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April 24, 2023

The Joy of Hard Work

Jason Kramer

The Joy of Hard Work

If combat athletes had a president, Roosevelt was it. One of America’s most beloved presidents has more to do with Jiu Jitsu and boxing that you might know.

President Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican that preached the value of a “strenuous life” is a fascinating man of his time that absolutely loved combat sports. More than that, he authored words delivered April 23, 1910 that have been tattooed on fighters and written on academy walls.

The speech he gave in Paris, Citizenship in a Republic, preaches the value of effort. The most famous part of that speech addresses the man in the arena.

Roosevelt stresses that investing our lives in difficult tasks is a virtue, regardless of the outcome. Today we tend to value things based on if it bears profit, if we win or succeed. Roosevelt wisely understood that this misses the point and his wisdom finds itself especially relevant today.

In a time when our culture faces challenging crossroads and our lives are diffuse, demanding our attention in every direction, it’s worth reminding ourselves that our effort matters.

Your choice to do difficult things, like Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai, are necessary to make your life better.

[The Mindset Problem]

Mindset makes us

Vintage BJJ lessons from Teddy Roosevelt’s Personal Instructor.

This idea was not unique to Roosevelt. Jigaro Kano, the founder of Judo who we keep a picture of on the academy wall for bringing Jiu Jitsu to Brazil by way of his student and prize-fighter Mitsuyo Maeda, believed the same thing.

For Kano, taking on difficult things improved a person’s character and built fortitude. More importantly, Kano’s Judo emphasized the main goal of Judo was something called Jitta Koyei.

Jitta Koyei means “mutual welfare and benefit.”

The idea is that by making stronger and more disciplined people, we create a society and culture of people that can benefit each other. A community of people that understand hardship, discipline and sacrifice will always make for better neighbors, friends, family and leaders.

[Brazilian Jiu Jitsu: A History Of Our Contemporary Combat Sport]

Roosevelt understood this well. In fact, he loved Ju-Jitsu (spelled Ju-Jitsu before made suave in Brazil). The President put mats in the basement of the White House after his advisors discouraged him from training in the White House lawn. He amused diplomats by demonstrating throws and pins.

He was an avid boxer who competed in college and starched cowboys in saloons in South Dakota before ascending to the presidency.

One of his most enduring legacies is that none of us should be cynical about life. We should be pleased that our lives present struggles and difficulties. To Roosevelt, “the most cynical way to face life is with a sneer.”

Being in America presents limitless opportunities, and a lot of those opportunities show up as struggles and difficulties. His advice? Embrace it. He’d even go so far as to enjoy it.

[We’re Defined By What We’re Willing To Struggle For]

If you’re struggling to get to the academy, to work hard, or frustrated that you are not doing well training and competing just remember this: you are right where you need to be.

Image: Matthew Barton.

The samurai credited with founding Ju-Jitsu and embodied attitudes similar to Roosevelt, had a saying that fits: “the hotter the forge, the sharper the steel.”

This April 23 presents us with an opportunity to recall President Roosevelt’s wise advice:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

See you on the mat!

Image: Greg Streech.


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