Old made new again

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Before I found out about Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, I spent about four years being immersed in Aikido.  Unfortunately during those years I had the wrong view of what Aikido was and embarrassingly, I thought that the stuff from Steven Seagal’s movies was real.  With Aikido you were ready to kick ass in the streets!

Needless to say, I was absolved of those beliefs after watching UFC and Pride.  Even high level Aikidoka will admit that Aikido isn’t for that sort of thing, and that’s why you don’t see any top level or even low level fighters who actively use Aikido techniques in professional bouts.

So for years I paid out on Aikido, lamenting the time I spent doing it and generally just being bitter.  However the past few months I’ve come to realise that a lot of the concepts from Aikido are transferable to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and even provide an apt framework for improving your Jiu Jitsu game.

Firstly, there’s the concept of ‘ki’.  Basically in Aikido it is the word for energy, and the idea would be to harmonise with the energy of your training partner.  Mastering your ki and knowing how to control it is the key to mastering Aikido.  However, the concept of ki takes on a spiritual meaning, and often in Aikido the concept of ki was taken to extreme levels.  You can even find Aikido practitioners doing Dragonball Z style spirit bomb attacks, minus the destruction of the planet part.

Yet lately I’ve come to believe that the concept of ki is a convenient if not masterful framework to explain complex Jiu Jitsu concepts.   For example, in my own Jiu Jitsu game is that I’m able to apply incredible pressure on my opponents by balancing my entire bodyweight onto my knee, and pivoting that knee on my opponent’s belly.  Yet that explanation is lacking, it doesn’t come close to explaining the fact that I’m maximising the pressure I’m applying by contorting the hundreds of different muscles in my body to focus the force on a small surface area.  And while I’m doing that, I’m constantly readjusting my position and predicting the movements of my opponent.

However explaining this through the framework of ki implies all of those things.  By stating that I’m transferring my ki onto my opponent, it conceptually summarises every little action I’ve taken in applying pressure on my opponent.  Rather than spending ten minutes noting each and every thing I’ve done, I’m able to succinctly and accurately describe what I’m doing at a high level.  Rickson Gracie, the greatest Jiu Jitsu player in history, calls this ‘Invisible Jiu Jitsu’.

And so I’ve come to re-appreciate the old, and for me these ancient martial arts principles have come new again.  Being a strong believer in science, I’ve always had absolute distain for anything non-logical.  But from this perspective, I’ve come to believe that the concept of ki makes a lot of sense and so I’ve come to integrate it into my Jiu Jitsu game, lately to great benefit.

With that said, you won’t see me doing any Street Fighter hadukens, but I will be working this concept of energy and referring to it often.

A fearsome double-leg

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I’ve been posting a lot about startups lately, but I feel the need to get this wrestling issue off my chest…

About a year ago I read a blog by Todd Tarpley, a man who is now a children’s book author. But in the 1987 he was a wrestling obsessed twenty-four year old man who dreamed of placing at the US freestyle nationals. In his diary, he wrote:

 

“Either I end my wrestling career now and be happy about what I’ve done, and move on with my life…or I devote myself to it 100% until I’ve done what I need to do.”

 

And so as a result he packed up his life in New York City and moved to Iowa to wrestle under the legendary Dan Gable and the Hawkeye Wrestling Club.  It took a while, but I ended up reading every entry in the diary which was about four years of Todd’s life.  Despite the fact that he had basically put his life on hold in order to achieve this goal, Todd did it and placed at the US freestyle nationals.

Todd’s story has had me thinking ever since.  With sports like wrestling, it’s generally understood that during your thirties your physical body begins a decline which you never recover from.  I’ve just turned 30, and I guess I can see the clock ticking away.  Recent injuries such as tearing my pec, which had never occurred previously, have proven to me that the decline has either started or is going to start soon.

For many years now I’ve had the goal of perfecting a technique known as the double-leg takedown, such that it would be an unstoppable move.  But even though I’ve spent hours doing countless repetitions, my double-leg is still very much a stoppable move.  To progress beyond my current level, I think some real commitment and hard work is required.

Similar to Todd, it’s a goal that I want to achieve.  I want a fearsome double-leg, and no amount of convincing me otherwise would make me want it any less.  There are many things which I can do when I’m older, such as intellectual pursuits, but obtaining perfection of the double-leg isn’t one of them.

