I have a bit of training in the martial arts. I am very familiar with Daniel LaRusso aka the Karate Kid and the Cobra Kai dojo. I can wax on, wax off with the best of them. Given an opportunity, I can sweep your leg so fast your head will spin. For about fifteen years, I dreamed of taking up jujitsu. I was enamored with how beautiful and amazing the sport is and how the fighters have swagger like Jagger.
My friend Bobby got tired of hearing me moan about how I’m too old to take up jujitsu. One day, he surprised me with, “Craig, I’m going to take jujitsu classes. You want to go?” For real? Yes!
We took two classes together and then Bobby quit. That’s when I realized he had set me up.
Jujitsu has been exhilarating and . . . interesting. When I started, someone at the gym told me I needed a “gi,” pronounced like geese with no s. I thought that was some kind of butter, as in ghee. But no. A gi is basically an oversized, heavy cotton bathrobe. I felt oddly cool in my gi until I found out I could not tie the drawstring.18 I don’t have an engineering degree and could not master the pull-it-backward-before-you-pull-it-forward maneuver (#thestruggleisreal). During my first lesson, my pants kept falling down. I had expected to be embarrassed because I sucked at jujitsu, not because I sucked at jujitsu with my pants around my ankles.
There was a lot to remember. I constantly forgot to bring my belt to my lessons. Jujitsu people frown on beltless fighters. A jujitsu fighter without a belt is kind of like Ben and Jerry without the ice cream.
Even if I did remember my belt, I usually forgot to bow when I stepped onto the mat. Jujitsu has official traditions, including bowing to your opponent as you bump fists and then swipe hands. I had zero experience bowing with a set of simultaneous hand gestures. (If my family tells you they caught me practicing bowing and fist-bumping in the mirror, they’re lying.)
Besides all the stated rules, jujitsu also has an unwritten code. An “open mat” is an unstructured training session where you can “roll” against anyone. Rolling is like sparring; students practice fighting each other. The unwritten rule is that students with lower belts do not ask more advanced higher belts to roll. Some people in the jujitsu world consider that a sign of disrespect. If a lower belt asks a higher belt to roll, the higher belt will go extra hard to teach the lower belt a lesson.
No one told me that little detail.
I was excited to practice my new skills. I’m a friendly guy. I approached some dude sporting a well-worn brown belt. “Hiiii! How’s it going? I’m Craig! Wanna roll?” I noticed his demeanor didn’t match my energy. I was pleasant and warm. He seemed, well, agitated and hostile. Ruh-roh.
About a minute later, he smashed my head so deep into the mat that I wondered if I’d fused into it. I left the ring with my ear swollen to half the size of Texas. (But no matter what you’ve heard, I did not scream like a little kid. That was someone else.)
I was discouraged, but I refused to be defeated. (Well, he did defeat me, but I was not defeated in spirit.) I continued to learn and practice the disciplines of jujitsu—the written and unwritten code.
My training in jujitsu often feels counterintuitive.
I thought I’d have advantages because I’m on the stronger side and have some natural athletic ability. I’ve played a lot of sports. I tried to rely on those abilities until I realized they were working against me. What I thought were assets turned out to be liabilities. Jujitsu is about flow and technique, not just strength and speed.
My instinct was to go into full-on Incredible Hulk mode against an opponent, as in, “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry!”
That is not the way of jujitsu. At all. You fight relaxed and learn to breathe slowly.
Trying hard did not work, so I entered into a life of training. I take three private lessons a week, watch videos, and train at home. Early on, I quickly realized I had to stop trying and start learning the disciplines of jujitsu.
I also had to master my grips. Grips are the tactics you use to control and move your opponent, such as ball-and-socket, gable, and pretzel, to name a few. Each grip has its own insanely intricate steps, and I was completely inept at first. (Even with my drawstring—uh, belt—tied.) But I continued to train. I did today what I could do today. And then one tomorrow, it all came together. Finally, I could do what I couldn’t do. That felt so good. Freedom!
Training by doing daily disciplines led me from incompetence to mastery. (Okay, I’m not a master yet, but it seems that way compared to that first pants-less day when my bleeding face was stuffed six inches into a mat.)
Jujitsu is all about discipline.
For Christ followers, making changes—putting sin behind us, growing in maturity, accomplishing a goal, achieving success—is all about discipline.
You probably have your own jujitsu—some hobby, sport, activity, or skill that allows you to relate to my experience. That same journey from rookie to expert has to happen with any aspect of life where we want real change.
You may be gagging right now because you hate the idea of discipline. You might feel about discipline the same way you would about using sandpaper for toilet paper. I mention discipline and you wonder whether you should use this book to start a fire in your Big Green Egg smoker.
Believe me, I get it. But hold up.
Discipline has a bad rap. The word discipline makes us think of doing things we don’t want to do, like getting up early, making the bed, and eating brussels sprouts.
You may also believe you are not disciplined and could never be disciplined.
I want to give you a definition of discipline that changed my life. One that helps you see discipline as attainable and attractive because it’s the path to achieving your goals. Ready?
Discipline is choosing what you want most over what you want now.
Groeschel, Craig. 2023. The Power to Change: Mastering the Habits That Matter Most. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
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