What Ju-Jitsu Can Teach Us About Writing


I don’t believe anything in life is wasted. And now that I am a blogger? Definitely NOTHING gets wasted. Everything I have ever been through can be a lesson. Years ago, I taught Ju-Jitsu. Hey, I sucked at sports and was a nerd, and martial arts goes with the territory so you can at least defend yourself from being stuffed in a locker. I had nunchucks, too, and knew how to use them. I tell you, my nerd card was stellar.

So what does this have to do with writing? We’ll get there, Grasshopper.

Ju-Jitsu, like Judo, involves being thrown…a lot. So to even survive your first belt, you have to learn how to fall. In fact, you cannot move beyond white belt until you learn to fall from all directions. It is important to learn how to fall. Why? First of all, falling is scary.

If I told you to stand and then just drop straight back, could you do it? Most people, unless trained, can’t do this without hurting something vital. So for the Ju-Jitsu student, a lot of learning to fall is overcoming fear. Also, we don’t just fall. If we just FELL, we would break bones. No, there is a method to falling and it involves understanding energy and redirecting it into the ground. When you fall you learn to direct all your momentum in a smooth flow and slap the ground, transferring the energy of your fall into the earth.

When I first signed up for Ju-Jitsu, I thought I was going to learn some kick-ass moves like in the movies. Yeah…um, no. I didn’t get to learn any moves. Why? I had to learn to fall first. When I heard that, I almost gave up and signed up somewhere else. I wanted to look cool, and falling was not for the cool. Ah, but I really loved those Steven Segal moves and Ju-Jitsu was the closest thing Fort Worth, Texas had to offer in the 90s, so I stayed.

First, I just fell on squishy padded mats. Hundreds of times until I thought my head would explode from hitting the mats incorrectly. Ah, but then one day—6,798 falls into my practice, something clicked. I started to hit the mat properly. I could hear that the sound was more of a snap as I smoothly fell in one fluid motion. I fell from both sides—to the left, to the right—I fell straight backwards. I fell from sitting, then from a squatting position and then, finally from a standing position. I had to learn how to fall and fall well.

After I mastered falling on the pads, I then had to learn to fall on concrete. WHAT? Yes, concrete. In real world altercations, there are no mats. I had to learn to fall in the parking lot just as smoothly as I did in the studio. I had to become a master at falling before I was ever introduced to anything else. Everything in Ju-Jitsu hinged on how well I could take a fall.

 I had to fall in ways that I could smoothly roll to my feet and resume a fighting stance almost immediately. Better than that. I had to learn how to use the energy of my fall to fuel my next attack.

Same with writing. Our future success hinges on how well we learn to fall.

I will be blunt, because I care about you guys and your future. Writing will involve a hell of a lot of falls. I have fallen…a lot. Know how we get good at falling? Only one way. We must fall. Over and over and over. Writing and Ju-Jitsu have a lot in common. Fear of falling is what must be conquered first.

I remember when I first started writing I hid behind a cutesy moniker and never introduced myself as a writer. I only wrote when I felt particularly inspired and was more in love with the idea of being a best-selling author than the work ethic it entailed. And you know what? I never progressed.

Falling is part of writing.

Not everything we write is worthy of publication. That first novel might just be practice. Sometimes we have to let go and try again and again and again and admit we didn’t do it the right way. Some writers have a finished novel, but are terrified to show it to a critique group or even send out a query letter. We can’t go forward until we face rejection and live to fight another day.

Same with blogging. I meet writers all the time who won’t blog out of fear they won’t have anything interesting to say. Maybe not, but we learn by doing. I have people ask all the time about what to write on a blog. I can give some basics, but beyond that???? We have to fall. We put stuff out there and if it doesn’t get readers excited, we try something different. This is why blogging multiple times a week can be so beneficial. It give us more data, more ability to see what is resonating versus what is a flop.

When we first start blogging as nobody unpublished writers, we are falling from a sitting position on squishy mats. If our blog sucks, who are we going to alienate? Our five closest writer friends and some spam bots? Get good at falling!

WE MUST FALL….OVER, AND OVER AND OVER. Bad novels, dumb ideas, boring blogs, bad days at critique groups, rejection letters, bad reviews. We must learn to not only fall well, but use the energy of our falls to fuel our next blog, book, etc.

