10 reasons creative people should start Jiu-Jitsu.

Image by Kenneth Cappello

Jiu-Jitsu is both a very practical martial art and self-defense, but also simply high-level physical problem solving. If you are a creative person, Jiu-Jitsu will be good for you and you will be well suited to it.

Here are my top 10 reasons for you to find your local Jiu-Jitsu gym and sign up today.

10. The feedback loop is almost instantaneous. When we do creative work, sometimes we only find out if it worked a few days or weeks after it goes out into the world. A big Olympics campaign could take more than a year. This means the relationship between action and outcome is hard to perceive. The feedback loop in jiu-jitsu is one to two seconds. You put your arm somewhere it shouldn’t be, someone takes it away from you. You try to submit someone from an unstable position, you will be swept. This means you learn instantly, and this is very addictive. Every time you leave the gym, you are aware you know more than when you entered.

9. There are no bad positions. Sometimes at work, you will hear “It’s not a good brief” or “This is a bad position to be in.” In Jiu-Jitsu, you learn that there really aren’t any bad positions; there is only not knowing what to do when you get in one. On the mat as well as at work, if we have notions of where to go, we have options and suddenly things aren’t so bad. As a manager of creative people with almost 20 years of experience, I hope that one thing I can bring is the calmness that comes from having been in a lot of positions before. Sometimes this is all a group needs to see and hear.

8. “Your ego is not your amigo.” Jiu-Jitsu and creativity are each about content, not bravado. Many times I’ve seen 200-pound wrestlers or tough guys who come into the gym and are paired against a purple-belt woman who they semi-giggle at, only to be gift-wrapped in 10 seconds. It’s the same at work: knowledge, practice, and process will win the day 100% of the time.

7. Your current strengths will slow future growth. Being fit or strong means you learn Jiu-Jitsu more slowly. You will inadvertently try to muscle your way out of a position or turn every round into a fitness test. These things might work against white belts, but they will not help at all against a seasoned fighter. In our creative jobs, being comfortable while exploring our weaknesses is where we — and our work — will grow. At W+K, you often hear “walk in stupid every day.” This means that we try to approach each challenge without bringing baggage from the last. The things that got us to where we are might just be the things holding us back tomorrow.

6. Getting to good work is a process. In Jiu-Jitsu you fight the position you are in, not the one you would like to be in. At work, we must interrogate our and our clients’ beliefs about whom they are and what situation they are in before we do anything else. From there, you build and build and build, over and over again, knowing that if you arrange all the blocks in the correct order, you will succeed. If you miss a step or get a step wrong, simply go back to the last thing you knew was true and try again. Same as on the mat.

5. You can learn from anyone. Jiu-Jitsu gyms have teachers or professors. At my work there are creative directors and ECDs, but to grow in both settings sometimes it comes down to your ability to collaborate with someone else; to teach and be taught, minute-by-minute. The more we share and listen, the smarter and better we all get.

4. Fear makes us make horrible decisions. Jiu-Jitsu puts you in seemingly horrible positions hundreds of times an hour. After a while, you stop panicking when someone takes your back. This familiarity dulls all kinds of panic. It makes us simply accept what used to be horrifying positions. At work, product recalls, timelines, aggressive-uncommunicative-bosses, or clients, or agencies, or a massive stack of other gripes might make us want to freak out. This will help no one, ever. Practicing on the mats is a safe way to get used to treating fear with purposeful action instead of manic reaction.

3. Spend time with people who don’t know what AOR, TRP, and ROI mean. Advertising, marketing — any specific business — exists in its own bubble, to a certain extent. When you spend quality time with a cop, a general contractor, a Marine, a bike mechanic, a sportswear manager, or a dentist, you will get perspective for free. This allows each of us to have that incredibly important decompression and perspective. It also allows us to learn about other people and their lives. Any conversation that isn’t about you/me provides a perfect dose of humility and, hopefully, empathy. We all need this.

2. You win or you learn. Dan Wieden says, “Fail harder.” This is a balancing act. We put a lot into our work. Most people I’ve met are quietly very, very competitive; we want to make the best work in the world every time and win constantly for our clients. But if you don’t win after a 100% effort, get up and learn from it. In Jiu-Jitsu, tapping — literally a tap on your opponent’s body — safely signifies defeat. You reset, and with no tears and wallowing, you attack and try again. This is an important lesson in an industry where you can’t win every time, but you can be first to keep fighting.

1. Jiu-Jitsu is true. As an extension of reason №10, if you make someone tap out, you win. If you tap, you lose. There are no fudged Facebook numbers, no skewed sales results, no bought views or followers, no biased awards shows, no fake downloads, and no horrible third-party media buys. It’s you against someone. In the fog of creativity and marketing, sometimes all we really want to know is the truth. Combat is unforgiving and honest, it will tell you how you did. Jiu-Jitsu will help you get better at it.

Someday I’d love to teach advertising and Jiu-Jitsu at the same time. Heck, if someone reads this and thinks that sounds interesting, let’s chat.

Thanks for reading.


Joe Staples

ECD, Wieden+Kennedy Portland

Purple belt, Nemesis Jiu-Jitsu

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