I still consider the two weeks I spent in Japan in 2016 some of the most formative in my martial arts (and indeed life) journey to date. I decided to purchase some flights, contact Axis Jiu Jitsu Academy HQ in Tokyo and book a room at the closest hotel I could find. Over those two weeks, I spent roughly 6 hours a day on the mats, watched the All Japan Open, did some exploring and a lot of introspection.
At that stage, I had only been training seriously for about a year and a half. Having discussed my trip with my teachers, whom had visited before, I thought myself prepared for the level of technical skill I’d experience on the mats. I wasn’t. At all.
I arrived on the Monday following the Rizin World Gran Prix, which had run the weekend passed. Kron and Rickson Gracie (whose lineage Sensei Takamasa Watanabe follows) had just visited the academy the week before in preparation for Kron’s fight. I arrived for the morning class to a mat full of practitioners, fired up after Kron’s victory and eager to train after a weekend at Saitama Stadium watching the Gran Prix.
I was technically dismantled from every position I thought sound, my defense was ground to dust and my attacks were brushed off like a small, slightly annoying fly. I returned to my hotel on the Monday evening (after missing 2 trains and over shooting my station twice) demoralized, the only thing on my mind: “What the F*** have I got myself into?”. The hardest part was not the grinding pace or my lack of perceived successes, the biggest challenge was returning to the gym for both morning and back-to-back evening sessions. Every day. For two weeks.
I switched off every part of my mind concerned with anything other than learning. “That hurts? Don’t think about it.” “You got smashed this morning by X training partner? Make sure you train with him again tonight.” Being on my own was probably the best thing for my mentality and dealing with the demands of the training. Thinking through every submission that was applied to me, every attack I hadn’t been able to counter or position I hadn’t taken advantage of, changed from a monologue of criticism and self doubt into solutions, techniques and dogged, stubborn determination.
I watched a number of the Axis team participate at the All Japan Open over the middle weekend of my stay, I was inspired not by their performances, but the quiet and humble way in which both victors and participants returned to training the very next day. There was no discussion about the weekend, who won this or lost that, it was right back to the grindstone to sharpen the blade. More than the technique and lessons I learnt from Taka’s instruction, that stuck with me the most. That stoic dedication, hard training and strength of technique challenged all of my beliefs about Jiu Jitsu at the time.
I’ve said it before; I’m by no means a seasoned traveler- or even jiu jitsu practitioner- but the lessons I learned still resound with me. I learned a lot more about what makes this martial art so special to so many, I also learned more about how it has come to be a framework by which I structure almost ever aspect of my life. Most importantly, I discovered that lessons, and indeed learning in general, (whether that be in the gym, on the mats, in a lecture hall, on the streets or wherever) apply in a maximum and minimum way: They apply to everyone just as well as they apply to the individual.
I will be forever grateful for the lessons that my teachers have imparted to me. The spontaneous adventure to Tokyo taught me much about myself, as did everyone I met and had the pleasure to train with. I can’t wait for the chance to do it again.