Meryl Streep, MMA and Empathy

Have you ever wanted to understand another person so much that you sacrifice elements of your own life that make you happiest? I’m not talking about making sacrifices to help another person — just to understand them, to deeply comprehend where they are coming from. What they love. What they want. What they fear.

That’s what actors do. When he was filming Taxi Driver, Robert de Niro got his New York cabbie license. He worked 12 hour shifts driving a cab to prepare for the role, and — legend says — used to pick up fares during breaks from filming. While shooting One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Jack Nicholson and some of his fellow cast members would spend the night at the psychiatric hospital. We all have some baseline human empathy, but to truly understand someone in a way that allows you to pretend convincingly to be that person — well, that’s impressive. I see what makes it worth doing, but I don’t understand the process.

Which brings me to one of the best actors ever: Meryl Streep. Yesterday, during the course of a far longer talk at the Golden Globes, Streep threw off some asinine remarks about mixed martial arts. She was wrong, of course, and it was an unforced error — one stupid sentence set off from a broader speech, but one that happened to insult a passionate (if niche) community. Two great pieces have already been published about this: Chris Zahar’s Jiu-Jitsu Times article explains what Streep got wrong, while the inimitable Jack Slack presents a vigorous and devastatingly argued defense of MMA as art. Those pieces are both spot-on. I don’t want to revisit that ground, so let me focus on one aspect of this mess: ignorance.

That’s what led Streep into this morass. We can say with near-100 percent certainty that Meryl Streep has no idea we’re even upset. If she did, she probably wouldn’t know why. Being ignorant doesn’t mean you’re stupid. It means you’re simply unaware of the realities of life as other people live it. That’s the source of so many human problems, it’s hard to list them all.

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PODCAST: Ask a Random Purple Belt

The first show of the new year is a Q&A extravaganza! From the shores of Vancouver Island and the Halls of Snowpocalypse, we bring you an episode of “Ask A Random Purple Belt.” There are four question-and-answer segments about jiujitsu etiquette:

1. Kneez Nutz: How do you respond when you’ve accidentally kneed a training partner in the twig and berries?
2. Wash Your Butt: What are best practices for gym cleanliness and personal grooming?
3. “Rank” Means Something Stinks: How should new people think about belts and stripes when training?
4. Fluid Like a Druid: What do I do if I cry or bleed on the mat?

Think we got something right? Something wrong? Left something out? Got a question for a future episode? Post it here or leave us a voicemail at (360) 389-2830. Also, check out our interactive calendar featuring upcoming tournaments, seminars, MMA fights, and open mats. Submit your own!

(We also learned a bunch about mic echo at the kitchen table — you can really notice the sound quality difference when recording outdoors! Next time we’re trapped by snow we’ll have a real home podcast studio set up.)

Holiday Gift Guide: 2016

It’s no secret that I’m obsessed with jiujitsu and have been for years. On the podcast this morning, Betsy O’Donovan — someone with a wider array of interests, a bigger brain, and two stripes on her white belt — joined me to provide a different perspective on what would make great holiday gifts this season.

She came up with a bunch of ideas I hadn’t thought of — and you still have time to get it done! Listen to the show for details, or just check out this list, with links where available.

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This year’s shopping list:

Gis: Everyone wants a new gi. The is a high-value item that comes with substantial personal preference involved, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t suggest Toro BJJ’s Jeff Shaw model gi. As we say on the show, though, there’s no way you showing up with a gi for the grappler in your life makes that grappler sad.
Flip Flops: You need these for the gym. Don’t be that dude who tries to walk in the bathroom in bare feet! We offered four options for excellent flops, including the pair I wore into the studio despite it being December, the Rainbow hemp sandals. You could also get the classic Brazilian Havaianas, or one of the various sets of belt rank sandals. Another project I can personally vouch for because I own ’em are Combat Flip Flops, a veteran-owned company that produces awesome sandals out of recycled material and uses the money to fund girls’ education in Afghanistan.
Private with your instructor / favorite practitioner: Want to play it safe? Buy your friend a private with their instructor, the person who knows their game the best. Want to take a chance? Figure out what big-name jiujitsu athlete they’re a huge fan of, and make a private with that person happen.
Custom mouthguard: Gladiator Guards makes the best custom mouthguards. It’s a big up-front investment compared to a boil and bite, but so worth it, from a comfort, fit and safety perspective. Plus, they keep your tooth mold so if you lose it — or run in through a dryer like I did — it’s easy to replace.
Gear bag: I’ve reviewed the Datsusara Core Bag Pro on the blog before, and it’s still my standard recommendation. There are a lot of gear bags out there that fit different lifestyles, though. One commonality: we all need the ability to drag stuff places.
Sports massage: Who doesn’t want a massage? No one, that’s who. Take it up a notch by getting your friend one at a sports-focused practitioner’s spot, and make your BJJ body feel better.
Nutrition plan & attendant supplements: On the note of making your body feel better, nothing does that like good nutrition. Why not spring for a nutrition plan with a show guest like Sophia Drysdale or Eric Uresk? If your pal is already on a plan, how about funding them with great supplements like Amnutrition or Vega Vegan Protein and Greens?
Online Site Subscriptions: I’ll always recommend two online sites based on my experience with them. Marcelo Garcia’s site is awesome, and so is the Mendes Bros. You get tremendous instruction, drilling suggestions, technique breakdowns and amazing sparring sessions featuring the best in the world. And it’s delivered right into the privacy of your own home. A non-instructional option: a subscription to FloGrappling. Besides watching superfight events, If you like to watch your friends compete at IBJJF events, it’s the standard.
Tournament registration fees: Maybe your friend wants to compete but needs an extra push, or extra cash, or help with logistics. Sign them up for a tournament, like US Grappling’s tournament in Raleigh in January!
Endless sports bras and pony tail holders: If you’re a lady, you probably need sports bras. If you’re a lady or a longhaired dude, you probably need the ability to hold those luxurious locks in place. Betsy recommended a few brands for each, including Champion’s line of sports bras, and Goody’s Ouchless pony tail holders. You can hear her specific tips for how to find out what your partner likes if you listen to the show!
If you have other ideas, please leave them in the comments. In the era of drones that deliver everywhere, there’s still time to get these to the people you care about in time for Christmas. Happy shopping, and happy holidays!