One of the first things I noticed immediately is the almost over-the-top level of support and encouragement I've received from simply getting on the mat. There is no other martial art where once you join, you are suddenly part of this huge, worldwide family. If you post something about karate on the internet, no one cares. But, hashtag bjj and see what happens. Suddenly, you have dozens of strangers filling your comment thread with little fist emojis and the ubiquitous "OSS." I am a nobody, a white belt without a stripe, and yet there are people who are interested in my struggles and accomplishments, my daughters' new belts, my husband's Datsusara backpack.... it's almost surreal.
My experience with the jiu jitsu family has been incredibly positive. Whereas, in other martial arts, you have a lot of sensei ego tripping and "secret move" bullshittery; that's not the case with jiu jitsu. With bjj, there are no secrets, no mystical crap, no blowing people over with your chi and no ancient Chinese fingertip kill points. There is only physics (aka, "reality.") And everyone trips over themselves to teach it to you and help you get better. Not only does almost every school and style have tutorial videos on YouTube, but the partners you roll with teach you - even if it means you might sweep them one day. It's part of the jiu jitsu passion and spirit. It's more focused on bettering yourself than being the baddest dude (or chick) on the mat. Of course, there are always those few people, but that type of attitude is naturally discouraged, to say the least.
I know why. Jiu jitsu is complex. Unlike a roundhouse kick, you can never learn any bjj move in a day. Even if you learn it, making it work is another chapter, entirely. It takes a lifetime to be amazing, and by then, the ego has long been choked out of you. You spend the beginning of your time learning jiu jitsu by being beaten, repeatedly, over and over. Big egos tend to get weeded out during this first year or two. People who'd rather pretend to be tough drop out and go back to their dojos where they can get a black belt simply by showing up for a year. With bjj, though, you have to earn it. I've dabbled in other martial arts and there is a sense of accomplishment by ranking up, but there was never a real struggle to advance, like there is here. You did your time, performed your dance, and got your new belt. People who train jiu jitsu seem to be surprised and humbled by new belts, they don't expect them at precise points just because they paid their membership fees. It is in this way jiu jitsu keeps it real.
To be honest, I don't even care if I ever get a stripe. I just want to be better. I would show up every day and always be a white belt, for life, with zero concern as to what rank I am. When I do get something during drills, I am stoked to help someone else who is not getting it. The internal struggle, I am realizing, is what makes us a family. It's why we get excited to see others win, get promoted, or step out onto the mat for the first time. It's why people live and breathe the sport. When something isn't handed to you, it means something. When what you learn actually starts working for you in a real hand-to-hand situation, it means even more. In this day and age where image is king and most people want easy accolades and gold stars, jiu jitsu is authentic.
There is another aspect, too, and that is the level of intimacy you have with your partners. You are voluntarily going into a situation where your partner's objective is to choke you until you tap, or put you in a submission hard enough to make it work, but gentle enough not to really hurt you. There is an art to rolling with someone and it requires instant and total trust, along with an exchange of breath, sweat and mashed bodyparts. That level of trust and intimacy brings everyone pretty close, too, even if you don't know your partner.
So, when I think about it, it's not really that surprising that jiu jitsu practitioners are one big family. We share a real struggle and real vulnerability together. It'd be pretty rad if real life was more like jiu jitsu. But, whatever. Until then, I'm going to keep at it and support my new family, like they do me.