“Do not pray for an easy life but the strength to endure a difficult one…”
Those of us fortunate to spend enough time on this earth can recognize that life is about hardship and overcoming adversity whether we like it or not. Every day is a chance to develop our resistance to life circumstances so that when our will is tested we will not find ourselves victim to life itself.
After years of practice and effort towards mastery. It is always rewarding to look back on how much positive change has occurred between you and your former self. As a Martial Artist, what more could one ask for than to be alive and fully present as your most improved version.
In Jiu Jitsu, as in life, every practitioner will eventually face the inevitable. Injury. While it is only natural to want to retreat into isolation and “lick your wounds” these are one of the art’s greatest learning experiences that will ultimately define you as a Martial Artist. While the severity of the injury may prevent you from live sparring or intense practice, keeping your mind active by studying and observing the sport is essential for growth. After all, if fighting was purely physical, there would be no need for practicing technique or improving strategic understanding.
The warrior’s next step after victory or defeat is the same.
After watching some episodes of current Disney hit The Mandalorian, the phrase used by the Mandalorians “this is the way” stuck with me. In Martial Arts “do” or “tao” often describes the path or the way, this is evident in words/phrases like Bushido or the Tao of Jeet Kun Do. While “the path” is meant to be reflective of self discovery based on principles, it can easily be confused as a concrete and already defined way that one should follow. This differentiation was understood by the likes of Bruce Lee who preached abstinence of dogmatic confines such as Karate or Tae Kwon Do which limited a fighter to one discipline and one train of thought. In order to break this mold of thinking, one must clarify the difference between what is fundamentally regarded as “the way” such as improving one’s discipline daily and the interpretation that one must rise early to improve discipline. While there may be truth in the last statement they are fundamentally different as one is open to individuality and one is concrete. As Yoda would say, “The path, for yourself you must find.” or something to that affect 🙂
Oftentimes we tend to associate caring for ourselves with good feelings when in fact it can be far from it! Making good choices for ourselves is never easy, like eating healthy, exercising and being kind to others. While it is important to have some R&R and “treat yo self”, one must learn to come to terms with the fact that self care most often comes in the form of difficult decisions that will ultimately improve our well being.
One of the most interesting things about Jiu Jitsu is the way that beyond the fundamentals one must know (front shoulder rolls, back shoulder rolls, break falls, hip escapes, etc) every individual must discover for themselves, their own unique style. As a thought experiment for a beginner practitioner, ask yourself what you want to be known for in 10 years. Do you want it to be armlocks, impressive takedowns, positional dominance, leg locks or being a well rounded fighter. Ultimately it’s up to you to decide, and I urge you to allow your Jiu Jitsu to take form in the way that best fits you as a person. Below are some athletes who are known for creating their own style that they would go on to be known for.
As a Jiu Jitsu instructor, it is common to receive visits from combat athletes versed in other disciplines such as wrestling and judo. What almost never fails to occur during sparring, is an immediate attack from the Jiu Jitsu-newcomer with a great degree of power and strength. Against an intermediate level of Jiu Jitsu fundamentals, this almost always results in the other combat athlete’s bewilderment, usually followed up with more aggression and strength in their next attack. What the newcomer must soon learn, is that the system of Jiu Jitsu is designed to not only deflect and parry the attacks of the opponent but to answer with deadly attacks of its own such as triangle chokes and elbow or leg breaks. Just like a knockout punch that you didn’t see coming, the danger is there and can only be avoided with complete and full knowledge of the intricacies that make up this amazing and beautiful art we love, along with consistent and purposeful practice. Only then can you reach a level of Jiu Jitsu that you truly trust regardless of your physical condition.
