Social media lit up this week after Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter owner Elon Musk suggested they were willing to fight each other—for real. While many doubt the tech billionaires will battle, the jostling points to something that merits a closer look: Zuckerberg’s jiu-jitsu fascination, and what it says about his approach to business.
Few CEOs would submit themselves to the humbling experience of learning jiu-jitsu. “You have to be willing to just get beaten up a lot,” Zuckerberg admitted.
But he told Fridman that “your ability to keep doing interesting things is your willingness to be embarrassed again and go back to step one and start as a beginner and get your ass kicked and, you know, look stupid doing things.”
“I just think part of learning is failing,” he added. “Obviously when you’re getting started with something, you’re not going to be an expert about it immediately, so you just need to be willing to go with that.”
Similarly at Meta, he continued, when they embark on a new mission, “people doubt that we’re gonna be able to do it and the initial work seems kind of silly. And our whole ethos is we don’t wanna wait until something is perfect to put it out there. We wanna get it out quickly and get feedback on it.”
Certainly the company has looked a bit silly to many with its efforts on the metaverse, a virtual world that has failed to generate anywhere near enough user interest to justify the many billions Meta has spent on developing it. When speculation arose earlier this year that the company was changing its tune by emphasizing artificial intelligence more than the metaverse, Zuckerberg responded: “I just want to say upfront that that’s not accurate…Building the metaverse is a long-term project, but the rationale for it remains the same and we remain committed to it.”
But, he told Fridman, he does take satisfaction in the immediate feedback in jiu-jitsu, compared to running a company, where “the cycle times are so long…it could be years later before you’re actually getting feedback and able to make the next set of decisions for the next version of the thing that you’re doing.”
In contrast, “Doing sports that basically require your full attention I think is really important to my mental health and the way I just stay focused at doing everything I’m doing,” he said.
In May, after training for about a year in jiu-jitsu, Zuckerberg entered his first tournament and won some medals. He made clear on the podcast that he “did not want to lose” going into the competition, noting, “I’m a pretty competitive person.”
His trainer, Dave Camarillo, called Zuckerberg “amazing,” telling ESPN last month: “A lot of people have a business and they’re successful and they have that side of their life, and rarely do they dip into the physical side…He’s not that kind of guy. I think he has a good balance between what he does with his business and what he does in the physical realm. And he excels. He’s one of the best students I’ve ever had.”
As for Musk, he said on the Joe Rogan podcast a few years ago that he has dabbled in jiu-jitsu and as a child learned judo and some other martial arts. He tweeted of Zuckerberg on Tuesday, “I’m up for a cage match if he is.” But photos of him shirtless suggest he’s not exactly ripped, and he boasted in late March—after XPrize executive chairman Peter Diamandis wrote “sugar is poison”—that he eats a donut “every morning.”
In a tweet on Wednesday he joked, “I have this great move that I call ‘The Walrus’, where I just lie on top of my opponent & do nothing.”
Subscribe to Well Adjusted, our newsletter full of simple strategies to work smarter and live better, from the Fortune Well team. Sign up today.