Managing Space (A Jiu-Jitsu Lesson)

Sometimes the best input is silence and the best proximity is distance.

There are more people than ever who want to tell us how to feel, what to believe, and how to act, but there are very few who are actually concerned with how we feel, what we believe, and what we want to do with and for our lives. With input coming at us from all directions, it becomes increasingly difficult to discern what in our lives is the result of our needs and desires and what is the result of outside influence. The more we engage with these forces of influence acting on us, the blurrier the lines become between who we are and who others want us to be.

The reality is that there is simply no feasible way to focus on our own lives, needs, and desires while also giving our attention to what everyone else is doing and saying, especially with regards to how we should feel, think, and act. Our capacity for attention is limited and there are only so many hours in the day, so we must spend our time, the only truly nonrenewable resource, wisely. Because of this, it is imperative, for our own health, wellness, and progress, that we make time and space in our lives for quiet reflection and creation, whether alone or with those who matter most.

Jiu-jitsu teaches us that when we find ourselves in a bad position, overwhelmed by forces we simply cannot overcome head on, the best strategy is to create space and disengage until we can find a new, safer angle from which to more effectively move forward. The best jiu-jitsu practitioners are, not coincidentally, also the most difficult to hold in disadvantageous positions and the least likely to put themselves into those positions on purpose, except perhaps as a way of practicing survival, escapes, and reversals under duress. Over time, we come to find that success demands that we give ourselves room to breathe, to see the big picture, and to move forward intelligently in the direction that benefits us and not our opponent, that we become masters of controlling space.


Holistic Budo: As it is in budo, so too it is in life. As it is in life, so too it is in budo.

Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Taikyoku Mind & Body and Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

All photos by Robert Van Valkenburgh unless otherwise noted.

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