I often wonder is training in Martial Arts worth the sacrifices I’ve made for it? Or has it been the biggest waste of time ever?

This has been a question in the back of my mind for a long time. Looking back on my entire experience in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu it’s easy to feel I have sacrificed and given more to it than I’ve ever gotten back from it.

Several years ago my friend broke his leg really bad training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. His leg break was so bad he couldn’t work for a substantial period of time. He had to spend more than a week in the hospital and more time at home recovering. The cause of the break was literally a freak accident. It could have been me or anyone else. Is the pursuit of learning and participating in Martial Arts worth a broken leg?

Most of the time in coaching Martial Arts the majority of the people you are dealing with are in no way close to being as committed to the Martial Art or coaching process as you are. Then you will meet those few individuals who are. Those are the people you want to fill your program with. Finding them takes time, patience and a belief that some how, some way, they will show up.

I’ve made long trips to Los Angeles many times on a weekly basis to train with my coach Chris Haueter. I enjoy these trips. I use the time I have in the car to think, listen to music I like, listen to books on audio and lectures. With no other distractions it has often become some of the most enjoyable time of the week. This also has required a sacrifice. Often organizing my schedule with my family, work and other responsibilities to do this has been no easy task and I will wonder has it been worth my efforts?

I think about the years back when I was a white belt initially learning Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Everything was new and it completely confounded me. I was living in Hawaii and didn’t have a car so I took a forty five minute bus ride to the Pupakea Recreation Center on the North Shore of Oahu to train. At this time Jiu-Jitsu hadn’t spread across the country like wild fire. Large academies with huge corporate bank accounts back them up were non existent. After training I had to wait an hour to an hour and a half on the North Shore to catch the next forty five minute bus ride back home. I did this 3 times a week for 6 months until I purchased a car for 600 dollars. I remember being so stoked to just be able to drive to class. Soon my addiction to Jiu-Jitsu would take full hold and I would drive up to train almost everyday.

I remember how badly I wanted to learn Jiu-Jitsu. I wanted to learn it so bad I was willing to do what ever it took to get to my classes. There are only a few times in my life I can think of when I have been so passionate about something I was willing to do what ever I could to learn it. This was one of them.

In the martial arts I have met many people with the same experience I’ve had. Wanting to learn so bad. That in and of its self is a beautiful thing. To find something in life, other than work, family, required or formal education or any necessary responsibility, something than may not even hold any monetary value at all but that you want to know so badly you will do the extra-ordinary just to learn it.

Some people live out their lives without having ever had this experience. So many of my own life choices have just been based solely upon what I really want to know and do well. In our financially driven society often our choices and decisions are influenced by the economy and social structures around us. Important life decisions are often based upon logic, reasoning and financial value.

My coach Chris Haueter once told me about his early days in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu; he was only allowed to take one half hour private a week and how badly he wanted to learn more. He told me how awesome it was when he could ask Rigan to show him that “one thing” he did a few weeks ago. When I heard him tell this story I thought about how many time I have felt the same way. “Hey Chris can you show me that one thing you did the other day?” when you can ask your coach a question like that it’s beautiful there’s no other way to put it.

Several years ago I was rolling at Rigan’s school with a blue belt and a purple belt round robin one after the next. It was one of those days when my game was flowing, when everything was clicking and everything I did was right. After an hour of straight rolling they both started to ask me questions about some specific positions and strategies. I didn’t know the answer to everything they asked. Their questions made me think about things and answers came to me. I did the best I could to show them a few things.

Afterward I was driving with my wife up to Santa Barbra to see my grandparents. My wife who had just spent the entire time watching me train as she had done so many times told me that some how doing Jiu-Jitsu and teaching it to people has made me smarter. I don’t know if that’s true but it often sure seems that way.

The other day I was listening to a book on audio called How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day its not the most awesome book in the world but for the most part I enjoyed it. In the book the Author Micheal Gelb says;

“Over the last twenty years I’ve asked thousands of people what they would learn if they could learn anything at all. The most common answers; to play a musical instrument, learn a new language, Leonardo taught himself Latin when he was forty two, scuba diving, sailing, sky diving, tennis or golf draw, paint sculpt, to act in a play, sing in a choir to write poetry or novels, to study yoga, dancing or Martial Arts. I call these ideal or dream hobbies and I find that people who pursue them passionately live richer more fulfilling lives. By pursuing passionately an are of interest besides work or family you broaden your perspective in a way that enriches all aspects of your life.”

Overall it appears that training in Martial Arts is a pursuit I will never fully complete. I say this because I know I will never be as good as I want to be and there will always be more to learn, master and do. Although I know I can never be perfect as far as Martial Arts goes I can enjoy the process of trying.

The underlying question may be is there any value to all of this training at all or are we just playing games and does it all mean nothing more than that?

Micheal Novak answers this question the most elegantly throughout his book Joy of Sports Rev Ed. This is one of my single most favorite books of all time. This book as had a huge influence on my training philosophy. It will completely change the way you think about sports, games and their value in culture and society.  In chapter three of Novak’s book titled “The Metaphysics of Sports,” he states;

“Play not work is the end of life. To participate in the rites of play is to dwell in the Kingdom of Ends. To participate in work, career and the making of history is to labor in the Kingdom of means, The modern age, the age of history, nourishes illusions. Work is serious, important, adult. It’s essential insignificance is overlooked. Work of course must be done. But we should be wise enough to distinguish necessity from reality. Play is reality work is diversion and escape.”

Good Luck and Good Training,


Sam Kressin