Aw, crap! Rejection letter from my query….

To get good at falling, we must first overcome the fear of falling. We can never be masters of anything until we are no longer ruled by what we fear. We must practice until a fall is no longer a setback, just a change in directional energy that fuels our next attack. When we can master the art of falling, only then will we be on our way to our Writer Black Belt…the title of Career Author.

Okay my little Grasshoppers, what do you fear and why? How have you overcome fear? What ways can you put yourself out there more? Stretch your abilities and chance a fall? Any advice?

I love hearing from you! And to prove it and show my love, for the month of May, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of May I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Quick Change–I am going to start announcing winners on MONDAYS. The way I have been doing it makes Friday carry into the next week and it gets weird. Also, this gives me the weekends to tally the names which will be easier on me. So MONDAY I will announce the winner.

Note: I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.

Important Announcements

Make sure you join our LOVE REVOLUTION over on Twitter by following and participating in the #MyWANA Twibe. Read this post to understand how this #MyWANA will totally transform your life and your author platform.

My book We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media hit THREE best-seller lists on Kindle last week. #2 in Computers & Technology, #13 in Authorship and #17 in Advertising. THANK YOU!!!!! This book is recommended by some of the biggest authors AND agents in New York, so make sure you pick up a copy if you don’t have one already.

Also, if you want to learn how to blog or even how to take your blogging to a level you never dreamed possible…get your copy of Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer today. This book hit #1 on the best-selling list in less than 48 hours thanks to all of YOU!!!!! Not only will this book help you learn to blog, but you will be having so much fun, you will forget you were supposed to be learning.

Happy writing!

Until next time….


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  1. I’m coming up with some theories to help me be okay with how often you put out great material.

    a) You have a twin
    b) You’re a cyborg from the future
    c) You are a cyborg from the future who has a twin
    d) You have a time machine or at least a flux capacitor and have managed to stop time to create a massive stack of awesome content.

    And of course you were a Ju-Jitsu instructor. Like it could’ve been any other way. I’m just waiting for the announcement that you were in Pakistan a couple weeks ago and that it was, in fact, Kristen Lamb who took Bin Laden out. Then you probably baked a stew for the village children or something.

    As for falling? I’ve become a master at that, and this teaching metaphor is one of the best I’ve heard. So much truth in here.

    1. @clay: You’ve heard of Rambo? Kristen is…wait for it…Lambo, LOL!

      1. And I get yelled at for my puns!

      2. That was Baaa-baaa-baaaaad! *eg*

      3. ROFLMAO, Kathy! I have a Kid’s Favorite Songs video from Sesame street where Mary speaks to her Little Lamb in a high falsetto with a Scottish accent, “Lambie, no! Doona follow me!”

        Now, whenever I watch that video I’m going to laugh hysterically, hearing “Lambo” in my head in the Scottish brogue.

        THE LAMBO does tell us not to follow her and to go forge our own path…I have a feeling this is a comment that will stick.

        THANK you for giving me something funny enough that I can enjoy watching that damn video (for the 943rd time).

      4. That’s fab! Lambo

    2. As a matter of fact, I have it on good authority from Holmes, my intelligence agent writing partner, that there was, indeed, a blonde woman with a Mac computer and an AK-47 in Bin Laden’s compound during the raid. Ssshhh! Don’t tell Biden. He’ll let it out.

  2. Maybe this is proof of my total nerd status, but equating writing with martial arts helped something click inside me and I feel very inspired to just go out there and, well, try to get better at falling. It just makes so much sense now! Yay!

    • Laura Lee Nutt on May 20, 2011 at 2:56 pm
    • Reply

    Great one, Kristen. A very apt and profound analogy. Thanks for the inspiration and the insight.

  3. You don’t win by not falling. You win by getting back up every time you fall. 😉

    Right now I’m afraid of all the stuff I seem to be putting into my WIP, as well as my coming first round of edits from my editor for my first novel.

