The limits of my language mean the limits of my world. -Ludwig Wittgenstein

If writing has taught me anything, it’s that words matter much more than we are consciously aware. Members of the Jiu Jitsu community have been using the term “savage” in a complimentary manner to describe one another, and I believe we do this at a great cost.

We are aware of the connotation of the word within the Jiu Jitsu community, ascribing praise to a high-level practitioner who trains with tenacity, but we must remember its connotation outside of our community.

To the uninitiated, Jiu Jitsu already seems like a violent, aggression-filled martial art indistinguishable from MMA. If we are to help others find the value Jiu Jitsu offers, the vocabulary we use to do so is paramount.

The oxford dictionary reveals our folly.

Savage

As an adjective:

* fierce, violent, and uncontrolled.
* Cruel and vicious; aggressively hostile.

As a noun:

* a member of a people regarded as primitive and uncivilized.
* A brutal or vicious person

I can think of no greater contrast to the gentle art than to define those who play it as “savages.”

We are a community of individuals who value learning, personal growth, and contribution to one another, as we appreciate the beauty and complexity of this art just as much as its effectiveness in combat. We are students. We are thinkers. We are servants. We are driven human beings.

But we are not savages.

This might seem like semantics, but its much more important than we realize.

Our linguistic system is an error-laden field of misunderstanding and misrepresentation, but words are the best tools we have to express the inexpressible. The vocabulary we use shapes our lives and our world. Truth finds its beginnings and ends in our words and a lack of purposeful communication leads to chaos.

As Jiu Jitsu practitioners, it is our role to guide others to a better understanding of this art so that they may find the value we have. Jiu Jitsu is an idea, and like all ideas, if it is not properly conveyed to the next generation, it will perish.

We are the stewards of this art. If we are to give Jiu Jitsu the audience it deserves, we must communicate in a vocabulary our audience deserves. Next time you describe your teammates, consider your words carefully. They may be students, saints, or even savants, but odds are they are not savages.

If they were, you probably wouldn’t be praising them in the first place.

Post Script:

The best Jiu Jitsu players I know are humble, kind, and use their time to share their understanding of this art with others. Ironically, true mastery seems to be inversely proportional to one’s “savage”-ness.

Want to read more about Jiu Jitsu? Check out Chris’s new book, On Jiu Jitsu. Want to try Jiu Jitsu for yourself in the Florence/Burlington, NJ area, sign up for our Introductory Special now!