It’s interesting to compare one of the oldest strategy games in chess, alongside a combat art like Jiu Jitsu which has a high demand for technical and strategic ability. Like Jiu Jitsu and many other combat arts, Chess shares some striking similarities. You will hear players use the same terminology in reference to a match such as “pressure, angles, flow, traps, sacrifices (not the ritualistic kind!) and even pins!”. One day I was listening to a chess instructional on MasterClass and my mother thought I was listening to a Jiu Jitsu instructional due to the verbiage being used. Below are a few things in chess that stand to help any beginner in their Jiu Jitsu journey.
1. Patience – Every masterpiece is formed by time, from your investment portfolio to a beautiful set of mountains. Enjoy each moment good and bad, they all contribute to the end goal.
2. Understand leverage – The ultimate question of Jiu Jitsu is “how can a smaller, weaker man gain the upper hand?”, so too in chess.
3. Learn to be tricky – Sometimes appearing strong is more harmful than appearing weak, good players deceive their opponents to gain an advantage.
4. Don’t predict your opponent’s move, focus on positioning your pieces (yourself) in the best way possible.
5. There are no good or bad pieces (techniques), each one has it’s own strengths and weaknesses. Learn to appreciate them for their unique value. While we certainly favor some pieces over others they all contribute to your victory from the lowly Pawn to the powerful Queen.
As a young BJJ practitioner I often found myself drawn towards the many different techniques BJJ had to offer, whether it was berimbolos, de la riva guard, x guard, etc. I believe that as a lower belt it is important to leave no stone unturned when it comes to learning techniques. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know… If you’ve never seen a triangle choke before, in a competitive setting you will find out when it is being applied and you are tapping out.
However, beyond the beginner stage, one starts to notice that there are fundamentals of BJJ which seem to go unnoticed and are seldom taught or emphasized in any sort of advanced capacity. The problem then lies in the fact that practitioners are taught in a way that creates a view of techniques that work at beginner levels and techniques that work at advanced levels, rather than learning a collection of techniques that will work across all levels.
A classic example of basics being employed at the highest level is Xande Ribeiro, who is know for having an impassable guard along with one of the highest submission percentages. The beautiful thing is that none of his techniques rely on flexibility or other physical characteristics. From the outside his technique selection appears to be what you would teach your beginner class (scissor sweep, cross choke, armbar, etc). It is important to note that not only do these techniques work at the highest level but he most recently turned 40 and still continues to dominate the adult division. Myself included lol. The key takeaway is that less is often more and as you continue your journey of BJJ, always aim to simplify your Jiu Jitsu. Not only will this benefit you as a practitioner but the people you pass it to.
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” -Bruce Lee
If you have been a Jiu Jitsu practitioner for sometime, you have like encountered the Portuguese phrase “Arte Suave” which translates to Gentle Art, a common colloquium for Jiu Jitsu or BJJ.
It’s origin stems from Master Jigoro Kano’s principle of “gentleness controls strength” one of the most important tenants of Jiu Jitsu. Though strength is important for any combat athlete, the system of Jiu Jitsu is based on leverage and it’s application. To use excessive amounts of force would lessen the overall effectiveness of Jiu Jitsu as a system and thereby limiting it only to those physical specimens with large amounts of strength and power. To give an example, if one had a strength ratio of 10, and another a 7, when both forces are to collide, the person with a strength ratio of 10 will surely win. Yet if the one with a strength ratio of 7 were to employ an off balancing technique (kuzushi) rendering the other’s strength a 6 rather than a 10, when these forces now collide the 7 will certainly win against the 6. This understanding directly correlates with Arte Suave and prevents the waste of unnecessary energy by searching for the most “gentle” way to achieve leverage or the upper hand.
On a side note, Jiu Jitsu can be considerably gentle in terms of combat when compared with a striking art that involves powerful strikes (kicks, punches, knees, elbows and headbutts). A Jiu Jitsu practitioner can simply bring their partner to the ground and achieve a mounted position eventually leading to a submission by joint lock, choke or even light strikes due to the control factor of the art. Practice of the art is also substantially less damaging as it is common to see a 60 year old sparring and training Jiu Jitsu, my father for example, and such is not the case in the striking arts.