  4. I’ve never studied martial arts of any kind, though I did always want to be the Karate Kid. Sometimes in Zumba we do the crane kick thing and I imagine I’m standing on that tree stump on the beach…I digress. But you are so right about the fear of falling. I feel it every time I click that little “publish” button on my blog. First of all, it says “publish” and that in and of itself is scary. I stare at that button for at least 10 minutes before I get the guts to actually press it. And then I spend even MORE time debating if I should actually tweet the article. I think: What if no one reads this? Worse, if they do read it, what if they hate it? Definitely scary. I can only imagine what it must be like to send a novel out into the world (though I hope to actually feel that feeling one day). I’m going to try being less scared and look at it exactly how you said, it’s an opportunity to see what works. And, really, my grandma will like it no matter what, so there’s always that to rely on :).

  5. Now there’s a POV I never thought of. Nonetheless, it works and explains well what writers go through. I’ve actually fallen a few times and will fall a few more. My efforts though, are to slam dunk my novel.

  6. I was just thinking about falling this week. I’ve been blogging for 6 months now and I realized that one of the things I learned along the way is that I may not be moving as fast as I wish I was, but I am still moving forward because I am learning each day. You do need to be ok with falling, it teaches us to get back up. Thanks for the reminder. *bows* I kinda wanna take ju-jitsu now. 😉

  7. Woman, you fling those words around like you probably flung those nunchucks around. And I’m with Clay. You have to be a cyborg with a twin. Or at least a clone. And I thought Clay was prolific! You are something else.

    So I’m not you.

    But I continue to write everyday, but I’m pretty anal so I like to proofread carefully before hitting publish.

    I seriously do not understand how you are able to write all these amazing, rich posts. Everyday. Unless you have an indentured servant. Or a really dutiful husband who absolutely does not golf. 😉

  8. Woman, you fling those words around like you probably flung those nunchucks around. And I’m with Clay. You have to be a cyborg with a twin. Or at least a clone. And I thought Clay was prolific! You are something else.

    So I’m not you.

    But I continue to write everyday, but I’m pretty anal so I like to proofread carefully before hitting publish.

    I seriously do not understand how you are able to write all these amazing, rich posts. Everyday. Unless you have an indentured servant. Or a really dutiful husband who absolutely does not golf. 😉

  9. K, this is the best blog yet…learning to falll! ((H)) jink

  10. Great post Kristen. That made me laugh so much about being in Pakistan (you weren’t were you? 😉
    I used to do Tae Kwon-Do to a high level and it must have seemed very glamourous from the outside, but you got your butt kicked every lesson to do your best even if you won a competition or got your black belt on the weekend. Same stuff every time, hard sometimes boring and lots of falls. A bit different from Ju jitsu but we had to learn the army roll and it is a lot harder than it looks.
    I write every day even with parents here from UK but not like a novelist or anything, some days are more prolific than others. I’ve had several poems and flash fiction go into anthologies in the last few weeks, and one upcoming, so things are starting to happen 🙂

    • Terrell Mims on May 20, 2011 at 3:52 pm
    • Reply

    Great post. Only you could mash up ju-jitsu and writing in a brilliant way. I know I have fallen a lot. Those first falls were horrible (fetal positions and purple tornadoes). Now, I feel I am falling smoother. Awesome post.

  11. Great post! I find the prospect of rejection very intimidating. I’ve just had to accept the fact that people may not like me (or in the case of writing, my work) as much as I do. It’s no judgment on me, and it’s nothing personal. I have a tendency to take criticism very, VERY personally. In life and in writing, that is a recipe for misery. So I’ve had to learn to take things in stride, to view all others as enlightened but myself and try to see the lesson in the criticism.

    I’m not very good at it yet. But I’m trying.

  12. Kristen, love the metaphor. I’m such a chicken, and it took me until I hit my 40s to realize that I have to take risks in order to fulfill my dream. (And when you get older you also realize the crap you thought was important – like external approval – really isn’t).

    But I still revert to my timid self from time to time, so I’m lucky to have you here to slap me upside the head, metaphorically speaking. Thanks!

