I’ve been thinking about vulnerability lately, and it’s struck me how desperately we need it within our sport. On one hand I think it’s especially important for women, but the more I think about it, I also realize how important it is for men as well. Since I’m a BJJ woman addressing women in BJJ, I’ll be using female pronouns and women’s stories, but understand this directly relates to anyone in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

I recently read Elena Stowell‘s book, Flowing with the Go, and it was a hard read due to the subject matter – losing her daughter and fighting through the emotions through BJJ. What struck me the most was the amount of vulnerability she shared, and it’s exactly what I loved about this book. One of my favorite stories in the book had to do with Elena training on an injured shoulder. She tells a partner to go easy because she was having a lot of pain on it and he said “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. What was I doing there? I couldn’t do it. I’m hurt and I’m not any good and I’m a wussy because I’m crying. […] Of course, it turned out that the guy merely meant that I should stay home and take care of my arm until it 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.

It just reminded me so much of what I wrote before – that we view the world through the lens of our own insecurities, and jiu jitsu shakes the snowglobe of our emotions. It also reminded me of how powerful being vulnerable can be – both for ourselves and those around us. One of the most memorable scenes I ever saw in Desperate Housewives was when Lynette had her emotional breakdown on the soccer field in Season 1 episode 7.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dYhmiAnr6f8]

Bree: “Lynette, you’re a great mother.”
Lynette: “No, I’m not. I can’t do it. I’m so tired of feeling like a failure. It’s so humiliating.”
Susan: “No, it’s not! So you got addicted to your kids’ ADD medication. It happens.”
Bree: “you’ve got four kids. That’s a lot of stress. Honey, you need some help.”
Lynette: “That’s what’s so humiliating. Other moms don’t need help. Other moms make it look so easy. All I do is complain.”
Susan: “That’s just not true. When, when Julie was a baby, I, I was out of my mind almost every day.”
Bree: “I used to get so upset when Andrew and Danielle were little. I used their nap times to cry.”
Lynette (crying): “Why didn’t you ever tell me this?”
Bree: “Oh, baby. Nobody likes to admit that they can’t handle the pressure.”
Susan: “I think it’s just that we think that it’s easier to keep it all in.”
Lynette: “Well, we shouldn’t. We should tell each other this stuff.”
Susan: “It helps, huh?”
Lynette: “Yeah, it really does.”

Every time I watch that I cry. Every time. There is so much truth in that one moment – that feeling that everyone else has it together but *I* don’t. I’m a fraud. I am a sham. What’s the matter with me? Why am I reacting this way? Why can’t I be like HER?

Well, “Her” doesn’t have it all together. “Her” has cried in the locker rooms, or been concerned about the effects BJJ was having on her body, or questioned her rank, or been terribly frustrated that everyone seems to be kicking her ass.

Not every post dealing with emotions or that confesses things are written in a vulnerable way. For example, I really value and enjoy Valerie Worthington’s articles, but in general they are written in a clinical and academic way, even when writing about crying: Boys and Big Girls Don’t Cry, Unless They Do. And that’s okay. Vulnerability and authenticity is not something we need or expect from EVERY source all the time. But when we experience that vulnerability, they are precious moments that reach us deeply.

Brene Brown, expert in vulnerability

Brene Brown, expert in vulnerability

Brené Brown gave a TED talk on the Power of Vulnerability. The entire transcript is on that page, but here’s the 20 minute video of it; it’s long, but absolutely worth watching:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o]

So much resonated with me, especially her own struggle and resistance with vulnerability and what it is and why it is important, but this part stuck with me the most:

shame is really easily understood as the fear of disconnection: Is there something about me that, if other people know it or see it, that I won’t be worthy of connection? The things I can tell you about it: it’s universal; we all have it. The only people who don’t experience shame have no capacity for human empathy or connection. No one wants to talk about it, and the less you talk about it the more you have it. What underpinned this shame, this “I’m not good enough,” — which we all know that feeling: “I’m not blank enough. I’m not thin enough, rich enough, beautiful enough, smart enough, promoted enough.” The thing that underpinned this was excruciating vulnerability, this idea of, in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen.

I think that’s one way I know I’m being vulnerable – when I write about things that are Important to me, or I am Scared of how people will react, or I have Fear when posting. Being vulnerable is really scary. After I wrote my frustration post I had two people say my teammates weren’t treating me well, which surprised me because it’s not true. I was a little worried because it’s too easy to sound like you’re dating Darth Vader if you say things like “oh no, it’s not bad, really!” And I was a little scared because what if my teammates read this and think I’m complaining about them and then I get kicked out of BJJ for talking about BJJ and what if it’s all one big fight club where I broke the number one rule. Yeah, vulnerability sucks.

There was a short, but interesting article called “Vulnerability: Why Journalists should Blog.” In it, Stephen Baker wrote

What’s so great about vulnerability? To be vulnerable is to have your defenses down. Whether this is in a relationship or at work, it usually leads to better communication. Often you find that you didn’t need the defenses in the first place. They just got in the way.

What makes this vulnerability worth it are the reactions. I’ve cried reading some comments and emails from women who no longer felt alone or isolated. I’ve felt anger by how some women were treated, and I’ve ached for other women who are in bad situations. But in each case it has made me know that being vulnerable is worth it, even if there are those who read my vulnerability posts and think it’s about the nail.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4EDhdAHrOg]

IT’S NOT ABOUT THE NAIL! It’s about connecting, helping, communicating, and growing stronger together. It’s about becoming real people to one another and helping support each other. It’s about finding that balance between toughening up on the mats but dealing with our gross and mucky emotions off the mats. Thank you ladies for sharing your vulnerabilities with me. It really means the world to me, and please don’t forget that you may always submit an anonymous story to me about your own experiences.

Jiu Jiu’s Question: Which vulnerable stories have positively affected your BJJ journey? Which stories have you written that are some of your more vulnerable moments? I would absolutely love to read more and hear your stories.