The Tribal Element

If an outside observer happened to look into a specific building around 6:25pm on Tuesday, May 1st, this is what they would have seen.

A bunch of individuals wearing different colored Japanese pajamas, with different colored belts, were lined up in two rows.  On a closer inspection, the observer may have noticed all those wearing white belts were lined up in the row against the wall, and the row in front of them had other colored belts (blue, purple, brown).  Standing out front, the leader of the group was wearing a black belt.

On this particular day, the leader called one of the white belts forward, took a piece of athletic tape, and wrapped it around a small black portion of the white belt. A sentiment was shared, others clapped, and the individual returned to the line along the wall.

Then there was running in circles, some sort of interpretive dance, and then quite a lot of very intense cuddling.

So what is this observer supposed to take from this?  What happened?  What does this mean to these individuals?

The Tribe

Within the tribe, this ritual has very specific and special meaning. Each time a teammate gets a stripe or moves up a belt, it is a promotion.  It is a sign of progress.  Although the individual is singled out in this moment and recognized in front of his/her teammates, it is understood on a tribal level, that this was a collective effort.

The tribe must exist before the individual.

In my previous post, Evaluating a New Venture, I introduced a very important and key component of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which is a deep tribal aspect. I became interested enough that I wanted to look more into this instinct that is within us all.  Indeed, this is an evolutionary trait that we all have.

In Sebastian Junger’s book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, he describes the early human tribes, and the consequences and rewards of such instinctual behavior.

Junger outlines three basic human needs that keep us all from going crazy:

  • They need to feel competent at what they do.
  • They need to feel authentic in their lives.
  • They need to feel connected to others.

It is that third necessity that he really dives into, observing right away that “modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary.”

This necessity is a root cause of PTSD in combat veterans. They go from a situation of intense interdependence within their troop, one in which they serve a crucial and necessary role, to the society just described.

It is this connectedness, camaraderie, and closeness that ignites the passion for Jiu Jitsu. This tribal feeling is powerful.  It is why combat veterans feel compelled to go back. It is why some teammates have turned down great offers elsewhere in their careers or lives.

We are born with a sense of the pleasantness of friendship just as other things. In the same way as there exists in man a distaste for solitude and a craving for society, natural instinct drawing one human being to another, so too with this there is something inherent in it that stimulates us into seeking friendships.

-Seneca

 

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