“Always enter like a kitten and leave like a lion. But never enter like a lion and leave like a kitten. Always be humble.” – Carlson Gracie
What is Humility? Humility is a character trait associated with modesty and respect. It is defined as the quality or condition of being humble. The English word “humble” originates from the Latin word humus meaning “grounded” or “from the earth.”
Since ancient times, humility has been widely extolled as an important human virtue. Conversely, a lack of humility is considered detrimental – and is associated with arrogance or an out-of-control ego.
Is Humility Important for Jiu-Jitsu? Over the years, many have stressed that the Jiu Jitsu practitioner should be humble. As a white belt, my Professor memorably stated, “the better you get at Jiu-Jitsu, the nicer and more humble you have to become.” As a Black Belt, a different Professor noted, “it is folly for a Jiu Jitsu practitioner not to be humble.”
Lets take a look at some of the ways in which humility can impact our training.
1. Humility keeps us learning and improving. A major benefit of humility is that it increases our ability or willingness to learn. By acknowledging that we do not know everything, we open our selves up to new ideas and increase our opportunities to learn and improve. If we have the attitude that we already know it all, or that only “smarter” people have something to teach, we dramatically decrease our learning experiences. By being humble, we put ourselves in a position to learn from everybody. A complete beginner may have an interesting idea, or inspire us to have one.
Successful Jiu Jitsu practitioners have an unwavering drive to improve. This mindset requires a level of humility: it is better to recognize deficiencies and improve them, rather than being swallowed up by ego and complacency. Making improvement a habit, and constantly endeavoring to get better requires a level of humility.
The unassuming youth seeking instruction with humility gains good fortune. –Joseph Addison
2. Better deal with frustrations and losses. In addition to the other benefits, humility is also a virtue for inner peace. To put it mildly, Jiu Jitsu can be a frustrating endeavor. Frustrations and losses don’t have the same impact if you don’t let your ego get too involved. If you combine humility with motivation, you have the ability to drive towards success without letting so-called “failures” knock you off track.
“Walk a single path, become neither cocky with victory nor broken with defeat.” ~ Jigoro Kano
3. Nothing to Prove. A humble Jiu Jitsu practitioner will feel like they have nothing to prove. They are more likely to let their actions speak rather than words. Although fighting and self-defense are sometimes necessary, they can also result in unintended dire consequences. Practitioners who are humble do not feel a continual need to prove themselves.
“A coward is much more exposed to quarrels than a man of spirit.” -Thomas Jefferson
4. Confidence and Humility. Cultivating a mindset of humility is not to say that we shouldn’t be confident in ourselves – self-confidence is another important virtue. Real confidence is the result of skill. Humility has nothing to do with our skill level. Confidence and humility may appear to be contradictory qualities, but they actually compliment each other very well. Through live training Jiu Jitsu gives us both confidence and humility – once again demonstrating the elegant system that is Jiu Jitsu.
“Humility is a virtue; timidity is an illness.” – Jim Rohn
5. Gratitude and humility. Humility is interrelated with other important virtues – one example is confidence, another is gratitude. When we receive the gift of Jiu-Jitsu and experience the positive impact it can have on our life, we commonly feel a sense of gratitude. This attitude of gratitude can manifest itself towards the person who introduced us to the art, the Gracie Family, our teachers and training partners, etc.
One of the fundamental qualities invariably found in a grateful person is humility. People who are humble express gratitude to those that help them. On the other hand, an ungrateful person will tend to lack humility and be a complainer.
6. Teamwork. Another important benefit of humility is that it can make us better teammates. Arrogant people think much of themselves and little of others – this does not make for good teamwork. Humble people are the opposite. Humble people recognize that they do not achieve accomplishments on their own.
It is easier to get along with others if you are not cocky, are open to new ideas, and if you recognize and acknowledge others that help you. Humility is important trait both on and off the mat – and can help foster teamwork.
7. Win a Victory Over Your Self. Our most formidable opponent will always be the noisy, demanding tyrant of our ego. Humility represents a victory over our own ego or arrogance.
“For a man to conquer himself is the first and noblest of all victories.” –Plato
If we accept that humility offers benefits, naturally we will want to increase it. How do we increase humility? Jiu Jitsu will naturally promote a sense of humility, especially if we train consistently over an extended period of time. Is there any way to help us accelerate the process? One small step we can take is the act of bowing – which is an outward manifestation of humility, gratitude and respect.
- Bowing is a non-verbal way of communicating gratitude and respect to our training partners, our teachers, our academy, and to the art itself.
- The physical act of bowing is akin to “emptying a cup.”
- By emptying our mind, we create space for new information. The enemy of mastery is the mistaken notion that you already know it all. Bowing can remind us to remove any thoughts that might hinder our progress.
- Bowing is also a reminder to empty the cup of arrogance.
- When we “pour” our arrogance out, we make room for humility to fill the space.
Conclusion. Jiu Jitsu strengthens and empowers us by increasing our ability to control and submit another human being; and this could make us cocky or arrogant. However, Jiu Jitsu is also humbling. Our physical and mental limitations are often brought to the foreground. The time we spend on the mat can serve as a template for real life; nobody “wins” all the time. An increasing awareness of humility has many benefits – and is sustainable because it is consistent with reality. We should try to remain humble no matter what our skill level is – but, the better we become, the more humble we should be. This is one of the great truths / paradoxes of Jiu Jitsu.
“Power is dangerous unless you have humility.” – Richard J. Daley
Are you humble enough to improve, or are you “fine with things the way they are”? What do you think… Is humility is an important component of the Jiu Jitsu lifestyle?