I was recently at a store where someone was cleaning. I smelled the cleaner they were using and all of the sudden I began to feel good. It was an immediate reaction and my mind tried to process why I had this feeling…what was it? Oh!! It was the same cleaner that is used at my Jiu Jitsu school and the smell of the freshly cleaned mats triggered my brain to respond with joy and happiness. The mats and what they represent are having a profound and meaningful effect on me. They are beginning to formulate values and represent beliefs that I see realized on them. The Mats.
I have noticed that at Gracie Barra Princeton we are equal on the mats. Not equal in skill, that’s for sure. And there is a clearly defined hierarchy of belt levels. But as humans, we are equal. My coaches are three of the most respectful human beings I have met. They speak of the way of life that Jiu Jitsu has offered them with gratitude and humility. And that sets a culture for the place. They accept everyone who comes in, no matter what athletic abilities they possess. Sure, it is a business, so they do benefit from that openness. But I have grown to trust that these folks are not in it for the money. There is something more important to them. They want to advance a way of life that helps others flourish.
Out of a tangible commitment to others flourishing, this Jiu Jitsu school has become a haven of safety for many folks. It is a place where people of many different religions, races, genders or economic levels gather. You are welcomed with open arms (and then thrown to the ground…). I love this place because I know that when I walk in, I am greeted and accepted as a person in all the wholeness of who I am – a Christian man, Native American, father, husband, pastor, 45 year old, couch warrior. And I see others greeted the same way – Muslim, man, Latina woman, child, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, wealthy, just getting by, overworked, unemployed, African American, White, immigrant, Latino, Brazilian, mother, father, red hair, black hair, no hair, grey hair. Jiu Jitsu sees all types and welcomes them to the place that I am learning as a safe place of equality. The mats. I am coming to love the mats.
My faith, as described by theologian Miroslav Volf in his book A Public Faith, is a faith that is about human flourishing. God and the people of God care about all the things that make humans flourish. It is unfortunate that most of my conversations with people outside of the Christian faith have to do with apologizing or deconstructing the negative aspects of our tradition and history. But at its core, we are about human flourishing. We lift up that creation is good, humanity is created good, the earth is good! And we are committed to the things that see humanity and creation flourish. When there is isolation, we will work to build friendship and community. When someone suffers, we will celebrate what they have gained in their suffering. When they suffer unjustly, we will stand with them and use what power we have to overcome. We do this because in each other we see value and goodness.
Our culture does not exist with a sense of equality. We are a fear based culture. We live in hierarchy. One person above another and under another. This is a relentless and tiresome way of life. It is not sustainable and it does not lend to human flourishing. I see its wrath everywhere. Students are burdened with too much activity and school because they are meeting the insatiable need to perform. Adults work like crazy, fill the calendar and never really accomplish what is satisfying. True rest is elusive and our sense of accomplishment is stolen by the need to move past whoever is on the next rung of the ladder above us or stay ahead of whoever is on the rung below. This gives way for shortcuts, ethical dilemmas and escapism to creep in and find a place. Cheating, substance use and abuse, or ill treatment of co-workers. All of these things happen because we are unable to see each other as equals, as human, and we lose our capability to connect. When we choose this disconnected way of life. All bets are off. And the end result is rarely an enduring
happiness, joy or fulfillment. It is usually emptiness, regret and bitterness.I love that I see tenets of my faith realized on the mats. Equality and respect for human flourishing is resonating with me. It is what inspires me to invite others to the mats. Come and see! I have grown and gained. I am flourishing!! Try out this foreign way of life. Learn how to view others as equal. Suspend your ego for the sake of personal growth and the result is community, purpose and a new outlook! These are all things I have found in my walk of faith and it has been great to see them realized on the mats. My hope for you is to flourish. Faith and Jiu Jitsu are two places I have experienced that. I would love to hear where you experience it!