Book review: ‘On Jiu Jitsu’ by Chris Matakas

Book review: ‘On Jiu Jitsu’ by Chris Matakas

In his most recent book, On Jiu Jitsu, BJJ Black Belt, gym owner, blogger (Build the Fire), and author  Chris Matakas illustrates how learning the art of Jiu Jitsu develops character and elevates the individual.

The purpose of On Jiu Jitsu according to Matakas is “to help [the reader] understand the wealth” they possess in Jiu Jitsu.  The book, then, serves to enrich the reader’s experience of Jiu Jitsu by revealing facets of the learning experience that resonate into other avenues of one’s life. Like so much of Matakas’ writing, despite ample opportunities to do so, he never comes off as preachy, affected, or ostentatious.

The opening chapters sketch out in brief why Jiu Jitsu has value today (The Problem) and how learning Jiu Jitsu provides experiences that can inform decision making and confirm one’s pursuit of a “higher self” (The Solution) in all areas of one’s life.

The main body of the book is dedicated to explaining what virtue is, why it is important, and how Jiu Jitsu promotes the formation of virtues and the abandonment of vice.  Specifically, Matakas addresses humility and pride, resolve and weakness, efficacy and ignorance, generosity, friendship, fellowship and the human organism.

The final chapters of the book offer Matakas’ most philosophical musings. His twin loves, humanism and Jiu Jitsu, are only surpassed by his love of humanity. This quote from the conclusion, I believe, summarizes much of what On Jiu Jitsu is pointing towards; “The successful man is he, who, having developed great skill in his chosen craft, performs that skill, with love, gratitude, and great deft, in the service of his fellow man” (105). 

Throughout On Jiu Jitsu Matakas laces into his own prose applicable quotes garnered from numerous sources of wisdom both ancient and modern, from Hesiod (circa 750 BC) to William Shakespeare and Thomas Jefferson to C. S. Lewis and American talk show host Stephen Colbert. The quotes are unobtrusive, insightful, and demonstrate from where and from whom he learned the ideas he is sharing.  Like a Jiu Jitsu professor referencing a seminar that changed the way they taught or used a technique, Matakas gives credit to his philosophical pedigree with respect, humility and dignity. 

Through this process and his prose, Matakas routinely makes the world of ideas accessible in On Jiu Jitsu.  He translates, without pretense, abstract philosophical ideas into easy to understand language and applicable situations using Jiu Jitsu as his foil. 

Despite its profundity, Matakas’s On Jiu Jitsu is remarkably easy to read.  Readers, however, will not get the polished depth of his My Mastery in On Jiu Jitsu and at times Matakas relies heavily on his refined epigrammatic wit, in which he exerts a little earned pride, but On Jiu Jitsu did not miss its mark, it is accessible, insightful, and unique in that it connects with ease the world of humanist ideas, Jiu Jitsu and the modern reader.  That has tremendous value.

If training Jiu Jitsu is more to you than learning position and submission, Matakas’s newest book will likely bring about one of two equally valuable realizations; it will confirm what you already believe to be true about training Jiu Jitsu or it will show you the truths you’ve been missing. 

About the Author:

David Cormier, PhD, is an adjunct professor of English at Saint Louis University (SLU), a private Jesuit institution in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, he is a karate instructor for the SLU Karate Club in the Cheezic Tang Soo Do Federation under Grandmaster Robert Cheezic and a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu student at Watson Martial Arts in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, under professor Kyle Watson.

E-mail questions or comments to David Cormier at cormierd@slu.edu, follow on Twitter @david_h_cormier

Further Reading:

Understanding Brazilian Jiu Jitsu’s Hidden Curriculum by David Cormier


“How’s Your Stand-Up Game?”: The Importance of Humor in BJJ Instruction by David Cormier