    Ok, getting my geek on…from Virgil’s Aeneid: “Audentes fortuna iuvat” — Fortune favors the bold

  13. This is perfect for me right now. And it has nothing to do with writing! I’m headed to Vegas for the weekend with my family- I’ve never been- and I hate driving in new places- it’s frustrating and I’m scared I’ll get lost- we have a map quest map, and regular map, and GPS- and still my stomach is in knots- plus what if I forget something????
    But I know how to fall- I know how to read and map, and when to ask for directions. I know when my frustration level is too high and we need to take a break- I know how to find a store to buy a toothbrush. I know how to fall- as does my husband- So why am I freaking out?
    Thank you

    1. Vegas isn’t bad to drive around, just use the Stratosphere as a point of reference. It is the tallest building in the valley and at the north end of the Strip. Hope you have a great trip!

      1. Thanks I’ll do that!

  14. Great blog, Kristen. I have received so many rejection letters that my fear of getting another is gone, baby! For me, I fear not being able to write another book. I’m out of ideas after having written three novels, and I’m afraid another idea for the next book won’t come around again. THAT is the fear I am experiencing at the moment and it really bothers me!

  15. I find that I do fall into your categories of writers that have fear. I am currently working on my first novel and I can tell that things are not laying out the way that I originally thought. It can be exciting at times as the characters take over and push in their own directions. I fear that no one will like it. I fear in the end, I won’t even like it, but I have to keep pushing through because finishing my novel is going to be a huge stepping stone to proving that I can do this.

    I have finished some short stories, but never let anyone read them for fear that they wouldn’t like the finished product. But using your words of advice and some of the other authors that I follow, I have pushed past the first point and have started giving them out to people to get their initial reactions. In the end, I have found that the fear that was there has been fairly unwarrented, and what is the point of writing if you can’t share it with someone.

    Thanks for the inspiring words.

    • Kenja on May 20, 2011 at 4:36 pm
    • Reply

    Great post! I love the thought of using a fall as energy to fuel our next attack!

  16. Great blog post, Kristen. Having also taught martial arts for many years, the first thing we teach is how to take a blog and how to fall without getting hurt. And then getting back up and fighting on.

  17. Great post – I have no idea where my get-up attitude comes from, but I’m so very happy I have thick skin. Everyone falls – you just have to get up.

  18. I had horses when I was younger and that old saying about getting back up on the horse was drilled into me. Sometimes it is easy to dust off the seat of your jeans and climb back in the saddle. Others, you need to walk off the fall before you can ride again but you still have to climb in that saddle.

    Same idea as you’re mentioning. I love your analogy! Awesome post Kristen.

  19. Great post, Kristen. And not just for the parallels in writing – you finally helped me understand what my little nephews have been doing at ju-jitsu.

    My fears are interesting, fearing failure and success. The latter probably requires some explanation; if I succeed and do well, can I actually top that and continue that momentum? Or have I completely sapped any creative energy then before a steep decline to the bottom. Every day, I challenge myself to work beyond these silly fears. Probably time to just accept that I will fall, but the true measure of it will be in how quickly I can get up.

  20. Well ya know, sometimes I have fear of finishing. If I finish a project, then I have to show it to somebody and then they can say it’s full of suck-isity and what-were-you-thinking and . . . it’s so much easier to keep on doing the easy stuff.

    Like vacuuming.

    1. OMG, Amy! Me too!! This is the big one for me. My critique partners at Writers In The Storm (and now Kristen) keep me in line but still…

      I think it’s that fear of sending your precious child to school and having the teachers or other kids say you dressed them funny. It’s a weird, stomach-squinching, flush up the neck kind of feeling.

  21. Well Shaman, another good one fo sho. That being said, if I fail miserably at this “writing” thing, can I sign-up for Ju-Jitsu with you instead? Like I always say, “If I can’t be like Stephen King, I wanna be a Ninja Turtle.”

  22. Perhaps my biggest fear thus far has been simply introducing myself as a writer to both friends and strangers. Once I put it out there (AUTHOR!), I’m opening myself up to a slew of questions, judgments, and commentary. But I become more confident every time someone asks what I do, and I say, “I am a writer!” Because I am. Not yet with the NYT bestseller and country-wide book signings, but I’m working on that part.

    I don’t know if that’s falling. But it is a fear. And I might indeed fall quite a few times before I have bookstores introducing me as an author. That’s okay. It’s a process.

