The Most Engaging Book I’ve Read in 2021
About a month ago, I bought a physical book from Barnes & Noble after a long time. I usually read books from my Kindle, but this one was special. I have been waiting for this book to come out ever since I heard it on the Jocko Podcast.
The book I’m referring to is ‘Breathe: A Life in Flow’ by Rickson Gracie, a legendary Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and MMA fighter/master. I’ve known of Rickson Gracie, like most jiu-jitsu practitioners do since I started practicing Jiu-Jitsu. I knew that he was the best fighter of his era, watched documentaries about him, and knew about his philosophies in life. Although I never thought he would write a book, I knew that if he did, it would make a lot of people excited.
Rickson was undefeated in mixed martial arts, in the street, and in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu which is unheard of. He started wearing the gi, uniform for training Jiu-Jitsu, even before he wore diapers. Martial arts has always been a part of his life, his identity. In his book Breathe, Rickson dives deep into how his father and his uncles developed and promoted Jiu-Jitsu, his undefeated fighting career, and how he overcomes life’s complexities and challenges.
The reason Rickson named his book Breathe is that he believes in staying calm in stressful situations. Staying calm in bad situations is crucial in Jiu-Jitsu as well. For example, if your opponent takes your back, the most dominant position in BJJ, you have to stay calm to get out of there. If you panic in that position, you would probably gas out very quickly and potentially lose the fight because of it. Let’s say you have top-notch cardio and you don’t get tired, if you panic when your opponent is on your back or in any dominant position, you might do something that might cause you to get submitted by a choke, armlock, or foot lock.
The way to stay calm in bad situations, in general, is to pay attention to your breathing. According to Rickson Gracie, 99% of people are not breathing correctly. We all know that we should breathe through our diaphragm, but since we are not paying attention to it, most of us don’t. We take breathing for granted. We can live without food for days, but without breathing we would be dead in minutes. So we should prioritize breathing. In his book, Rickson states “Everything I have earned today was at least partially a result of breathing — my best performance, my emotional control, my ability to endure. Breathing gave me all of this.”
Many people from the Jiu-Jitsu and MMA community that read this book can’t say enough good things about it. I feel the same way, so does Jocko Willink, a retired Navy seal, NY Times Bestselling Author, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu blackbelt, who wrote the foreword. Jocko had an opportunity to train jiu-jitsu with Rickson when he was in the SEAL teams. He mentions his interactions with Rickson after a couple of days of training together. Rickson told him, “You do a good job staying calm in bad positions. That is an important thing.” Jocko then realized that this did not apply only to Jiu-Jitsu. He says “It applied to my job in the SEAL teams as well. You are going to get put in bad positions, the enemy might get the upper hand, you might be outnumbered or outgunned. Panic will destroy you. You have to stay calm.”
I recommend everyone to give this book a shot. If you already practice Jiu-Jitsu, you can relate to many things in this book. If you don’t train, there are still important lessons to learn from this book about life in general. A couple of those lessons from the book that Jocko included in his foreword:
You have to stay calm when you are in bad situations.
You need to move at the right time.
You must utilize leverage.
You cannot let your emotions drive your decisions.
You cannot be overly aggressive, but you can’t just allow things to happen.
You have to be mentally strong.
You have to keep an open mind.
The list goes on and on.