Meaning, Motivation, and BJJ

Dan Faggella is a No-Gi Gold Medal Pan Am Champion at 130 pounds, and recognized Expert  in the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu world.  He has produced over a dozen Brazilian Jiu Jitsu DVD Instructional Videos & Books. Get his Free eBook of Breakdowns of the Best Lightweight BJJ grapplers online now at:

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In Martial Arts and Anywhere Else in Life, Lasting Motivation is Deep. What Drives You?

In Martial Arts and Anywhere Else in Life, Lasting Motivation is Deep. What Drives You?

My own path to the martial arts started with the end of high school and a world of sport, and a yearning to fill that void. If you asked a hundred 20-somethings in mixed martial arts why they ever got into this sport – eighty of them would have the same answer. The other twenty would have specific competitive aspirations, a desire to stay in shape, or something “tough” to do as a compliment their new tattoos.

I don’t know this from sociology class, or from a anything published in a psychological journal, but from spending my last decade on the mat. Starting a mixed martial arts academy in my undergraduate years, it only took about six months to figure out that everyone’s initial drive to train fell in the same few categories. “I’m just looking for something else to do now that soccer is gone… hitting the gym doesn’t seem like it’ll be all that fun,” or “I don’t know if I really want to compete, but it would be cool to have something else to do where I could learn things, have fun, get a workout.” 90% of the time, one variation of either of the above

Reading a lot of business books at the time (as a new business owner), it reminded me of what business writer Michael Gerber mentions in his now-famous book “The E-Myth.” He talks about the “entrepreneurial spasm” that someone has, that initial impetus that brings them to make the decision to go out into business for themselves. Without an understanding of what business is, never mind a notion of what it takes to run one. They have a bad experience with a boss, a particularly rough few weeks of work, and they decide they’ll go off on their own. Similarly, the person embarking on a new fitness routine or endeavor in the martial arts has their initial reasons, too.

Ask the same people six months later for their reasons to continue training, and most answers have a lot more depth – event to the extent of being unexpected. When people think MMA, the last thing that they think of is chess. Maybe football, maybe the movie “Fight Club”, but not chess. However, after interviews with dozen’s of world champions in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, as well as top UFC competitors, the fascination of the “game” of combat as “chess-like” comes up time and time again as a prime motive. For others, the martial arts become a representative activity for the cultivation of virtues like perseverance and courage – and still others keep training for the opportunity to be a role model and caring teacher of others one day.

From my experiences in the martial arts world (including interviews with some of BJJ’s biggest names, like Rafael Lovato, Robson Moura, and more), I’ve come to see the initial motives of the martial artist to be relatively predictable, but the motives that keep them involved to be anything but. Just as a the entrepreneur eventually needs something stronger than distain for a boss to grow an enduring business, we seem to need something more than an escape from boredom or an ideal physical image to keep grow an enduring habit. In business, fitness, and life, spurts of motivation come from any number of forces, but consistency is fueled by meaning. If there’s anything that I’ve learned running an MMA academy for all these years, it’s that those who stick with it are able to tie a sense of meaning to the art.

Be it martial arts or any other fitness effort, it seems useful to ask ourselves what got us started – and what will keep us going. Where do we find meaning – and how are we pursuing NOW in what we’ve chosen to undertake for our health, fitness, and happiness? Sometimes, the “engaging” aspect of martial arts is enough to deliver fitness results (I have some of my own students who’ve experienced this with BJJ and fitness), but often it’s the personal “reason why” that’s the biggest engine of effort. Getting this down pat tends to martial the kind of inner forces needed for consistency, whether our endeavors themselves be “martial” or not.

All the best,


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