Is Jiu Jitsu (or any martial art) for EVERYONE?

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Is Jiu Jitsu (or any martial art) for EVERYONE? 

I say yes, of course it is. 

Is BJJ only for the tough person, the one who can take the pain, weather the storms? Should the hobbyist, the less-than-talented players go find another place to waste their time, another coach to aggravate or impose upon? 

Well, should anyone less than an Indy Car Racer throw their keys into a lake? Should everyone who’s not intent on riding in The Tour de France slash their own tires? Should all those who won’t be going for the gold with their breast stroke hang up their Speedos? Should everyone not aiming on writing War and Peace hand their pencils or keyboards to someone with some guts?

BJJ, like all martial arts, like all movement, belongs to everyone —and is to be used, for the most part, the way the user wants to use it, be it instead of yoga, as a way to connect with others, as a means to gain self-defense skills, as a tool for the competitive arena, and/or even for a stick-my-toe-in-the-water exploration of something interesting. 

Hard-core competitive BJJ, like the kind where you want to be a world-class player, yes —you’d better to be hard-core. But the martial arts belongs to people, to be used by people, to keep them safe, to keep them supple, to create community, to share laughter, to offer help and support to a community and the people in it. 

The young shouldn’t be left on a mountainside because they can’t yet carry the load of a full wheel barrel, they need to be nurtured. The Elderly shouldn’t be thrown away because their bodies no longer do what they did in their 20’s and 30’s, they may still have the wisdom of experience to share with us. 

BJJ, like all martial arts, are a tool for and of the people. You don’t fit the foot to the shoe, you fit the shoe to the foot. BJJ isn’t about cutting out those who can’t tough it out —it’s about finding ways to make BJJ fit —and work for —the person.

My Students, BJ Penn and Keenan Cornelius: How to Create Martial Arts Champions

Well, as of this last weekend, two of my students, two young men I started as white belts, have become the stuff of martial arts legend. BJ Penn became my student at age 17 —and, well, everyone knows his story. My son, Keenan Cornelius, this last weekend, became the first person in the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation’s history to win double gold-medals in “The Grand Slam.” This means he won 1st in his division and the absolute division of The Pan Am Games, the European Champions, The Brazilian Nationals, and The World Championships. 

The accomplishments of these two fine martial artists —and my connection to them —make me somewhat of “an expert” in the discussion of how to “make” champions. So, here, I’m going to share my secrets on what it takes to take young people and turn them into world-class performers:

I don’t know.

I don’t know why, exactly, BJ and Keenan are so darned good. Honestly, I don’t know why they shine so brightly —but I can say, resolutely, that I don’t think my role in their success was/is a big one. I was just at the right place at the right time. I made introductions. I came with a certain skill set —and for some reason, I was the first one to start rolling the ball that eventually became an avalanche of  accomplishment and skill in these two young men’s lives. 

I can, however, attribute my success to the fine people I’ve been influenced by —and in turn, I can say that without them, these two world-class athletes would have had to meet someone else to “get the ball rolling in their careers. 

Bruce Lee played a little role in where I came from and why I do what I do; had he not been in The Green Hornet, which I first saw as a little boy, I might not have sought out martial arts training as early as I did. Jigoro Kano and the very first martial arts teacher I ever took a lesson with (in 1969 no less!), a judo teacher, played a role. Lou Grasso, my first Taekwondo teacher played a huge role, as did my many classmates and friends from his school. Ernie Reyes, Sr. played a giant role —in too many ways to list here, but I can say for certain that without his leadership and friendship I wouldn’t have done much, as a martial artist, for anyone else. 

Jhoon Rhee, Joe Lewis, Bill Wallace, Jeff Smith, Dan Inosanto, O’Sensei, Mike Swain, Fukuda Sensei, and 100 other martial arts athletes and teachers who’ve inspired me over the years —they’ve all played a role. 

Being absorbed in the martial arts world, completely, whole-heartedly, and with love and respect, these are the things that put me in the right place at the right time. The practice. The training. The struggle. The path set out for me through the examples of my seniors and other martial arts icons, that’s what helped me contribute, in the small way I’ve contributed, to the careers of these two martial artists. 

How can you make this happen in your own career? How can you be a champion-maker too? Lol. I don’t know —except to suggest that you follow as clean and clear a path as you possibly can. That you train, yourself, as hard as you are able —and that you keep an open mind and be as straight-up as you can. The rest is, as far as I can tell, luck. 

Oh, and I’ve discovered that I’m not the teacher, I’m really the student. I owe far more to BJ and Keenan than they’ve received from me.