Discipline Equals Freedom

Disciplined practice creates freedom of thought and expression.

Discipline Equals Freedom is a concept described by Jocko Willink in his book of the same name. Here’s a great explanation of the concept from an interview he had with Forbes:

While Discipline and Freedom seem like they sit on opposite sides of the spectrum, they are actually very connected. Freedom is what everyone wants — to be able to act and live with freedom. But the only way to get to a place of freedom is through discipline. If you want financial freedom, you have to have financial discipline. If you want more free time, you have to follow a more disciplined time management system. You also have to have the discipline to say “No” to things that eat up your time with no payback—things like random YouTube videos, click-bait on the internet, and even events that you agree to attend when you know you won’t want to be there. Discipline equals freedom applies to every aspect of life: if you want more freedom, get more discipline.

— Jocko Willink

This is a bit of a paradox, and very counterintuitive because you’d expect discipline and freedom to be opposites.

But in reality, consistent discipline is what leads to freedom.

In the quote above, Jocko provides a great example: achieving financial freedom requires financial discipline. This is because discipline gives you the assets, track record, and skills to dictate your terms and have freedom in the future.

We often adopt a child-like view of freedom, where we demand the unconditional right to do what we want, without any consideration of the consequences to ourselves or the equal freedoms of others. But freedom is not guaranteed, and real freedom comes from the consistent application of discipline. If we consider democracy itself, freedom can only exist through the rigorous use and enforcement of laws.

Applications to Jiu-Jitsu:

In the context of Jiu-Jitsu, disciplined training frees us from technical minutiae and develops the ability to focus on high-level strategy.

Ever wanted to do something quickly, but your brain can’t recall the steps fast enough to make it happen? Anyone who’s ever worn a white belt knows this feeling, and it’s tremendously frustrating. This happens when you don’t yet have enough practice to recall a technique using muscle memory.

The solution to this problem is practice. Practice is what trains our muscle memory to quickly do the things that happen slowly in the deliberative parts of our brain.

When you train a technique or movement into your muscle memory, something miraculous happens: you don’t have to think about it anymore.

And if you don’t have to think about the details, you can spend your bandwidth thinking about the bigger picture instead.

As an example, if a white belt wants to attempt an armbar from guard, their thought process might look like this:

“Okay, what are the steps to the armbar again? I remember you have to grab their arm and collar, but which hand goes where? Now my foot’s on their hip, but is it on the correct side? No, it can’t be, because if it’s on this side then it’s not stopping them from pulling their arm free. Now I turn to the side and – oops, that was the wrong side. Let’s go the other way and – oh crap, too late, they passed my guard. Okay, what are the steps to escaping side control again?”

But a black belt attempting an armbar from guard might be thinking like this:

“Their base is really good, but they’ve left their leg close to my arm. I think I can get the underhook. I’ll try a pendulum sweep, and if their arm comes loose I’ll go for the armbar. Maybe I can get both?”

Josh Waitzkin calls this process form to leave form.

In this sense, discipline equals freedom: it’s the practice of rigorous training that expands our mind to think and act freely.

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