment of growth and learning. It’s during failure that growth presents itself. Okay, so I made a mistake. What can I do next time differently to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. In jiu-jitsu the culture is welcoming and giving. The people that are better than you are your greatest teachers. If I get trapped into submission, I can ask my opponent, what they did and what I did wrong. Most likely they will tell you and help you protect yourself against their attacks. By them helping you, in return they are helping themselves. They’re making you better so you in return can make them better. It’s wonderful harmony. In design, if you encounter a failure, ask for feedback and guidance. There’s no shame in making mistakes, owning them, and learning. It happens.
Theory and Practice
Jiu-jitsu requires technique and focus. A conscious effort to tune into a state of composed relaxation while maintaining speed, mobility, and execution is required. To obtain these you must practice self-care. People’s self-care methods vary and there’s no true right or wrong but what’s helps me is practicing healthy habits.
Meditation is the most important. During meditation I’m able to tune out my surroundings and I’m able to face my true self. The happiness meditation evokes is sublime and grandiose. This happiness makes it a joy to face challenges and helps me enjoy and appreciate everything. When I meditate, walking feels better, water tastes better, everything is better. Mindfulness is key.
The second habit is having a fixed yet flexible routine. I wake up early, I make time to read, write, exercise, and drink tea, all before work. The reason I do this is because I am not certain that I’ll be able to do these things after work. I sleep early so I can rise early. It’s important to recognize that we have 24 hours in a day. Find time to do the things that are important to you.
The third is to be integrated with a community. I’m fortunate to work with amazingly brilliant people through the week but I’m also fortunate to have meaningful relationships with a diverse group of people outside of work. I have dedicated people for every topic of my interest, whether its music, philosophy, books, jiu-jitsu, design, spirituality, bonsai trees, tea, etc. A community inclusive to you is very important. If you don’t have one, create one.
Mastering your emotions
In jiu-jitsu, you will get frustrated. The person you are off the mats, you bring to the mats. The mats bring out your true self and through the practice of jiu-jitsu, you learn to control your emotions and you learn to adapt to your surroundings while remaining centered. This has probably been the greatest lesson I’ve learned thus far. Control. A controlled attitude in the midst of chaos is the path to success.
Martial arts and design are one and the same. They embody the same principles. Having an understanding of people’s energy encourages compassion and empathy. These are the pillars of good design and they can be obtained through jiu-jitsu.