My first journal was a yellow legal pad that I stole off my dad’s desk, which I wrote on with the Bic pen from my mom’s checkbook. I still remember her digging around in her purse for it a few days later when it was time to pay the mortgage. Sorry, Mom.
That first journal was messy and honest, and my jiu-jitsu journal isn’t a whole lot different (neither is my propensity for walking away with people’s pens. Sorry, everyone.) I have been an irregular and irrational journal writer for most of my life, and a journal is my desert island book of choice. It’s a chronicle of learning, feeling, perceiving, remembering, and changing.
I have abandoned more journals than I have finished. I kept some, tossed some, and burned a few (the one when I was 15 and I secretly modeled myself after Jane Eyre–was definitely better kindling than reading). I’ve noticed that I stopped writing in one journal that I kept when I seemed to be writing for*someone, as though someone was over my shoulder reading, or worse – judging me. I had stopped writing words or in styles that weren’t my own. If I”m not writing as myself, the benefit of journaling – safely examining what’s in my head – became a burden.
I still struggle with that, but have learned some tricks to combat this. I remind myself of rule #1.
The only rule of writing: There are no rules. I have permission to write however I like.
(This is a very close sister to Rule #1). Write everything and anything that you want to. When you pick up the pen, there are no limits, just a word-barf. Don’t wait to get it down perfectly. Don’t be afraid to doodle or keep a grocery list now and then if you need to. This is a space of freedom, and the more you make it so, the more you build positive associations toward writing and are more likely to keep up the habit.
Find Your Style.
Within the freedom of writing, you’ll develop a style that suits your way of self-expression best.
If you are an analytical list-maker, hit up those bullet points with a more how-to style:
Americana from mount:
- Step 1 , Control the head by placing the arm beneath
- Step 2, Make sure to keep downward pressure, etc…
If you are more experiential than analytical, (I am, if you couldn’t tell) jump in with a paragraph style – Tonight we learned a shoulder lock submission from mount, and it’s good to slip in when someone is busy defending a choke. I was super nervous to try it because I couldn’t figure out which arm went under the head….
Clearly Indicate Who’s Who.
One thing that is difficult about jiu-jitsu journaling is describing the placement of your body. A technique that involves two bodies with two arms and two legs each gets pretty messy when you’re trying to write it down: take the right arm, (his?) place behind the left hip, (hers?) step toward the inner leg (Yours, Mine, Ours?). After about six months of journaling, I decided to always write moves in terms of me and my opponent: place my right arm behind my opponent’s left hip. The other thing that I almost always do for a new move is write who I drilled with. It can help jog my memory if I’m having trouble remembering a technique.
Go back once in a while and revisit everything you’ve written down. It will sound like someone else wrote it, and that’s a good way to see if it’s making sense. If you start to get a mental image from your re-read, you’re on the right track. If it makes you feel like rubbing your temples and you begin visualizing six-armed, two-headed fighters, you might need to revise your writing.
Within your permission to write everything, do look for some sort of pattern or rhythm, some structure to make your information easier to organize.
I have to keep it simple for myself or I won’t stick to it, so I just keep several pages in the back that are just titled Takedowns, Guard Passes, Sweeps, Etc. After I’ve written down the day’s technique in the front part of my journal, I’ll add just the title of it to the list in the back. Later, if I want to look real quick at what I know for takedowns, I can just look at the list on that page and then dig out the explanation as needed.
Build It In.
Find a place in your day where you can steal even the smallest amount of time to journal. Sooner is better. For me it’s in my car. Our classes are all at night so I am almost always rushing home to my kids, but then I never get to go back and write anything down. If I say, ok Kate, just write the lessons down quick and go, it usually doesn’t take more than 5 minutes and the act of writing down is already twice the effect on my memory.
Write More Than Technique.
In addition to writing down technique notes, write down what is on your mind– your moodiness, your victory, your despair. Write when you can’t remember why you do this. Write when you submitted a higher belt for the first time. Write when you’re so frustrated because jiu-jitsu used to be your release and today you feel like a weepy, arthritic has-been. Remember rule #1: No Rules.
I love jiu-jitsu because it is so holistic. It affects so many areas of my life outside of the gym; it has fed my philosophies on life; it speaks to primal experiences of fight and fear. I have noticed too, though, how jiu-jitsu lends to pedestal putting at times – of the art itself, or high-profile athletes, instructors, or even your teammate who always is whooping on you. Keep your journal a private space for questioning: Does that technique really work for me? How much mercy should I show? Is it true you should always use technique never strength? I use this part of the journal to figure out BJJ fits in with the rest of the way I’m trying to live my life.
Simple, and amazingly helpful. Just date your page like your first grade teacher taught you. It’s incredible to see as the months go by how you’ll grow and change.
Kate Madore is fighting mega imposter syndrome as a new blue belt and hoping some day to sweep at least half as much as she is swept. She is grateful to train with the incredible crew at Brunswick Martial Arts Academy in Topsham Maine. Off the mats, Kate works, writes, and lives the wild adventures that come with five children, which include jamming on the piano, walks in the woods, and everyone always asking for a snack. IG: @starry_kate_