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  • Joe DeLisi

Learning Finance Through Jiu Jitsu



4 years ago, I wrote a blog post (read it HERE) about my son who just began his journey in the martial art of Brazilian jiujitsu. Just sitting and watching from the parent’s area taught me a lot about the overlap in learning this art and life. In fact, I was seeing so much benefit from watching, I decided to begin my own jiu jitsu journey.


So three years ago, at the age of 43 I decided to step on the mats with no experience in grappling and give it a go. I was hooked from the first time I was thrown over another man’s shoulder and I’ve never looked back. Since then two of my five daughters have begun training jiu jitsu and the younger ones will likely follow. Jiu jitsu has many physical benefits but it also has a surprising amount of cerebral benefits. There are several applications from jiu jitsu that can be applied to money management. Here are a few that resonate with me so far in my forever jiu jitsu path:

It takes a LONG time to “master” and even at black belt, you are just beginning to understand

Unlike most martial arts, belts don’t come quickly in Brazilian jiu jitsu. There are only five belts, and it takes about 2 years just to move on from white belt. It’s at least a 10-year journey to black belt for an average adult. In personal finance there is a similar timeline. Like in jiu jitsu, you can pick up the fundamentals rather quickly, however true mastery takes a decade or more due to the complexity and variables involved. This shouldn’t be something that holds you back but should give you the ability to relax and just enjoy the long never-ending journey for it is truly not a sprint, but a marathon.

You can’t learn jiu jitsu alone

This isn’t just a saying…you literally can’t. You need another body to work on the movements, throws, submissions, and the like. This was tested during the pandemic lock down. You just can’t substitute anything for the ability to grapple with another human being. You don’t just need a training partner; however,you also need a coach who has traveled the jiu jitsu road and can show you the way.

It’s very difficult to master money by yourself. You aren’t required to have a training buddy when it comes to money, but you really do need a coach, someone who has traveled that money path themselves and have DONE it…in other words, you need someone with some grey hairs to help you along the way. The main reason for this is the coach can help you with the most destructive thing to money, human behavior. Poor discipline, decisions made in a moment of weakness, fatigue, etc. are all things that you will need to confront on your money journey and a coach can be an un-emotional third party who can help you avoid the pitfalls of poor financial behavior.

Most people quit

It’s been estimated that 90% of new students will quit before they advance one belt and less than 1% of new adult jiu jitsu students will ever make it to black belt. Why? It’s hard to learn, it’s humbling, it takes patience and it is physically and emotionally demanding. That’s not a list of ingredients for comfort, but the very opposite. Jiu jitsu is very uncomfortable. While discomfort is usually something humans avoid, I think the number one reason people quit jiu jitsu is because there is no end zone. There is no “made it” or “goal line”. It’s forever. Once people figure out that jiu jitsu is forever, many just can’t stick with it…forever is too long!

I’ve been fortunate in that I tend to have people stick as my clients for a long time. I even have several who have been with me the entire 23 years I’ve been in business. But most people don’t stick with their money ambitions. The reasons are probably the same as why people quit anything, but I think more than anything else, it’s because they figure out that money is forever. The goal line isn’t college funding, or a new home, or retirement. Those are just markers along the way. The same phenomenon can be found in health care. People start and stop diet and workout plans once they see the truth that the nutrition plan isn’t just for a month or a year, but a forever change in their health. Once they realize its forever, people begin to talk themselves out of the commitment.

It requires sacrifice and pain

This may sound odd but there is a small percentage of people who search out pain and discomfort. For them, jiu jitsu isn’t “easy”, but quitting doesn’t ever seriously cross their minds. The reasons why some will quit, the pain and sacrifice, are the reasons others joined in the first place. In jiu jitsu, you must get used to being comfortable in uncomfortable physical and mental situations. This never changes. You not only accept it, you like it! Discomfort, as crazy as this may sound, become comfort. That transition is required of you if you want a lifetime in jiujitsu.

Money requires sacrifice and pain. The disconnect here is that many view money as a means to an end where the end is comfort. Think of traditional retirement where you put up with that corporate boss for 30 years just so you can retire to the comfort of that lake house and the 18 holes of golf every day. The double-edged sword with money is it can only provide you comfort if you willingly forgo comfort to begin with. Sacrifice must be made to not just save your money but emotional pain must be endured as you allow time to do its magic rather than chasing a unicorn of high return to short cut the process. In addition, you will be required to endure the psychological pain of market “crashes” and surprises. Along the way you will be tempted to abandon the discomfort of it all. But the only way to comfort is through the “pain”. Refer to the coach section above. You likely can’t do this alone. You need the assistance of a financial coach just like a jiu jitsu athlete requires a coach.

