I belonged to the wrestling team for two months in my senior year of high school. That was my pedigree, two months with a 1-7 record, if I remember correctly. My one victory came by way of forfeit, of course. I couldn’t even win one by accident.
But despite my prodigious capacity for failure in competition, I wasn’t a bad wrestler. I mean, I didn’t actually know how to wrestle. And I didn’t know the rules. But after a couple of weeks of getting thrown around in practice, I started learning how not to get beat up. Not soon after, I became very competitive. Good, even. I was winning my spot at 145 lbs each week.
Yet I couldn’t win a match on Saturdays. Not one.
You know what some say about wrestling? That it’s not really a team sport. And maybe that’s right. You are out there alone on the mat, after all. And for the sake of argument, let’s take that statement as fact: Wrestling is not a team sport. But it doesn’t change the truth, my truth, that for two months of my life, two months out of 37 years, I felt like I was part of a team. I belonged somewhere.
I wasn’t a popular kid, and I couldn’t win a single match. But when I joined the wrestling team and couldn’t afford shoes, someone happily gave me a pair of theirs. I hadn’t asked. He seemed to take pride in having done it. And when I had no way to get home from practice on nights that were freezing cold, someone always offered a ride unbidden.
Everyone knew my name, and everyone wanted me to succeed. That last point is still the most confusing to me. Kids I barely knew, some of whom I otherwise disliked, showed genuine interest in my success. There’s an explanation for it. I just don’t know what it is.
Now here I am, twenty years removed from that experience, trying to recapture it. But I can’t, and it’s killing me.
I play jiu jitsu, or practice it, or do it, or whichever verb you like. It’s my life, and I obsess over it a great deal. Jiu jitsu is such a big, complicated thing that requires patience, intelligence, guts, stamina, and the list goes on into perpetuity. But for the most part, jiu jitsu is a thing individuals do for themselves. It’s not done to be part of something, but to take part of something.
Here’s an oversimplification of my feelings about this one difference between wrestling and jiu jitsu: When you’re a kid, you’re looking to fit in or let people in. Wrestling is an excuse for kids to do both without any weird social ramifications. When you’re an adult, you just want to be left alone.
I want to be left alone, too. Just not when I’m grappling.