This is one of my favorite quotes. An excerpt from a speech at the Sorbonne by Theodore Roosevelt, the speech is perhaps too often quoted in its entirety, but this piece is the most poignant to me.
So that his place shall never be
with those cold and timid souls who know
neither victory nor defeat
I don’t often update this site with my personal thoughts, but I sit here today in San Diego, preparing for a meeting with one of my friends and mentors, Royler Gracie, and consider the direction of my life and the course it has taken over the last fifteen years. In doing this, I find myself contemplating the impact that Jiu-Jitsu has had on my life.
Those who may count themselves among my acquaintances might only know one facet of my life – as a Jiu-Jitsu instructor, a charity worker, a venture capital investor. For the few that may count themselves among my personal friends, the connection may be deeper – as a friend, a mentor, a coach, a competitor, a brother, a son. Regardless of the context, I am fortunate that most of those people would view me in a positive light. And if I were to be honest, I take pride in that. To be viewed by those closest to me as a successful person, a good man, a caring friend – isn’t this a measure of success? I’ve worked hard my entire life to be successful, to persevere and achieve victory regardless of the odds.
What I think about now, however, is how there are a number of interactions I often overlook. For every triumph, I’ve had countless defeats. Any number of us can say the same. In fact, on the topic of inspirational quotes, there are likely thousands of oft-used sayings that characterize defeat as a pre-requisite of success. But it’s not defeat I’m overlooking. It’s failure.
As I look back at all my defeats, I can count on two hands the times I’ve truly failed; failed not just in result, but in spirit – given up halfway through an endeavor to save face, to lie to myself that the goal was not important, that the fight was not worth winning.
It is these failures that haunt me. Too easy it is to cover them up and pretend that they were episodic exhibitions of defeat. Days later, I can convince myself that I’ve used those episodes as motivation for future effort. But today, as I sit here writing this, I look back over the last 15 years of my life and remember clearly every single one of those failures. I know unequivocally that in those moments, when that critical battle came and I failed, I was truly one of those cold and timid souls who did not have the courage to live in defeat; I was content to hide, to only exist, in the limbo between effort and result.
True Jiu-Jitsu is about separating the idea of victory from defeat. The art teaches us that you can never expect the fight to be fair – our opponent may be stronger, faster, more aggressive; the position may be inherently against us. Because of this, we need to train ourselves to be invincible – understanding that with impregnable defense, we can stay safe in all situations, all positions, against all opponents. By focusing on our defense, we ensure that while we may not always be able to achieve victory against every opponent, we will never accept defeat.
I believe in this idea. I believe that through the principles Jiu-Jitsu teaches, one can become invincible – in a fight and in life.
But as I think about the failures in my life (many of them on the mat and some off) and consider them against the backdrop of those principles, I realize that I’ve applied those principles incorrectly. Afraid to live with the pain of defeat, I’ve taken myself out of the fight and hoped that by stepping away, I could ameliorate the agony associated with losing.
But I could not. I’m tormented by these failures. And I realize that the wretched feeling I harbor in my memories of those failures was borne from a lack of faith. A lack of faith in my invincibility and a lack of faith in my ability to develop that invincibility. Even further, that lack of faith was borne from a lack of preparation.
Jiu-Jitsu has taught me many things, but one of the most important things it has taught me is that there is a solution to every problem, one must just be patient enough to find it. Today, however, I realize that there is one more lesson inherent within that idea.
Patience is not enough. Safety is not sufficient. To be truly invincible in the way that Jiu-Jitsu can provide, you must be PREPARED.
You must train enough to be sensitive to the opportunities. You must train in the right way to know the MOST EFFICIENT path to take when the opportunity presents itself. But most importantly, you must be PREPARED. Not just for the chance at victory, but also for the possibility of defeat. Only then, can we truly take that possibility off the table.
When death smiles at us, we must be at peace with ourselves to not shrink away, but instead, to smile back.
The times I failed, I was unprepared; sometimes unprepared in body, but always unprepared in spirit. I was unprepared to accept that defeat was a possibility, that I could find happiness and peace in spending myself in a great endeavor and to fall short in that effort.
And so, to my students, my friends, my family: let us all work to make ourselves prepared. Let us work with our bodies and our minds to press ourselves to the edge of defeat time and time again, and accept that outcome as a possibility. But let us use that acceptance as the foundation for our invincibility. In accepting the pain associated with possible defeat, let us propel ourselves upward beyond that possibility.
Let us ask our opponents to bring us their best, to do their worst, and let us smile back at them.
Today, I believe in the possibility of life and death.
Today, I believe in the possibility of victory and defeat.
I choose to live those possibilities.
Today, I believe in myself.
Today, I believe in Jiu-Jitsu.
One Team. One Family. One Legacy.
So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart.
Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide. Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none. When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and nothing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision. When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way.
Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.