Community is not required…but it helps a ton

While it’s true that you can’t learn jiu jitsu alone, it’s also true that you only need one other body. However, to be able to endure and to be able to grow, a community helps a ton. A group of like-minded people all trying to work on the same goals but taking different paths to get there…that is the magic that a good jiu jitsu gym provides and it goes a long way to keeping you coming back for more. I’ve become friends with people in my gym of different ages, backgrounds, ability, race, religion, family situations and on…these people are as much the reason I can’t quit as any personal reason.

While it’s true you can learn money on your own, it’s also true that to be able to endure the ups and downs and the “forever” of money a community should really be employed. This takes more than you and your financial coach. You really need a group of people you can engage with along the way, your “team”. This is my single biggest failure so far in my career…I’ve never been able to get people to engage in a community over money. It’s not that I haven’t tried, it’s just that people have a really difficult time being transparent with others about money and how they struggle. If you are interested in me helping you facilitate a team for your money journey, please contact me and let’s discuss. I believe in the power of a community learning process when it comes to money, but I need people willing to engage in order to build it.

Being afraid is normal

The first time stepping on the mat. The first time getting thrown or taken down by another, more advanced or larger, opponent. The first time sparring. These are all obvious fear points. In jiujitsu, while the level of fear will change, you will always have some amount of fear. You can get hurt. Without the possibility of pain or damage, the benefits of jiu jitsu are diminished. The danger makes it worthy of the pursuit. While we do everything,we can to take care of each other while we train, accidents do happen and for that reason, fear will be present and fear is normal. What you do with the fear will determine your outcome.

Money brings with it a different kind of fear. You may not see immediate physical danger, but make no mistake, the danger in money failure is real and the stakes couldn’t be higher. There is no guarantee that the financial decisions you make will work out. If you fail, you will be failing not just yourself, but your family as well. You may even become a burden at some point on others. The consequences are not insignificant in poor money behavior. Because of this, fear is present and its normal. Fear tells us that what we are engaging in is a serious endeavor and worth it. Take fear seriously. Also realize it’s not just normal, but required, for you to make any headway in your goals

Patience is more valuable than strength

This may be the most applicable lesson from jiu jitsu to money and vice versa. In jiu jitsu, strength is a factor. So is age and athleticism. If you are younger and stronger than someone of equal experience, you likely will best your opponent. However, if you take your youth and strength and match up against a slower, older, but more advanced student, you are likely to lose. Jiu jitsu is a game of patience and skill rather than brute force. The slower and smaller will often neutralize their opponent who is relying on muscle. That’s the beauty of this martial art. Muscle only goes so far. Technique, experience, and brain power usually win out.

With money, muscle shows up as rate of return. People chase all kinds of investment hacks because they think they can short cut the process. They want to be the rabbit, not the turtle. But the most powerful weapon in money isn’t rate of return…it’s time and technique. The time goes by anyway. Use it as leverage and forgo the “muscle” and you will likely win. Try and short cut that and muscle your way through it and it’s likely you will lose. Once again, this is where a coach comes in handy. Both in jiu jitsu and in money, you need someone there as a third party to interpret what you are trying to do and help you see if you are trying to short cut the process. A good coach will save you years of heartache in the long run.

Ego

If you ever feel the desire to try jiu jitsu, and I think everyone should at least try it once, the single best piece of advice I can give you is to check the ego at the door. Ego gets you nowhere in the art of jiu jitsu. One day you think you are the best in the world and the next you can’t seem to do anything right. Celebrate your successes along the way and enjoy every minute of your training, but if you can’t let go of your ego, you just aren’t going to survive in jiu jitsu. There will always be someone better than you. And there will always be someone NOT better than you who still bests you from time to time. It’s just the way it is. Kind of like life. There will always be someone smarter, better looking, wealthier, stronger, etc. than you in life. Don’t compare yourself to them. Compare yourself to where you were yesterday.

I’m not sure I even need to make the connection here from jiujitsu to money as it pertains to ego. Ego or, hubris, is a huge hurdle for people. It’s probably the biggest reason for failure in money, right up there with the inability to deal with discomfort. The ego gets in the way of so many of us in so many ways but in money management it can be totally destructive. The financial world it littered with men and women in jail for fraud, abuse, insider trading and the like. Why? Mostly ego.

Final thoughts

If I had to take just a few simple lessons from jiu jitsu to apply to money it would be these: you need a coach and a community and you need to be ok with the discomfort of patience. There is no goal line, no end zone. There is just life. Money has the ability to provide so much for us all. It can help us thrive, it can support a legacy, and it can take care of when we are no longer capable. However, money can be destructive as well. It can be filled with empty promises and false starts. It can be a horrible “mistress”. Money, in and of itself, is not good or bad. How we use the tool is where the positive or negative exists. So be patient. Get a team. Find a coach. And enjoy the ride…


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