… & Choking People
“She doesn’t write as much.”
Those words were spoken by someone close to me in an attempt to defend me when some friends were talking about how different I was from the last time they had seen me. In 2021, I made several lifestyle changes – I stopped drinking, started eating healthier, and got serious about daily yoga, among other things. Typical post-2020 changes for a lot of us when we realized we can’t actually live or drink like it’s 2020 forever, even if it felt like it was. And perhaps the most unexpected change to everyone around me was that I had taken up Brazilian jiu jitsu and gotten completely obsessed with learning how to choke people and break limbs. It’s not something people expect a mom in her thirties with no athletic background to do. Suddenly I was training three to five nights a week, walking around with bruises up and down my legs and arms, competing in tournaments to beat up on or get beat up on by other moms in their thirties, and shrugging off my teenage son getting choked out in class because “he should have tapped”.
“Who even are you now?” one of my friends asked. “Who is this Faith?”
I protested that “I don’t think I’m a different person. I don’t think I’ve changed that much.”
And that’s when my defender jumped in. “She’s still the same person,” he said. “Nothing much has changed except how much free time she has. She doesn’t write as much. That’s about it.”
I smiled and let the conversation move on, but the words stuck.
She doesn’t write as much.
With that statement, I found my self-image as a writer, someone for whom being a writer is the truest, deepest version of who I am, challenged.
When I started jiu jitsu, I had no idea what it was. I wanted a new fitness activity and to get some self-defense skills while I was at it, and the closest martial arts gym to me happened to be jiu jitsu. I researched enough ahead of time to know it was grappling and involved rolling around on the ground with sweaty people, and nothing about that sounded appealing. I figured I’d try one or two classes to do my due diligence because Google says it’s one of the most effective martial arts; then I’d probably switch to something a little less practical and a little more palatable, the kind of martial arts where I could kick boards and punch bags.
I never anticipated the consuming obsession that jiu jitsu would become for me.
Jiu jitsu is often compared to chess, involving complex, branching logic as you and your opponent make one snap decision after another. Every moment of a roll is a choice, picking from an endless array of techniques and movements in response to another person making those same choices and trying to stay one step ahead of each other. One moment defending explosive, full-body attacks, the next moment holding position when it’s safe to take a breath, and the next moment capitalizing on your partner’s split-second slip of putting a hand in the wrong place and opening it up for an armlock. By my third class, as a tiny woman my age and sixty pounds lighter than me effortlessly maneuvered me into one helpless position after another, I was hooked. I wanted, needed, to unlock the secrets of being good at this crazy sport.
I fell in love with the confidence it gave me, the appreciation for my body for what it can do rather than how it looks, the ability to walk into unknown spaces with less of that ever-present fear most women accept as daily mental background noise. I find the physical and mental challenge exhilarating and nothing is more therapeutic and calming to me than pitting everything I have against an opponent for five minutes at a time, exhausting my body and mind in a fierce struggle that ends with a smile and a fist bump when the timer sounds. I tell everyone who will listen to me that they should try it, and I hope that my showing up to classes and competitions will inspire other women and girls to come, because they need it.
It’s one thing to have multiple hobbies. Most people do. But when an activity crosses that line into something that becomes part of your identity, that you spend enough hours on to be considered a part-time job you don’t get paid for, a thing for which you might sacrifice money, time with loved ones, your body, your health, your actual job, your free time and more, and that you can’t imagine giving up no matter how much it costs you… That’s something much more than a hobby. Call it a passion, a vocation, a calling – whatever it is, many people go their whole lives without finding that thing they care about that much. For people lucky or cursed enough to have something that dominates their lives to that degree, as I believe most writers are, it’s a constant push/pull between that thing and the rest of your life, a quest for balance that is usually unachievable.
I had accepted all of that when it came to writing. I accepted everything it would take from me, the emotional drain of it all, the rejections and the failures, the lost weekends and the countless unpaid hours. The toll of caring that much and trying that hard and never being as good as I hoped, because there is no such thing as self-satisfaction if you love it enough to want to be great.
But I never expected to find another thing that could hit me that hard.
My author goals in 2021 were to write a complete first draft of a new book and at least ten short stories, and to have a handful of those shorts published. 2021 came to an end without any of those goals being accomplished. I did write some; most of a book, in fact. I started many short stories and finished one. It’s hard to say whether jiu jitsu was directly to blame for my pile of incomplete stories, or whether I would have finished the book by now if my time wasn’t so divided. Maybe this one is just a hard book to write, and maybe focusing on a hard book all year kept me from finishing anything else. But it would be something akin to denial to pretend jiu jitsu had no impact on my writing, that the ten to twenty hours a week spent in classes, cross-training, studying, watching videos, and daydreaming about it weren’t hours that would have been at least partially allocated to writing.
And that’s a difficult thing to swallow.
Acknowledging that my second passion had stolen time from the first created some doubts for me. I had to ask myself questions like:
- Does this make me less of a writer?
- Will I ever accomplish my writing goals if I keep doing jiu jitsu?
- Should I give it up?
I’m sure I’m not the only writer who’s faced this crisis. Maybe your second passion is owning a business, or being a parent, or a social cause, or another creative endeavor. You might be in that tiny minority of writers with a day job you absolutely love and want to keep doing as long as you can, no matter how successful your writing is.
Here’s the thing about having multiple passions – if you love two things this much, you will never be as good at either as you would be if it were the only thing you loved.
Here’s the other thing – I’m okay with it. Writing will take me away from training at times, adding months or even years to my journey toward getting my black belt. Jiu jitsu will continue to be a frequent time thief and keep me from being as prolific a writer as I would otherwise be. I will never achieve perfect balance, because I prefer to be obsessed. I prefer to throw myself into these things fully and accept that at times they will overwhelm me and take over my life. Balance and moderation aren’t the goal. I accept the tradeoff, because I wouldn’t give either of them up. I will never reach the level I dream of reaching in either area, and I will also never stop reaching for it.