  23. Isn’t it weird how we all complain about having no readers, but are simultaneously terrified of someone actually reading what we write in our blogs? Oh, it’s just me? Damn. Please miss, my chiropractor says I’m excused falling practice due to my bad back. Then I pointed out that any injuries would result in me paying him lots more money to put me right again, and now he’s all for it…. Bring on the crash mats, baby!

  24. Thank you Kristen! I think I need to set myself a little reminder on my calendar to read this blog post and others like it about once every three months, when I start to get lost in the daily happenings and forget to LEARN from the process of writing and being a writer, even when things go bad. JK Rowling in a Harvard commencement speech a couple of years ago had some wonderful things to say about the importance of failure http://harvardmagazine.com/2008/06/the-fringe-benefits-failure-the-importance-imagination that backs up what you are saying here.

  25. Hi Kristen! Love the analogy! I’d rather think of our mishaps as falls than failures or setbacks. A fall is definitely something you can recover from. New to writing a novel, every now and then. I have a newbie-ish question. Usually I’m uncomfortable asking in public (ie a post comment, on FB or twitter), but I did yesterday publicly as a very newbie question on Twitter. Surprise, surprise! One of the writers I follow, and who follows me, responded and offered to go a step further to help me out. I was thrilled, of course. Next time I’m nervous about showing my green horns, I’ll jump in anyway and take a chance on falling. But I think, since all writers have been new at this themselves, they look at this as an opportunity to help someone overcome an obstacle. Thanks for the encouraging post!

  26. Falling. Aaaaaah. That explains why my back aches when I write!
    You make a good point. Learning to take criticism, understand it, and use it, can’t be done by reading, you have to experience it.
    Of course, it would be so much easier if everyone just saw things my way!
    Cheers 🙂

  27. When I was studying martial arts, we always included a hearty slap with our break falls. I’m wondering if a well-placed slap can help us with our writing falls, too? Not sure where one could place a slap to any benefit, though, unless it’s across our own faces to wake us up and smack out our egos. Great blog, Kristen, and so true. I look back on my falls in life, and I see that each of them opens the door to marvelous opportunities if I let them.

  28. Wow! Really amazing anaology! That’s so helpful. It is terrifying putting yourself out there. But we’re just learning how to fall. I love that!

    Thank you, Lambo. 😀

  29. *Bows to Sensei Kristen aka Lambo the Magnificent*

    Ah fear, the ancient nemesis. I spent years in chat rooms and on forums and one day decided I just needed a break. Hit my head on the concrete one time to many I guess. Then after more years of anonymous reflection found this blog. It drew me in so much I started to comment. And you know what, I found a group of excellent people and friends (sitting). Then, I saw how much fun everyone was having on Twitter and thought, “am I ready for a chat environment again?” Well, after taking the leap and meeting more and more wonderful people, I guess I was ready and have many of you to thank for that (squatting). Then came the blog. Ready to fall backwards into the unknown and hope? It’s been awesome, more friends, cool ones at that (standing).

    Thanks for the wonderful encouragement and inspiration that you provide Kristen.

    *bows in respect*

  30. Great Post! I noticed that when I fall I tend to make a short blog with more pictures. The slap on the face stuns me for awhile. Then I gimpily go again.

  31. Really enjoyed this post – however it brought back memories of when I dropped a brick
    on my Karate instructor’s head – Ouch!

  32. You’re making me interested in taking ju jitsu. It seems intense though. Falling a lot? That seems to be harder than it looks.

  33. Thanks for this one. I’m still relatively new and with a very small publisher. I’m at the stage where I don’t like telling people I’m a writer and I’m ambit blog shy. My next move… I need to face my fears!

  1. […] Lamb teaches us how to take a fall so we can get right back in the […]

  2. […] This definition immediately made me think of a blog I read a few weeks back on the importance of learning to fall. […]

  3. […] To read more of Kristen’s post, please click here. […]

  4. […] What Ju-Jitsu Can Teach Us About Writing […]

  5. […] What Ju-Jitsu Can Teach Us About Writing […]

  6. […] This definition immediately made me think of a blog Kristen Lamb wrote on the importance of learning to fall. […]

  7. […] This definition immediately made me think of a blog Kristen Lamb wrote on the importance of learning to fall. […]

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