It’s been said that all western Philosophy is a footnote to Plato. We could also argue today that every phenomena we experience can be likened to Jiu Jitsu.
Plato, who wrote dialogues through the voice of his teacher Socrates, was no stranger to athletics. Socrates wrestled, even competing in major tournaments, and continued to wrestle in adulthood but not for reasons you might think.
Plato recognized four primary virtues that he believed were essential to becoming a complete and virtuous person.
Wisdom, Justice, Courage and Temperance.
Temperance, or moderation, is what Plato called the ability to exercise self-control. Temperance is the ability to exercise discipline and restraint when balancing what we enjoy with what we must do. One thing we know for sure, if you want to get good at anything, you need discipline.
Wrestling with balance
Athletics was essential for Plato. Athletics provided an opportunity to cultivate these four virtues, and nothing honed these qualities like wrestling.
Plato, through the words of Socrates, in the Republic makes the point that we have to wrestle and we have to learn music. Why? Well, if all we do is wrestle and cultivate that which is savage and violent within us, it leaves us unbalanced. If children are musicians that don’t wrestle they become soft and too emotional.
For Plato, the ultimate was to be a musician wrestler, and this is especially useful today in an increasingly competitive world that demands people have hard skills balanced with emotional intelligence. This is temperance. Sometimes, today this is what we call someone who is “well-adjusted.”
It is possible to become an excellent athlete but an incomplete, or even unethical, person. We see it all the time with world champions who treat people badly and commit terrible crimes. For Plato, this is because they are unbalanced. They lack temperance. However, if we can apply the scrappy qualities we develop in combat sports to other areas of life, we can achieve a lot more in the time we have.
The grit, discipline, courage and tenacity we develop on the mat is indispensable in the boardroom, classroom and relationships. Balance this with a sound education by reading, playing music and studying, then we have the makings of a truly formidable person. We make a truly meaningful life that brings us a lot of happiness.
The weaponized nerd
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has merged the qualities Socrates and Plato advanced like nothing else. We don’t have to look far to see all kinds of examples of brutes who became more temperate or calm through BJJ or meek intellectuals who have become formidable grapplers capable of tackling other areas of life.
It’s hardly a coincidence that the toughest black belts read a lot or have advanced degrees. Even if they don’t win every tournament, the toughness they got from grappling benefited them in their professions.
At the end of our life, few will remember the greats for the tournaments they won or belts they won. They’ll remember them for how they treated others, for how they found success throughout life.
Marcelo Garcia might be prime example of this. Highly successful in competition, one of the first to put instructionals online and creating a huge market and business, and everyone recognizes him to be one of the best and nicest people in our sport. Once again, Plato was right.