It’s been ages since I haven’t woken up Christmas morning to some small but welcome surprise. I didn’t even bother to get out of bed and went straight to checking emails from friends on my cell phone. Myself and five other teachers on Emirates Team had stayed up until four in the morning discussing a number of topics, all, inevitably, Jiu-Jitsu related. Of the numerous emails, there was one that touched me most. Following a few short phrases about Christmas and family well-wishes, my former student Dimitri Pilaris, now a resident of Santa Catarina, wrapped up his message like this:
“I’m grateful to you, my first Jiu-Jitsu teacher. I didn’t end up becoming a champion on the mat, but I will carry your teachings with me for the rest of my life. Thank you so much.”
Memories of the first classes I taught to Dimi flashed through my head, back in Rio Grande do Sul. He must have been just thirteen years old. I remember how he was short for his age, full of verve and, like all early teens, he didn’t know what he wanted in life. Anyone who works with kids and teenagers knows how Jiu-Jitsu can be an instrument for forming character and how our words echo in the lives of these youths. Dimi, like dozens of others, followed his course, moved to a different state, but continued living the lifestyle proposed to him. His email came to reinforce my idea about the importance of the role of teacher.
I immediately transported myself back a few years. Still a white belt, I was used as a sparring partner for my friends Luiz Brito and Murilo Rupp, who were going to make their debuts in vale-tudo, as MMA was called in those days. During our first sparring session, my master, Zé Mário Sperry, made himself really clear: “Teaching you guys to hit someone is easy, I’m here to teach you to get hit.”
Just as Dimi carried my teachings with him into daily life, I carried with me those of my masters. I learned to take knocks, and not just in the dojo. I learned to take the hard knocks of life. Those are certainly the most painful ones. It’s in this great tournament called “life” that we suffer the most bitter defeats. Victory consists of living and making the most of the lessons we derive from our setbacks.
If you manage to take Jiu-Jitsu’s teachings with you away for the mats, you can be sure you will be a black belt in life, which in the end is what really matters.
The year is coming to a close. Perhaps it hasn’t been the best of times for some, but everyone must have gotten a bit better at “taking knocks.” Next year we’ll be in better shape heading into the next round.