Technique philosophy-of-jiu-jitsu

Published on January 25th, 2013 | by TheMMAnalyst


The Philosophy of Jiu-Jitsu – Volume 1

“Conserving Energy”

When you are new to grappling/jiu-jitsu, it is easy to have misconceptions about why you are there and what you want to accomplish. Everyone has the same goal in martial arts in that we want to improve ourselves physically and mentally. However, our results oriented culture has led us believe that we need to improve as fast as humanly possible, instead of learning you can’t force improvement but only learn it. The main misconception is that we improve the fastest by using our physicality to its extreme, pushing our bodies to their limits all the time, no matter the uniqueness of the context or situation. In actuality, we should be pushing ourselves mentally to the extreme, by channeling our focus so that every movement, thought, and effort we put forth has the best intention in it.

As this applies to grappling/jiu-jitsu, most white-belts train (i.e. “actively roll”) with the mind-frame that each jiu-jitsu “roll” they are in is a fight where they have to prove themselves to their opponent and the group, so that they can’t be seen as weak or as a loser. This is the minds defense mechanism called the ego, a fortress built around our true self to protect us from the reality of the world. When initially training, most white-belts think they need to use all of their strength and energy at all times, otherwise their training partner and all their classmates watching will think less of them for not putting forth what they believe to be 100% of their physical effort. In actuality, these white-belts are learning grappling/jiu-jitsu the hard way, as using energy unwisely is akin to wasting energy. When you waste energy you not only hinder your personal growth, but you damper your ability to share that energy with others in a way that is beneficial to all.

I will use my own personal tale of self-reflection to illustrate this point. I never had any martial arts experience outside of a few kids karate classes growing up; I was a basketball player my entire childhood and youth life. Due to how I was raised, the friends I chose, and the way I thought of myself due to conditioning from my social environment and the overwhelming influx of modern media, I was always someone who avoided confrontation and had little idea of how to appropriately respond. Since I didn’t have knowledge of self, I allowed others to pigeon-hole me into believing I was someone that I knew in my heart I was not. After going to college and discovering Mixed Martial Arts, my brother began training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Pacific Beach in 2005, thanks to a cousin who introduced him to the sport. I watched my brother grow as a person by leaps and bounds in a short period of time, as he too had been influenced by his social environment negatively as a youth so that he had come to view himself as someone that he knew he was not. By learning self-defense, he had actually learned about “self,” and in doing so had made the type of personal and spiritual growth that I myself desperately wanted as well. I signed up for classes in January of 2007, scared but certain that I was on a path that would lead to personal enlightenment.

I was fortunate in that I got to see my brother suffer the frustrations of being physically dominated and not knowing how to properly process the emotions; as he has always been quieter than me, when taking part in physical activities he channels his emotions with an intensity that few possess. I got to see him mentally breakdown at the difficulties of improving, suffer through the tedium and boredom of sitting out with injuries, and watch him rise and overcome challenges with persistence and self-belief. Because of this, I believe my personal journey was made much easier, as those who go before us and take us along on the journey are in a way passing us a baton in a never-ending relay-race. It is our job to continue passing the baton once we are capable of doing so, but first we must learn how to run in the race before we can do that.

As a white belt I remember constantly being told I needed to “go lighter” by my brother and I didn’t understand what he was saying; here were these bigger, stronger, more skilled guys beating me up, and they wanted me to make it easier for them to do so by “going light?” I couldn’t wrap my head around the concept initially, and when my brother told me this I responded with indignation and frustration. “How can I go light when I’m getting my ass kicked?” I would respond with a raised voice and anger pulsing through my veins. My history of being mentally and emotionally manipulated and abused to feel weak made me think that I had to respond to perceived aggression with aggression, which is craziness, as I have never been an aggressive or angry person. But I could not understand what was being told to me – maybe I didn’t have the best explanation or teacher in this regard, because even as I love my brother more than myself he is not the best person at getting someone who is different to understand his own take on things. He is incredibly intelligent, but the main part of his intelligence is not in being able to communicate ideas differently to different people, he only knows one way to communicate and does so. This is not to highlight his shortcomings, as I don’t even see it as one, it just is the way he is; not everyone is capable of being able to step into someone else’s shoes with such ease to be able to correlate an idea or concept that can be very difficult to grasp and takes time to discuss. We just want to be able to tell people in a few sentences “this is what you are doing, stop it” and then watch them act in accordance immediately. Those expectations are typically unrealistic, as it is difficult to share such overwhelming and intimidating concepts in such a short way to someone in a highly emotional state. This is probably why Facebook and Twitter have become such beacons of human disconnectedness, as people expect to be able to “tweet” or “post” their thoughts in a very detached manner and get instantaneous results from a variety of complex personalities at different stages of their lives and all with different perspectives and levels of comprehension.

