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.
Have you ever marveled over the 3 point shooting of an amazing talent such as Steph Curry? It is a beautiful thing to watch him being guarded by one and occasionally two players before throwing up a seemingly impossible shot only to watch it float right through the net. What you should know is that even for the best shooter in the game, he averages about 40 percent of his three pointers throughout the season leaving us with a couple takeaways. With the best in the league touting an average of 4 out of 10 3-pointers never allow yourself to be discouraged by successfully executing a Jiu Jitsu technique 2 out of every 10 attempts. The other key takeaway is that to reach the level he did, he never allowed a miss to influence him. In Jiu Jitsu, just because you failed that does not mean the technique is not useful, rather you should continue to attempt it repeatedly until overtime you begin to develop a deeper understanding of it and it’s parts. Maybe one day you will even gain a reputation as being one of the most successful when attempting that move.
For those of us who practice BJJ, there is no denying the overwhelming physiological and emotional benefits. Many of us however, simply notice an improvement in mood, a more relaxed state, better sleep and a “runners high” after beginning to regularly attend class. Furthermore, there is an ever growing amount of evidence not only towards BJJ improving your mood but the powerful effects against PTSD. It has largely grown as one of the most effective natural therapies for those who have dealt with trauma or combat. My friends who practice BJJ or own academies will attest to this. The important part to take is that if BJJ can help someone who has dealt with the horrors of war without the need for copious amounts of drugs, there is little question that it can benefit the surging amounts of anxiety and depression that have befallen our youth, especially post Covid19.
There is a saying in Jiu Jitsu, quoted by the legendary Saulo Ribeiro which I believe holds true to this day. It goes “Jiu Jitsu is simple, we make it complicated”. In your quest for improvement you will find this wisdom to benefit you greatly in a complex topic as Jiu Jitsu that spans a vast array of topics ranging from takedowns to pins and submissions with variables such as body types, flexibility, mat experiences (wrestling or judo) and age, etc.
With all these factors and dynamics at play, simplicity is not to be confused with oversimplification. Oversimplification has shown to lead to lack of understanding of more complex ideas while simplicity stems from having knowledge of such but focusing rather on what is important. An example of oversimplification might be the idea that one should never expose their back to their partner. While this is true in part, sometimes it is necessary in order to escape a pin with the hopes of recovering a guard or offensive position while simplicity might be the idea that as the opponent gets closer to establishing a dominant position, greater risk is necessary to escape and avoid the position. Many of will agree that it will always be of benefit to simplify especially as we become more knowledgeable, not only for our benefit but those we share with.
For most of us participating in Jiu Jitsu and life, there are things we want to accomplish. Maybe it’s achieving a black belt, winning the world championships or simply feeling confident that you can protect yourself against most aggressors.
On a fundamental level, many of us also understand that our goals are largely a product of time and energy and showing up to class a couple times a week just won’t cut it. The best practitioners are, no doubt, working towards their goals ALL THE TIME or whenever they can. And when they’re not doing it, they’re thinking about it. No one has to tell them to go in outside of class times and drill a technique or study the best competitors and scour YouTube or BJJ Fanatics looking for anything that will help them.
What I hope you understand is that this requires no special characteristics other than first knowing that it will take more than just showing up to the class. The good news is just like a new fitness program, rather than worry about whether your plan is perfect, you just have to start. You’ll find your “perfect” along the journey. And your “perfect” will probably change. The other thing worth knowing is that no matter how well intentioned or qualified your sensei is, they cannot achieve your goal for you. So go the extra mile for yourself, no one is stopping you.
When you take up a new activity or hobby, your efforts will often, sooner or later, be met with frustration. Understand that this is not uncommon and you are not exceptionally worse than the other students around you who seem to be excelling. What you must learn is the fundamental idea that YOU ARE NEVER TO COMPARE WITH ANYONE BUT WHO YOU WERE THE DAY BEFORE.
We are all unique and blessed with different skills and strengths, some of us having long legs, more coordination or different learning aptitudes. What can get lost in your journey is the fact that you began your Jiu Jitsu to achieve some form of self improvement. By learning to measure yourself only by whether or not you are improving, you will be able to better detect your progress in Jiu Jitsu which is sometimes all the encouragement you need to keep going.