Photographer James Law Stays Present Through Jiu-Jitsu
A career as a photographer may have put James Law behind the lens, but it was the practice of Jiu-Jitsu that taught him how to focus.
“Jiu-Jitsu is interesting in the way that, much like surfing, it involves your total attention. You have no choice but to engross yourself so deeply in the present moment,” he says. “I think the biggest parallel between Jiu-Jitsu and photography is that you need to be able to focus your attention and share a space with somebody new every time.”
I think the biggest parallel between Jiu-Jitsu and photography is that you need to be able to focus your attention and share a space with somebody new every time.
A lifelong mixed martial arts (MMA) athlete, Law began taking portraits of other martial arts fighters, and now works as a professional photographer, shooting athletes, musicians and artists.
Law is part of Reebok’s Fusion series, which pays tribute to the brand’s newly released Flexweave Fusion sneaker by profiling individuals who fuse their passion for fitness with their art.
Law’s introduction to sports photography began in the gym during his first year of serious Jiu-Jitsu training. While in a sparring class in San Diego, Law saw some photographers shooting portraits of some of the athletes.
“I was like, ‘Wow, that’s so cool. The way the lights are pointed down, they are able to make the guys look so tough and mean.’ But there was also a side of me that thought, ‘I’ll bet I could make them look a little bit cooler.’”
Law had always had an interest in art and photography, so seeing the connection between his two passions inspired him to pick up a camera. Soon after, he began shooting portraits for fighters in other gyms, and before long, he was shooting cage-side for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
Law sees his history as an athlete and understanding of the MMA community as part of his rapid success. Many of the skills and lessons he learned as a competitive fighter carry over to his work.
“Both require you to be able to pick up the signs and intentions of a subject or partner. Like when I’m doing Jiu-Jitsu with somebody new, I can feel their tension, their anxiousness. You make a decision on how you want to interpret and behave with that energy.
Both require you to be able to pick up the signs and intentions of a subject or partner.
“In photography, you have the same options, the same opportunity, to guide somebody’s feelings or set a tone that makes your subject feel comfortable. By creating an energy yourself, you put yourself in the position that you want to be in, and create the kind of shot you want.”
How does Law fit in martial arts training between photoshoots? By squeezing in a workout anytime, anywhere. Luckily, his assistants also practice Jiu-Jitsu, so they’re always ready for an impromptu sparring session.
“I travel internationally often enough to where my training schedule’s been inconsistent, so I train anywhere I can. Sometimes that means we’re doing wrist locks on set, in an actual gymnasium, or sometimes even in the hotel lobby late at night.”
For Law, like many MMA athletes, ingraining himself in the world of Jiu-Jitsu has changed the way that he moves through life. Whether in athletics or his creative space, his experiences with martial arts help him fight the problems he faces every day.
“I used to fear a lot of things about the physical contact in martial arts. I used to fear a lot about a big day of photography and how it was going to play out, how my subject might respond. But, the interesting lesson you learn is that the more you overthink it, the harder it’s actually going to be. You’ve just got to settle in and believe that you know how to make these decisions and solve these problems, and everything ends up working out.”
You’ve just got to settle in and believe that you know how to make these decisions and solve these problems, and everything ends up working out.