A review of Flowing with the Go: A Jiu-Jitsu Journey of the Soul by Elena Stowell,  published by BQB Publishing in 2012, ISBN 978-1-937084-62-2. You can see this review at Amazon, and GoodReads. Rated 5 out of 5.

The book cover for Flowing with the Go

Click on the picture to go to Amazon.

For what seemed like a lifetime and probably was, Elena Stowell wandered aimlessly in a personal prison of self-doubt and lack of purpose after her fifteen-year-old daughter Carly died suddenly before her eyes. By some combination of miracle and necessity, she walked into a Seattle area Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gym and rolled for the first time in her life. Through that experience and others that followed, Elena discovered the tenets of the martial art form and healing were the same. With a ripping raw honesty and refreshing balance of humor and introspection, Elena’s story reminds us to never stop panning for the gold within ourselves.

Synopsis

The novel starts with the death of Elena’s daughter, and Elena’s struggle with her grief and inability to do anything. She starts doing physical activities to help work through this grief, and ends up finding Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. It details her training with Coach Foster at Foster Jiu Jitsu in Kent, WA, her experiences with competition, and her struggle to find an emotional equilibrium while training.

I was set to spar with a strong and experienced guy. I asked him to watch my shoulder, as I was having difficulty doing moves. He made the remark, “You shouldn’t be here.”

I was devastated and bolted out of the gym as soon as class ended, trying not to cry. Of course my wounded state of mind was telling me that he was right. […]

Of course, it turned out that the guy merely meant that I should stay home and take care of my arm until it is healed. But I was at this overly sensitive time in my life, and beating up on myself was the only fight I knew I could win.¬† –Elena Stowell

It’s a book about loss, grief, healing, and jiu jitsu. In every aspect there is an exploration of Elena’s emotions and how the training impacted that. She explores her family dynamics, including her relationship with her husband. Still, the focus is on how jiu jitsu helped her heal.

Review

This was a hard book to read. I was in tears in the first chapter. As I’ve gotten older, my empathy has grown to a point where hints of things can make me cry, and this book was like being smacked in the face with tragedy. It was a hard enough read that I had to put it down for a week or two.

Elena receives her blue belt from Coach Foster, photo by Mike Baltierra

Elena receives her blue belt from Coach Foster, photo by Mike Baltierra

I enjoyed getting to know Elena through the book – she has put so much of herself into this book, and her heart shows through. I also liked getting to know BJJ through her eyes. It turns out Elena and I have a lot in common – celebrating small victories, to starting BJJ late in life, to our general outlook on BJJ. I also learned a lot about Coach Foster, and his teaching style.

I can now admit that one of the initial reasons I stuck with takedowns was for the pain, as sick as that sounds. Physical pain is nothing compared to emotional pain. If I was aching, then I was alive, right? – Elena Stowell

I’ve written before about vulnerability in our sport, and that’s what struck me the hardest about this book – it was as vulnerable as you can get. It made me care for Elena, for her family, and for her situation. I think it would be impossible to read this and NOT feel care for her.

I would recommend this to people who like reading about grief recovery, or Lifetime style movies. It’s not a plot heavy book, but rather an emotional exploration. It’s also not heavy on BJJ terminology, so non-BJJ folks can enjoy it. It’s also a good suggestion for coaches or teammates to help broaden their empathy as to other reasons people would start training. I would hesitate to give it to someone who had recently lost a loved one – I would wait until they were ready to read about someone else’s pain.

Disclosure and thanks

Disclosure: Elena sent me this book. She didn’t ask me to write a review or mention it on my site – she just wanted to share her heart with me. I’ve written about Elena in the past. We met at a seminar and it off immediately – she was my BJJ soul sister.

Thank you so much Elena, for opening yourself up and sharing your wounds and your tears and your healing process. You are such a special woman.