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.
“The world, Govinda, is not imperfect or slowly evolving along a long path to perfection. No, it is perfect at every moment; every sin already carries grace within it, all small children are potential old men, all sucklings have death within them, all dying people — eternal life.” – Herman Hesse (Siddhartha)
Despite our ambitions, we all arrive at moments of realization in regards to ourselves. It could be discovering three hours of sleep is counter productive and your quality of work could benefit from more sleep. You may find the opposite to be true, where sacrificing an hour or two of sleep may result in the extra time needed to get more done, resulting in overall less stress.. Maybe you find that despite your best intentions you have a propensity to offend others. In contrast, you allow others to walk all over you which leads to resentment due to the fact that you failed to spine up and say what you have to say which led to harboring feelings that are hateful in nature.
Regardless, we all encounter times in our life where we must look deeply within the reality of who we are, “the good, the bad and the ugly” so to speak. It’s uncomfortable, yet human and despite the fighting urge to leave things the way they are and cope, the only guarantee in life is change. To paraphrase Ari Weinzweig from A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach To Building A Great Business “we always have problems but we can choose to have better problems”. The problem for many is that in order to have better problems, this usually means going out of the frying pan and into the fire. Meaning that in order to make any sort of meaningful or significant change there’s a good chance things are going to get worse before they get better. Take the story of Yeonmi Park, for example, who endured incomprehensible acts of brutality to escape North Korea’s communist and totalitarian regime. There are plenty of other battered women who are faced with the decision to leave their abusive husbands and go out into the unknown. While the solution is simple, it’s not at all easy to carry out. As the saying goes, if it were easy everyone would do it.
Without acceptance of “what is” it becomes impossible to move forward and grow. This is a known benefit of competition in sports for example, your inherent qualities or lack thereof, are on full display. Your truth will be known and not just to you. This is something that is hard to accept (hardly anyone will revel when it comes to losing in front of their friends and family) yet this humbling experience is for many a necessary outcome for the sake of learning to overcome our weaknesses through the process of trial and error. Those with the right mentality can over time learn to acknowledge their shortcomings or errors and seek definite and deliberate improvement. If they do desire, that is. This is what Carol Dweck refers to as a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. I will do my best to crudely describe her genius work.
Growth mindset can be described as “I lost because I must not have given enough effort” while a fixed mindset on the other hand sounds like “I lost because I’m not fast” or whatever adjective you so choose. Unfortunately this fixed mindset is far too prevalent in today’s society, where people believe that if they lost they must be bad, rather than understanding that the lessons from sports or competition for that matter have more to do the process of improvement versus a trophy. This exposure to “failure”, as those outside the veil of Martial Arts would know it, is the quintessential purpose of the trial and error a Martial Artist endeavors to overcome. At our Jiu Jitsu academy we position true failure to our students as quitting or giving up rather than surrendering to the vehicle of improvement that is constant evolution of oneself physically, emotionally, intelligently and spiritually through Jiu Jitsu or Martial Arts.
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.
Marcelo Garcia – X-guard, guillotines, butterfly guard and rear naked chokes.
Xande Ribeiro – Known for an impassable guard and “Classical Jiu Jitsu”.
Rafael and Gui Mendes – The birth of the mainstream use of the berimbolo and leg drag.
Gordon Ryan – One of the most well rounded styles of Jiu Jitsu with a complete standing, bottom and top game that earns him one of the highest submission percentages of any current fighter.
Keenan Cornelius – One of the most decorated Americans out there known for his “Worm Guard” and other lapel variations.
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.
It was once explained to me by Saulo Ribeiro that Jiu Jitsu academies are made up of Poodles, Labradors and Pitbulls. The poodle is the person that may have summoned every ounce of courage just to walk inside the academy, while the labrador being the more confident version who plainly enjoys the art, whereas the pitbulls are mostly motivated by the adrenaline they get from a hard training session with other killers. While the poodle is certainly not there for the same reason as the pitbull and the labrador might be one of the most successful realtors in the area, it is common to see all these individuals under one roof enjoying training together. This is one of the most amazing things about the Jiu Jitsu culture and community of respect that brings the likes of celebrities and the highly successful under a roof with your aspiring world champion and your every day joes to go toe to toe on the mats only to smile and fist bump after what some might call a near death experience 🙂
During your Jiu Jitsu Journey you will eventually begin to hear the term “flow” being thrown around. Despite it’s many interpretations, Flow can described as constantly searching for “the right way” or “the best way” to do something. In the words of Jigoro Kano “Maximum efficiency and maximum effectiveness”. Flow means searching for the way rather than predetermining it. The difficulty in application for many, lies in the fact than many people preach the idea that there is no strength involved when you flow, when this is far from true. Combat isn’t pretty and there is still a need to get the job done while sparing as much energy as possible. The solution is when training, to form the mindset that your time is best spent finding the easiest way to accomplish something while ensuring that you do everything in your power to accomplish it. This means accepting that “the best way” is yet to be found in order to allow yourself to make constant adjustments to reach your end goal more easily. This will result in not only less frustration but in far more progress than simply performing techniques the way you have.