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  • Ashkan Khabazian, PharmD

Life Lessons Learned from training Jiu Jitsu--Guest post from my great friend, Ashkan. (Very good s

Ashkan's purple belt promotion

From Russ: As some of you know, I started training Jiu Jitsu about 18 months ago. The benefits are amazing. Check out this post from my good buddy and co-worker. I can't put it any better than he does!!


I had an amazing Brazilian Jui Jitsu training session this afternoon with my good friend Jessie. It got me thinking as to why I like to fight / grapple at this stage in my life. The odds of me getting into a physical altercation are extremely low and to be honest I don’t like confrontation or hurting others. I pride myself on always trying to find peace. So why, why do I put myself through simulated fighting via grappling those stronger and more technically skilled than me? Why do I as an otherwise 'successful' 40 year old professional put my body through this and why do I walk away each time in bliss? The technical skills I am learning are far less important than the spiritual ones. What am I learning mentally / spiritually from BJJ? It got me thinking and I wanted to share how I feel BJJ training can relate to life. I feel that these ten BJJ lessons can help all of us in life in general:

1. Ego is detrimental. Those who are too afraid to lose or expose their weaknesses never grow. Ego only holds you back. In BJJ it will lead to failure as you will always find someone more skilled than you. Those who have Ego are too afraid to try new things for fear of failure and take failure as a personal absolute. Some people put on a front to others about how good their life is and deflect any criticism. They are often the most insecure and depressed people amongst us. They become stagnant. Those without Ego appreciate failure and look at life’s obstacles as learning opportunities. These hardships make us stronger. True confidence is not flaunted. Do you have an Ego? Is it holding you back? Let it go.

2. In life as in BJJ you will always be faced with hardship. There are times where you just want to quit. When an opponent is choking you, twisting your arm or putting all of their body weight on your diaphragm when you are absolutely exhausted, quitting is so easy to do.

a. If you spaz out – you will burn yourself out and give your opponent an opportunity. b. For every obstacle, no matter how difficult there is an escape/solution. However you cannot find that solution from fear or anger alone. It is best when it comes from a well-centered and collective mindset. When you can find peace even in the hardest situations you will find a solution. These solutions do not arise in one single step but rather a series of well timed smaller steps all leading toward the end goal. Often times the solutions are simple. The more complex your strategy the greater risk of failure. Force alone never accomplishes anything. Use the smallest amount of force with proper technique. Know when to use your words and when to listen. And the next time you are faced with that same problem, the escape will become easier.

3. If you do the right thing and never take shortcuts you will continue to improve. Live right, be honest with others and most importantly yourself; strive to do the right thing (even when no one is looking).

4. Iron Sharpens Iron. If you surround yourself with people that are better than you and want to see you grow, the possibilities are endless and you will achieve success. When those around you doubt you or are negative, that is also contagious and will bring you down to their level. Thus surround yourself with positivity and those that are trying to live right and care for you. Distance yourself from doubt and negativity.

5. Know when to let go. In BJJ one of the fundamentals is grip. A good grip can set up your submission. However there comes a time when your grip is no longer helping you and your opponent is using it against you…. Know when to let go. Let go of resentment, bad breaks and difficult losses. If you find yourself saying ‘I wish I would have’, ‘I should have’, ‘if only I’, I used to be really good, ‘in my last position I’, ‘in High School I was the best….’, stop it. Let go so that you can transition into another dominant position. Let go of past experiences that are holding you back. Know when to tap out to be able to start over.

6. How you begin is important yet it’s where you end up that is most important. I used to often find myself dominating my opponent during the first half of the round when I use my strength and wrestling background…however once the momentum shifted my opponent would gain the upper hand and it would take ‘the wind out of my sails’. We have all had times in our life when everything is going well then something unforeseen happens. Learn how to flow with life’s obstacles. Sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down. When you are up, relax and seize the moment; when you are down, look for peace, calm yourself as an unstable or fearful emotional state will only burn you out. There is a simple solution to every problem. Make small steps to get back on top. However don’t expect for things to always go the way you planned. Flow with life’s obstacles; enjoy the ups and learn from the downs.

7. Enjoy the ride. It is progress and enjoying the journey that is important. My only goal is to continue to incrementally improve in my profession, in friendship, in life and in BJJ. As a Emergency Medicine PharmD in a well-respected job that I love, I hear students say ‘I want to get to where you are at’. I sometimes hear ‘why are you always reading? You know this stuff already.” I have not arrived professionally. I am forever a student. I study just as hard now than I did in school. I am not where I want to be, I wish to incrementally improve each day. My next goal is brown belt (then black belt) however the belt is not the goal, the skill is. As in life, we need to set short term attainable goals and work to achieve them however the end goal is simply improvement. A good example is my friend and coach Jesse. By most standards he has achieved one of BJJ highest rankings (Black Belt. Aside: A BJJ black belt is not like your son’s Tae Kwon Doe black belt. It is only given to elite talent derived from 10+ years of daily training as an adult). However he told me today that he is by no means done. He is grinding hard every day to improve…I admire that quality. We should all strive to improve in all areas no matter how talented we are. If you notice, highly successful people continue to look for ways to improve and learn. In many cases it is that attitude that has led to their success. We can all continue improve. We can be better sons, daughters, friends, citizens, caregivers, mentors, whatever… The mail goal is to try to improve each day.

8. We learn from everyone. The other day Jesse asked me to teach him some techniques and thanked me for training with him. Why was he thanking me? He is my coach/sensei. He is far more skilled than me. However it got me thinking – the reason he is so good is that he knows everyone can teach us something. A white belt might have a new strategy that is applicable. Do not dismiss people as weaker or less skilled. Listen to new ways of thinking and approaching problems. My five year old son has taught me great lessons on how to live in the moment and re-examine life’s beauty. We all can learn from each other and should be open to do so. In this political climate this is especially important. I have dear friends that have 180 degree different political view points as me, however rather than dismiss them as misinformed I try to listen and calmly discuss. In doing so some do the same to me. No matter a small child or a 75 year old man, we all can benefit from each other’s experiences and wisdom.

9. Expose your weakness. In BJJ if you continue to catch people in your most dominant move, you will perfect that move but you are not gaining the most out of the experience. If you are weak off your back or in a certain position, intentionally put yourself there to learn. In life if you are afraid of public speaking, challenge yourself to give a lecture no matter how small the audience. Learn an instrument, a new hobby, read a new book, etc. There are certain ‘safe’ environments to expose your weaknesses, become familiar with them then I assure you that they will become your strengths.

10. All you can do is your best. Keep your side of the street clean. Give the rest to God, the Universe, Allah, Jesus or whatever. I believe that we have one chance at life. Do your best. Do the right thing and let everything else go.



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