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The Gifts That Can’t Be Seen

An essay by Adam Nowicki

I was almost assaulted yesterday.

And while this probably sounds more dramatic than the actual incident that occurred, it’s technically true. But this is not the story of the actual event. This is the story of some of the gifts that Jiu-Jitsu has given me. Now, before you dive into reading this, I’m going to save you some time and give you an out. You should know that this doesn’t end with me doing a double-leg takedown, taking the back, and subduing my opponent with a rear naked choke. Quite the opposite actually. And, if I am being truly honest, it is somewhat embarrassing.

Anyway, you’ve been warned…

I’ve lived in Denver for the last 8 years now and, to some extent, have become accustomed to city life. The perpetual cramped feeling, the cacophony of sirens and horns outside my bedroom window, and the occasional transient individual rummaging through my trash can. This is the trade off, and I accept all of these things in order to live in one of the most beautiful cities in America. I am also very fortunate that my time in the city has been relatively free of incident. Save for the occasional fender bender in a Trader Joe’s parking lot, I’m pretty lucky that I have not had anything terrible befall me while out walking my dog or going downtown for an evening.

That relatively peaceful existence was interrupted yesterday.

I had just left work and was walking down the street. As I rounded the corner, I eye a gentleman walking toward me. The first thing that stuck out to me was his gray shirt with a white “Jesus Saves” written in big athletic letters. The kind of generic shirt you would see at a Target, if Target had a Christian equivalent. The second thing that struck me was how large he appeared. He might have been over 6 foot and, I’m guessing, around 225 pounds.

Now, I have noticed as I practice Jiu-Jitsu, and I’m sure others can relate, that one tends to develop a particular mindset and starts to play a little game with themselves called, “Can I Take Them?” I’m sure this will be familiar to my fellow practitioners, but I think it’s an outlook that starts to develop once one has been practicing BJJ for a period of time and starts to have at least some comfort and confidence in their nascent abilities.

That being said, I didn’t really have time to engage in this mental gameshow, as I was struck by how the individual coming toward me appeared to be moving at a faster-than-average rate of speed while mumbling to himself. I can only describe it as “angry determination”.

As he approached, I maintained that sort of side-eye contact we probably all do when we are wearing dark shades and feel the need to maintain an abnormal level of observance on a person (maybe it’s just me). Anyway, as our paths converged and he was catty-corner to me and very much in my personal bubble, I saw him suddenly jerk back his right arm into a fist and make a sort of contorted, angry-wince face.

I didn’t think. I just reacted. And how did I react? Again, recall the disclaimer above…

I reacted by flopping into the grass and landing on all fours, scuffing up one of my pant legs in a nice large grass stain on my right knee. I don’t think I made a sound, but if I did, it was certainly not some cool war-like beckon, but probably more of an “ahhhh!” or an “oooff!” complete with vocal fry.

As he continued past me, he expressed his pleasure with the outcome by exclaiming, “Yeah, punk! I didn’t even have to hit you to kill you!”

I can only imagine how tough I would feel if I had this power over normal everyday average, citizen-taxpayers as I walk down the street.

I didn’t say anything to him or yell back at him. I looked at him walking away with his angry determination and then looked to see if others had witnessed my ninja-like escape roll. There were a few other people around but no one said anything and I’m not sure what people saw.

As I got up and brushed myself off, I felt that anxious excitement that can only come from a physical altercation or the prospect thereof. The shaky electricity that flows through one’s limbs and core. And I started to smile.

If jiu-jitsu has taught me anything, the most valuable thing it has taught me is that you don’t want to fight. There are too many variables in a street fight. Too much that can go wrong. It’s not like the movies where you trade blows as heroic music plays to a crescendo. I have seen too many videos where someone hits their head in just the right way and they don’t get up. Life can be forever changed.

And while my ego may have been a little bruised, one of the other gifts that Jiu Jitsu has given me is the ability to let that go. You tap, get up, shake hands, and start again. Were it not for this wonderful martial art, I could have easily seen my thoughts decaying into some vicious cycle of, “See Adam! I knew you were too weak to stand up for yourself!” But I was able to check this negative thought because I know what I can take. I have experienced pain, discomfort, and panic on the mats; willingly, on a regular basis, and said: “Please, may I have another.”

Most importantly, I was safe. That gentleman, bless his heart, probably didn’t have a nice home to go back to and a lovely wife to kiss on the lips when he got there. Nor does he have the experience of being part of a community of martial arts practitioners who challenge him on a daily basis. But I do, and I am so grateful for all of it.

In addition to the physical gifts that Jiu-Jitsu has given me, the most important gifts, the ones with the largest return on investment, are those that can’t be seen.

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