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  • Writer's pictureShaun Anderson

The Best Martial Arts Advice I’ve Ever Received

Updated: Apr 18

One day after an open mat at my jiu jitsu gym, I received a missed call. It was my jiu jitsu professor Arman Fathi—something along the lines of, “Hey, just checking in. I heard a couple of guys got hurt today at open mat, and I just want to reiterate the importance of maintaining a safe culture. I’d like to get together with you to roll, do a check up, and see how your flow is so we can see if you need to work on anything.”

So, I made an appointment. We started to roll around, and once we had worked up a decent sweat, we paused for a break. My instructor asked me, “What are you trying to do? What is your objective?”

I gave him a vague answer because I wasn’t quite sure yet myself, and what he told me turned my jiu jitsu world upside down. “It’s not about the end, it’s about the journey.” 

He then told me that whenever I went for a submission, or made an attempt at one, I would hold onto it, committing all of my energy and power into the position even when there was no way I could get it.

He pointed out all of the energy I wasted in a situation I created for myself. In my commitment to executing that one technique, I had missed countless opportunities for transition, breathing, relaxing, and possibly even more advanced techniques.

He told me if I wanted to execute a technique, I should begin the execution from a relaxed state of mind, completing the checklist in my head without finishing the technique physically.

Privately, I was at a loss. I thought to myself, “What’s the point of jiu jitsu, then?” However, I soon understood what he meant. 

What if I were going to Amsterdam for a 5K? 

I would buy the tickets, make my hotel arrangements, train, and do everything to ensure that I could win—or at least place in the top three. But if I train so hard that I’m solely focused on winning the race, I’m also going to miss out on all of the beauty of Amsterdam. The point is, I’m going to Amsterdam to enjoy the scenery, meet new people, and partake in the community event. And if I’m so focused on winning, I’m going to miss out on something so much bigger than the race itself.

Once he'd shared this perspective with me, he presented a challenge: don't complete a submission for 30 days. I was shocked, but I agreed to give it a try.

During the 30 day commitment to not complete a submission, I felt liberated. I understood it wasn’t about the submission. It was about creating new opportunities through an open mind, relaxing, becoming patient, and through this exercise and mentality transformation, I realized how liberated I had become. I found many new doors opened as quickly as the first door had opened when I was able to relinquish my commitment to that first ideal technique. I was able to move freely from position to position and create more transitions, which opened up more opportunities to find submissions. This allowed me to identify and learn many new techniques and transition into new techniques without the pressure of having to win through a submission.

This was the best martial art advice I’ve ever received. By changing my perspective to that of a grandmaster martial artist —one who is patient, confident and willing to transition fluidly and tumultuously like water— I gained a new sense of awareness.

Today, I've realized that my martial arts practice isn't just a form of exercise—it's a journey, just like the one I'm on in life. If I’m so committed to conquering that I become blind to life’s other opportunities, I’ll continue to miss out on what might be even better for me, and those might be the very catalysts that take me to the next level in my spiritual, mental, physical, and emotional development.

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