Time is certainly running out and this is the kind of thing which if you don’t achieve while you’re young, then you’ll never have it for the rest of your life.  While I am thoroughly enjoying the startup journey I’m on, I do often think whether or not it requires me to sacrifice my pursuit of the double-leg, or am I able to have both?  Only time will tell.

Fedor retires – the strongest man in history

A few weekends ago, Fedor Emelianenko retired from the sport of Mixed Martial Arts with little fanfare or media coverage. On the one hand, I understand that Fedor was past his prime and had found himself eclipsed by the talents of an upstart generation. Yet the fact remains that for over a decade, Fedor was undefeated as the greatest fighter in the world.

That means something to me. But why, you ask? Well allow me to explain…

My friends often ask me why I’m so interested in Mixed Martial Arts. And invariably, I answer it’s because the competition of fighting is ingrained within our genetics. This is because long before humankind ever learned to write or even use tools, thousands upon thousands of generations of our ancestors lived and died as fighters.

I can only imagine the struggle of their daily lives, living rough in the wilds. Yet one thing I can be certain of is the violence of their daily lives; the absolute necessity for our ancestors to fight other animals or one another. The battle for supremacy would not have just been a battle for pride. Rather, it was a Darwinist battle for survival, where the victor would live and the defeated would die.

Fast forward 200,000 years and in modern civilisation we find that recorded history spans approximately six thousand years. Yet of those six thousand years, only a portion contains generations of people who have lived peaceful unmarked by violence. Think of the great empires in history such as the Roman Empire, the Yuan Dynasty or even the British Empire; they were all societies with an embedded sense of bloodshed and conflict.

Suffice to say, it is only in very modern history whereby physical conflict is not the norm. Our thousands of ancestors before us lived violence as part of their daily lives, and it would be difficult to say that it hasn’t had an impact on our inner desires and subconscious thoughts. But instead of entirely suppressing our natural inclination for physical combat, there are other ways of expressing it. That is, competitive fight sports and specifically the sport of Mixed Martial Arts.

So if you realise that the sport of Mixed Martial Arts is society’s new way of expressing our natural desire to fight, then it gives importance to the champions. The champions are not just merely top level fighters, but the finest real life incarnations of our natural desire to fight. Thus a fighter is able to transcend their mortality and become the embodiment of an ideal.

And that is what Fedor means to me. He was the greatest fighter in history and thus the pinnacle of an innate human aspect. And so despite the lack of public interest, I felt that Fedor’s retirement was the end of an important age in human history.

The real Gracie Jiu Jitsu

For years I’ve been using the terms Gracie Jiu Jitsu and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu interchangeably.  For all intents and purposes, they are the same thing.  But after meeting Pedro Sauer and attending his seminar, I truly believe that technically speaking they are now two separate things.

In his visit to Australia, 8th degree red black belt Pedro Sauer talked to us not only about techniques but also about the history and philosophy of Gracie Jiu Jitsu.  He emphasised to us again and again that Gracie Jiu Jitsu was designed as a form of self defense.

However these days, the majority of people who practice Gracie Jiu Jitsu do the sport form of it and use techniques which only work in a competition scenario.  Similar to my previous post on pulling guard, if you try these techniques in the street then you’re going to pay a big price!

The gap is now so pronounced that I believe Gracie Jiu Jitsu now means one thing and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu means another.  So to clarify, Gracie Jiu Jitsu is a form of martial art however Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has come to describe a grappling sport.

Say no to pulling guard!!

Today while running the class at Docklands BJJ the other instructor Alki noticed that my students consistently fought for the top position.  I considered what he said and I was very pleased at how visible this top position philosophy was while watching my students fight for dominant top control and resisting the common Jiu Jitsu urge to pull guard.

My personal saying is that while Jiu Jitsu is great to compete in, the reality is that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is also a means of self defence.  And in the street, you want to be on top in control and not on your back.

Imagine that it is a street scenario.  Some punk teenager high on alcohol and other substances decides that he finds your face offensive.  So if it’s time to use your Jiu Jitsu, what you want and what you want your students to do, is to have the confidence to utilise a double leg takedown.  But if you’ve spent all your time in the gym working your guard on your back, I guarantee you that in this street scenario that takedown confidence will not be there.

So to all Jiu Jitsu practitioners… Work your stand up!  By all means, train your guard, but always remember that there is also the self defence aspect to it and in the street flopping to guard would get you killed.

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A video of what NOT to do