What would have helped me specifically (and I can only speak for myself, maybe the more direct way my brother attempted to communicate would work for some) would have been if someone would have spoken to me once I was less upset, in the following terms:

“I know you are trying your hardest, but it’s not about trying hard physically, it’s about trying hard mentally. When you spend your energy forcing ineffective techniques with brute strength, flailing to get out of bad positions, and getting emotionally upset during your training because you aren’t performing to the level you think you should, you are wasting energy. When you spend that time during training thinking about your techniques, testing them, and being able to understand and admit their failings, you are conserving energy. When you are running out of energy you are losing and when you are conserving energy you are winning, and it has nothing to do with tapping people out or getting tapped out – that is all just an illusion you’ve built up in your head by letting your ego get the best of you. When you come to terms with that you can much better focus your energy mentally instead of physically, and this will actually produce better results for you physically since you will be more efficient with your movements and strategies and will be learning at a much faster rate. As an added bonus, your training partners will be much more willing to teach you and help you advance your game. People instinctively don’t want to help those that can’t accept the help, so show in how you train that you are willing and ready to accept help from anyone, no matter your size or skill level. Learn to leave your ego in the past, you have nothing to prove to anyone but yourself and you should try to prove to yourself that you are the only one in complete control of your energy and emotions.”

I hope my reflections help you on your journey in grappling/jiu-jitsu – don’t just train hard, but train smart my friends.

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About the Author

A long-time keyboard warrior, it was about time to quit trolling the Sherdog forums and putting my degree in journalism to some use by writing about the martial arts I love so much. I primarily train BJJ (6+ years) with some limited kickboxing/MMA experience.

12 Responses to The Philosophy of Jiu-Jitsu – Volume 1

  1. KhunNut says:

    Great read. I don’t train BJJ but I enjoy learning about the intricacies of other martial arts.

  2. TrendyJJ says:

    Great read. Looking forward to part 2.

  3. Nerdlinger says:

    This is something I need to do better at. Even when just drilling and not even rolling, I tend to not be going too fast, hard, and tenses worry too much about how quickly I can reform something and not how correctly I can perform it.

    • TheMMAnalyst says:

      Don’t beat yourself up, it’s a learning experience we all go through. It’s a combination of our ego wanting to prove itself and how we’ve been taught to play other sports (i.e. basketball/football/etc.) to push ourselves as hard as possible physically.

  4. Tim Aspley says:

    This is really interesting, You are an overly professional blogger. Look forward to Volume 2. Additionally, I’ve shared your website in my social networks

  5. MeanStreets209 says:

    Saw this linked from reddit. Solid article. Anyone new to BJJ could benefit from reading this. It seems counter-intuitive as a beginner not to spaz and expel all your energy. Something you really need to focus on mentally during the roll. Controlling your breathing is one of the best steps to start with. Once you control your breathing, you can control your mind, and once you control both of them, controlling you body is much easier concept to grasp.

    • TheMMAnalyst says:

      I’m glad that linking it on reddit brought over some readers, thanks for taking the time to read and post. You are spot on, controlling breathing is the basis of controlling your energy, I’ve been doing a lot of Hot Yoga lately and it helps tremendously!

  6. Nestwood says:

    Useful stuff.

    Shame you didn’t write this when I started BJJ in October last year! Prior to training BJJ, I was training Rugby and weighing 115kg. It was just natural for me to power through everything and run out of gas quickly. I thought I was in fairly good shape from other sports but grappling is a completely different beast.

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