The Mat Doesn’t Lie: Why I Learned BJJ

By Coach Travis Davison

While the story of how I started Brazilian Jiu Jitsu isn’t all that remarkable, the impact it had on my life was. Like a lot of people, it starts with the first UFC fight in 1993 with Royce Gracie.

Back then, the rules were much more lenient. A fighter could get away with things that he couldn’t get away with today. In that fight, you had the usual characters, the kind of guys that our culture told us were “real” fighters: the guy with the fu manchu stache, the biker, a boxer, and some guy in a speedo.

And then there was Royce Gracie, who was the least likely suspect. I remember thinking, “Who’s this guy wearing pajamas?” Gracie wore the traditional gi of BJJ, and he fought in a completely unexpected a way and with a fighting style I had never seen before.

He was able to submit his opponents without damaging them. People were surprised to see these big, strong fighters tap out to this 180 pound guy, and he did it without punching or kicking his opponents. Every single time. If you don’t know what those moves are, its magic to watch them.

Before the UFC brought BJJ to the forefront of America, everyone’s opinion on fighting was about karate and boxing. When I watched Gracie fight, I saw him submitting all these fighters, who were stereotypes of what our culture has taught us what a fighter is supposed to be.

A real fighter isn’t someone who looks like a badass and uses brute force to take down his opponent. A real fighter is someone with skill and master and endurance, who uses his abilities to submit.

I saw how BJJ was the most true and most authentic way to fight. It didn’t matter how big you were or whether you were a man or a woman, young or old. What mattered were your skills. At the end of the day, that is what the mat will ask of you: bringing your absolute best. That’s what made me want to learn BJJ.

After I watched that fight I kept hearing from other people about BJJ, until one day a friend called up my brother and I, and he asked if we wanted to go to a class with him. I finally found a place to learn about it.

Even on that first night it was humbling to be on the mat, and I knew I’d be doing it for the rest of my life.

In other martial arts, you can’t bring 100% without seriously hurting somebody, so you get all these built-in excuses. It’s too easy for a fighter to say, “Well, it would be different on the street”. A black belt in karate can’t demonstrate his or her mastery and skills on his students, because it could seriously hurt them. The master is never able to see what kind of fighter he really is and has a chance to say, “Well, it would be different on the street”.

In BJJ you can bring 100% without hurting somebody, so if you don’t bring 100% to the mat, then you only have yourself to blame. To this day, I roll with all my students, because even as a black belt, there’s always an opportunity to see what kind of fighter I am.

You can face a lot of things in life and lie to yourself about who you truly are, but the mat doesn’t lie.

It is impossible not to have to face those realities, whether you’re a white belt or a black belt. The story that brings you to the mat isn’t what matters; what matters is what you choose to do with it. In BJJ, the only thing that can be different is what you bring to it.