Deep Waters

Written by John B Will

Getting out of your comfort zone may be risky, but it can also yield a great many rewards.


If you want to be a strong swimmer, you will eventually need to get yourself into some deep water. The theoretical swimming class is a good start, followed by paddling in the shallow pool, followed by a foray into the deeper end of the pool. But deeper waters are another experience again, and becoming comfortable in those deeper waters is what separates the truly experienced from those just having a dabble.

There have always been deeper waters for the martial artist to stretch him or herself in. There have always been boxing or wrestling clubs that provide challenging — if not downright scary — experiences for even the most seasoned martial artist. It’s just that, until quite recently, martial artists hadn’t quite viewed boxing and grappling as unexplored territory in the same landscape. Now, in this era of MMA, the boxing, kickboxing or grappling experience is much more easily accessible; deep water is never that far away.

The deep-water experience, though, does come with its own set of perils. Things do not always go our way when venturing out of the shallows. MMA training, at least with the pros, sometimes requires a price that many will not want to pay. My opinion is this: if we see ourselves as martial artists and not just bad dancers or aficionados of the choreographed fight experience, then we need to be prepared to take on the odd bruise, scrape or cut. And at the end of the day, it’s a small enough price to pay to better ourselves.

The deep-water experience is all about moving beyond our comfort zones. At one time, when we were children, we lived on the edge of our comfort zones and by extending those boundaries a little each day, we learned more about ourselves and the world we inhabit. But at some point, it is also true that most adults are happy to ‘settle’; to remain well inside their comfort zones once they have ‘learned’ enough to survive. This particular phenomenon is understandable to a degree. After all, whatever behaviours we have learned to date have proven survival value; they have kept us alive and so (according to natural law) they should be repeated until something in our environment causes us to adapt and change (evolve).

We all have the ability to explore and undertake a deep-water experience; we all have standards below which we will not allow ourselves to slide. Most of us live in a kind of bandwidth, not allowing ourselves to sink below a certain standard of living, standard of fitness, etc. But then again, most of us don’t keep pushing the envelope, and won’t rise above a certain standard of living, standard of fitness, etc. This is interesting to me because at some point, each of us had to live beyond our comfort zone to get where we are — to save the money to put a deposit on that house, to get ourselves into good shape, etc. But then what happens? In most cases, we say, “That’s enough,” or in the words of Shrek, “That’ll do, donkey — that’ll do!”

Of course, I have mentioned this before, but the fact that we all have an in-built survival imperative that says, ‘Stay with the familiar’ does not necessarily mean that we should be shackled by it. Sure, in our not-so-distant past, if we decided to walk over that hill, and visit with the new tribe that just moved into the neighbourhood, there was a definite possibility that things could have ended badly (maybe they were aggressive or hostile). But then again, they might have been friendly and willing to share new technology with us. Where there is risk, there is often opportunity, and so it is when we venture outside of our comfort zones.

There is, and always will be, inherent risk in entering deeper waters, but there will also be the opportunity for growth and development. New discoveries, new technologies, new experiences and personal growth; all of these things come out of those deep-water experiences. Martial artists should embrace the opportunity to venture into the unknown. After all, at one time, each of us took those first faltering steps into our current practice. Maybe it’s time to ‘go again’.

John B Will is head of BJJ Australia and teaches Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, shootfighting and self-defence solutions around the world. Check out his regular blog at www.bjj-australia.