20 years ago when I first came to the west, against the cultural and language
barrier I felt deaf and dumb. Each tiny interaction with the outside reminded me
of the hopelessness of the situation. Daily, deep doubts about the future vexed
me. Looking back, however, it wasn't that bad. For one thing, it kept me from
wasting time in front of the TV.
Of course, I have read and done my share of Web-surfing and movie-watching.
Unlike the TV or even radio, articles, the VHS, and DVDs have been more forgiving.
They allow one to pause, look up words, reflect on the message, and replay. This
way, in the war on gaining fluency and cultural literacy, I can slowly take
footholds, one at a time.
Jiu-Jitsu resembles a special body language. In a match, the players try to feel
the next moves of each other and set up chokes, locks, traps, or escapes. It is
like a dialogue where one advances, the other counters, not with brute force but
with positioning and leverage, and so on until one runs out of things to say.
Before mid 2018, I trained in a local BJJ gym for about a year. A typical class
started with 30min of intense cardio exercies. The instructor would then show
two or three moves and we would drill them. The second hour was for sparring. I
practiced four times a week. In one year, I acquired the lingo and some basic
The real learning, however, was through sparring where I sucked. Most beginners
were bigger and younger than me and I was physically out-matched. As whitebelts,
we knew nothing but using force. When James, the 30ish weightlifter, tried to pull
me down in his guard, there was no jiu-jitsu but a pure tug of war! Against the more
skilled students, the prospects were even direr. It was a piece of cake for one
squat bluebelt(Brad) to break my posture just by him curling up. No matter how alert
I was, the rangy Indian swept me inevitably. There was nothing I could do to the
70-year-old blackbelt and was always trapped if he chose to. Each bout I ended up
defeated after a draining scuffle. As BJJ allows one to use full force in training,
I was drenched in sweat and dog-tired after every session.
It was like watching TV or listening to the radio in my early days in the west, the
information simply came too fast. There was no time to digest, let alone respond to,
my opponent's moves. I wondered if I would ever be able to speak this new body
language fluently. Years of training would eventually work but I was frustrated by
the slow progress.
A few weeks into sparring, someone mentioned a master's name, Henry Akins, and I
looked him up and bought his courses online soon after. I only went through a
few of the more than 400 lessons, however, before switching to trail running the
next year. At a corner of the Web, the videos had been quietly gathering dust and
waiting for me to return to BJJ.
Since rediscovering the courses, I saw the light. Everyday, there were Aha!
moments. The master's teaching was so enlightening that it felt like a Chinese
WuXia story: an undiscerning youth by insane luck comes upon an ancient
hand-written volume revealing a deadly martial art, legendary and long-lost. The
kid goes on to practice, unlock the secrets, and become invincible.
Of course, no 48-year-old in his right mind would train and fight to become an
MMA champ. My ultimate goals are health, self-defense, and to have fun. With the
right instructions, learning Jiu-Jitsu would indeed be like learning another
language. All I need to do is to watch and practice. I look forward to joining a gym.