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March 31, 2020

Keeping the Demons at Bay – Guest Blog by Chris Messina

Sachi Ainge

Keeping the Demons at Bay – Guest Blog by Chris Messina

I don’t know who needs to read this, but I thought I’d share here because I’m guessing many of us are experiencing a lot of the same emotions right now. I’m nothing special in terms of BJJ, next month will mark 13 years since I started training (with an almost 3-year hiatus in the middle) but, like a lot of people, I started training because I needed an outlet to deal with some of the things that were going on in my life at the time. It was on the mats that I was able to find the peace that I needed to keep the demons (stressors) at bay, so to speak.  

Right now, most of us don’t have the option to train, so those demons, whatever yours may be, are waking up and moving in…we can’t let that happen.

What I’ve learned over the years is that Jiu-Jitsu is unique for quite a few reasons, but, from a peace of mind standpoint, two things stand out for me:

  1. In our busy, stressful, chaotic lives, the time on the mats where I’m live rolling is the one place, the one time in my day where I have a singular focus and think about nothing but what’s happening at that moment. While rolling, you don’t have the luxury of distraction because, no matter how relatively good or bad you are, you have another human being trying to take one of your limbs home with them, choke you unconscious, or put you in such a compromising position that you have to give up (tap out). It’s in those instances, whether it’s 5 minutes or several hours, that we get to be entirely in the moment and free of the demons that may otherwise be a constant presence in our minds. I can think of very few things that regularly and consistently afford us this opportunity.

  2. The mutual struggle, with another human being, creates a level of camaraderie that is difficult, if not impossible, to replicate in virtually any other setting. While Jiu-Jitsu is technically an individual sport, it requires other like-minded people to work with you, push you, suffer with you, sweat with you, and sometimes bleed and hurt with you. This mutual struggle allows us to share a level of vulnerability (we’re literally putting our lives in each other’s hands) that many of us don’t even know how to share with our closest friends and family. Not having that available to us leaves a gaping hole in our lives that is not so quickly filled.

During this time of separation, the demons that are always there are going to be knocking louder than ever, and new ones are going to start showing up. Isolation, economic uncertainty, job loss, lack of a place to train, health concerns, business failures, and, yes, the lack of people to choke or to choke you are just some of the things that are, in some way, affecting just about every one of us in this group.  

Last night the gravity of what we’re going through, along with the long road that’s still ahead, hit me hard and the demons managed to work their way in for a moment, so I called some friends, talked, laughed, commiserated, and made it back to my current “normal.”

My point in all of this is that most of us are without the one thing in our life that keeps each of our individual demons at bay, so we must be exceedingly diligent and disciplined about doing whatever we can to not let them in. During this downtime, we need to allow that vulnerability that exists on the mats to permeate other areas of our existence. We can’t be afraid to reach out and tell people we’re scared. We need to call friends for no reason, find things to laugh about, and even cry if we need to (over the years I’ve seen some of the toughest dudes on the planet sob uncontrollably for a variety of reasons so, if you have to shed some tears, go for it!).

We also need to be incredibly vigilant against letting the demons win, whether it’s alcohol, drugs, laziness, eating like crap, or a million other things, FIGHT IT! Workout EVERY DAY regardless of whether you feel like it or not or if you have the equipment or not. You need to keep moving to stay in the fight, or one day of letting yourself go will turn into two, and then a week. Before you know it, you no longer recognize the person staring back at you in the mirror, and the road out of that hole is a tough one. 

Chris Messina doing an outdoor workout carrying a sandbag

Now is the time to fight your base impulses harder than you ever have before, so you come out of this thing – whenever that might be – ready to pick up the pieces and move forward.  

Don’t let your demons have you.

Don’t stop pushing yourself.

Don’t give in to the gravity of this moment.

Do reach out, connect, keep learning, keep training, and keep your passion for Jiu-Jitsu alive! When this ends (and it will end), that mutual struggle and the ability to be in the moment with your friends, training partners, and your Jiu-Jitsu community is what’s going to help bring you back to where you need to be.

Stay in the fight friends …we’ve got this.


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