Ever since I got to LA, I’ve been spending pretty much all day at the Academy. Between training, helping out in the kids classes, and observing, I’ve been learning an incredible amount.

While the new techniques were interesting to learn, what moved me more was the general atmosphere and attitude that emanated throughout the club.

Starting from the warm welcome at the reception desk to the big smiles and hearty hellos from Rener and Ryron to the encouraging words from all the instructors to the confident and friendly smiles and handshakes from kids of all ages — everyone exuded warmth and happiness.

I can’t really find the words to describe the feeling. All I knew was that from the moment I stepped into the Academy, I felt calm. It seems ironic, doesn’t it, that even though I would be stepping on the mats to grapple and practice self-defense, the atmosphere wasn’t full of aggression and competitiveness. Rather, it was just the opposite. There seemed to be a certain joie de vivre among everyone in addition to a positive approach to training – that everyone was going to do their best to improve their game, lend a hand to help their partner progress as well, and enjoy the process – whether they tapped out or not. It all felt very organic, for lack of a better word.

I think overall I was definitely impressed by the kids – Little Champs, Jr. Grapplers, and especially the Black Belt Club. It was seeing their demeanor and attitude that I realized that the Jiu-Jitsu lifestyle that is taught at the academy isn’t just about the moves, the belt rank, or the attire (as some people may assume). It’s about developing a certain character – a character that is good on many different levels – self-respect, respect for others, satisfaction in life, humbleness, eagerness to help, so on and so forth.

When I think about these characteristics, I know that it’s something that I want to embody. It goes without saying that to spend several years studying a particular martial art, you develop a certain level of discipline and dedication. Your focus is set and the goals you set for yourself determine your path. In the beginning I only saw this physical aspect of Jiu-Jitsu. However, now I see it is much more.

I am in the very early stages of my Jiu-Jitsu adventures … and that’s probably the most exciting part. I have so much to learn and I have the time to do it. I am in no rush for a promotion, a competition, or to prove a point. I am so excited to see how much my life will change as I continue my training.

So when people ask me how my trip went and what I learned the most from training at the Academy, my response, to their surprise, was not about the Jiu-Jitsu techniques … instead it was about the character of a Jiu-Jitsu practitioner. I now see the kind of person I want to be. The beauty of it is that I don’t need anything to make the change. I just need to be conscious of my effort, take life in one breath at a time, smile – because life is truly amazing, and above all, Keep It Playful.

Ryron Gracie