Thursday, March 10, 2011

Does Jiu Jitsu Happen TO You or WITH You?

(Waxing philosophical in this post - 
Some days I feel like jiu jitsu is happening to me. Other days I feel like I am happening to jiu jitsu. I want to get to the point where I feel like jiu jitsu is happening with me. Let me explain...)

When you first start out and step on the mats jiu jitsu is happening all around you. You grasp at it, try and get your body and mind to understand it, and watch it slip through your fingers time after time. When you roll you spend the majority of your time fighting against it trying to survive, like trying to tread water in a stormy sea. You feel like jiu jitsu is something that happens to you rather than something that happens with you.

Slowly you learn how to survive without fighting so much. Jiu jitsu is still happening all around you. Only now you know enough to want to bend it to your will. You examine and experiment with everything (techniques) and begin to recognize the flow of jiu jitsu. You can select the appropriate technique for many situations as they arise. You discover that pressure can force a change in the flow (effective but not efficient). Making YOUR jiu jitsu happen the way you want it to is still elusive. It seems so hard - you spend a lot of time and expend a lot of energy fighting to make it conform to where you want it to go (passes, sweeps and submissions). Jiu jitsu is no longer happening to you - YOU are now something that happens to Jiu jitsu.

At some point you start to realize that pressure is part of the flow and all this fighting to make YOUR jiu jitsu happen is wasteful. You become aware that jiu jitsu is happening all around you regardless of you making it happen. You start to see the ebb and flow of it and recognize where YOUR jiu jitsu is within it. In any given moment you can recognize where it is going and seize the advantage (timing and sensitivity) - you apply pressure economically to stay close to YOUR jiu jitsu, set up the pass and you are ready to attack sweeps and submissions as soon as they appear. Jiu jitsu happens and you are there with it.

As your sensitivity grows you begin to see how you can surf the flow of jiu jitsu. You are able to see four or five techniques into the future and can move through a series of techniques that takes you where you want to go. YOUR jiu jitsu is now very broad - there are very few places where you feel uncomfortable with the flow. With seemingly minimal effort you pass and can make sweep and submission opportunities appear when you want them to. Jiu jitsu is now something that happens with you.

(...When I am rolling lower belts, I generally feel like jiu jitsu is happening with me. When I am rolling at my level, I feel like I am always forcing it and I am happening to jiu jitsu. When I roll with upper belts, I feel like jiu jitsu is happening to me and there is not much I can do about it. How about you?)

Friday, March 4, 2011

What Do I Really Know?

"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

We had a really good training session last night at Brentwood Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. We started working from side control and went over the basic Americana/Straight Armbar/Kimura submission series. This is not the first time I've been through these submissions but each time we work them I definitely pick up new details as well as really internalize the "pieces" I already know. Every class I appreciate more and more the technical depth that Professor Jeremy brings to the mats.

This made me start thinking about what do I really know, and how well do I know it. Even though I enjoy learning a wide variety of techniques I am always struck by the fact that the more I roll and watch others roll (including tournament footage) I see the same things winning consistently. I firmly believe that mastery of a few techniques is much more valuable than a passing acquaintance with a large repertoire of techniques (even though they are nice to know).

I was recently watching some tournament footage and one match in particular sticks in my mind. In this match I caught myself cringing as one purple belt lost several good positions early in the match looking for some sort of complicated "gi wrap" kind of submissions even though he physically dominated his opponent. Even when he finally came back to "simpler" techniques like a triangle or bow and arrow choke he had holes in his technique that allowed his opponent to escape.

On the other hand, his opponent never panicked, kept working, and used solid fundamentals - good frames and hip movement along with solid positioning before advancing the one time he got on top - and then secured the win with a solid collar choke from the back.

There is an old adage in the military that states "in a stressful situation (i.e. coming under fire) a soldier will revert to his training." Carlson Gracie used to say something along the lines of - "Punch a jiu jitsu black belt in the face and he becomes a brown belt. Punch him again and he becomes a purple belt." Being able to maintain grace under fire is firmly rooted in being able to revert to knowing a few things really really well.

I want to expand on the things "I need to know" and understand them deeply. I want to truly master a few techniques and make them so intuitive that my mind can be removed from the "moment" and allowed to focus several moves ahead. I want them to become so solid that they are almost irresistible - like Roger Gracie's cross collar choke from mount.

Daniel Coyle, in his book The Talent Code, puts forward the assertion that it takes 10,000 hours of fully engaged deep practice to master a complicated skill (like jiu jitsu) so it might take me a little while :-)