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Whenever I teach something in classes or lessons I always try to make clear what the context is. Is this a self defense move? Is this more MMA? Is this sport?

I overheard a conversation about a particular sweep (I believe this person was referring to a single leg x-guard sweep but he didn’t know), and the complaint the person had was about the validity or applicability of it on the street. Um, there’s not much if any. But that’s not really the point.

As martial artists are we only to ever practice lethal, 100% street ready moves? Does any art truly do that? I know lots of arts like to criticize other arts for various reasons. How about these:

“Yeah, but bjj doesn’t work against multiple opponents!”

“Oh yeah, let’s see how well boxing does you on the ground!”

“Tae Kwon Do sucks!”

Some common examples. Can’t we all just get along. Belittling styles and systems doesn’t make yours better. And it’s none of your business what others think of your style. And there’s no superior art for every situation.

But I digress and return to my original point: is the boxer who practices hitting the speed bag criticized because that’s not how he will really punch someone? Do you criticize the Kali practitioner for drilling fluid repetitive hand exchanges because he won’t do that against a real opponent? Do you think that wing chun guy really believes someone will hold as still as that wooden dummy? It’s about drills, skills, and exercise.

I always say I like jiu-jitsu because you can pew circle it as real as it gets. You can’t train any other art as love or as full contact as jiu-jitsu. But having said that, I don’t break arms and pass folks out every practice. I wouldn’t be nearly as popular. I don’t know anyone who trains like that and if you do then tell me so I can stay the hell away from them!

And don’t tell anyone, but I love the sport stuff! I just posted a No Gi Berimbolo video the other day, and it’s not because I think people need to see it in order to defend against a mugger. But that move is awesome and has a very important function and place. I don’t think it represents jiu-jitsu as a whole, but it’s cool and worth doing on its own.

Let me make this simpler maybe. Is every single ounce of food you put in your body 100% nutritious and necessary? Do you even know what is best and most healthy for you? Even if you did, and you wanted to do only what was most right, do you think you could? Don’t lie. Variety is the spice of life and the key to longevity in your training is finding aspects of training to love.

On the flip side, I don’t recommend anyone ever divorce himself or herself from the foundational elements of the art. Whatever the art. Helio Gracie had a rubric of what made a true Gracie Jiu-Jitsu technique:

1. Street Applicability
2. Energy Efficiency
3. Naturalness of Movement

A Gracie technique had to fit these above all else. Having said that, even Helio didn’t train only techniques and positions that would keep him punch proof. He contextualized the moment and used the best tool for the job, because that is at the heart of his art as much as any other principle. But he and his lineage, one of which I am proud to be a member within, must needs keep the street/sport concept close to the chest. If you don’t understand that spider guard will not in and of itself help you in a street fight then you need to build your self defense knowledge bank and foundation a lot stronger…and don’t go getting into any bar brawls in the meantime, ok?

However, if you can react appropriately when swung on in the street; if you can get surprised and find equanimity enough to defend intelligently; and for the love of god, if you can get out of a headlock, then you have reached a level of competency in your training. Now kick it up a notch and learn how to deconstruct those moves, maybe compete in a tournament to test yourself out, or maybe begin experimenting with some trends. No harm done in that type of training. But keep the foundation alive always!

I guess what I want to say is let others live and work and play how they will. Don’t look down your nose at a karate tournament point fighter and say that won’t work in a street fight – he should know and probably deep down does. Don’t watch guys pulling guard in the Pan Ams and call them cowards – their are playing to the points of the game and increasing their chances of winning by playing to their strengths along the way. Maybe each of these people train different things and understand the difference between street and sport. Maybe they don’t. It’s not your concern either way.

I write this for you. I write this for me. I’m guilty of judging and belittling. I’m trying to do better. Thanks for reading my words.

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Comments
  1. thekillerj says:

    I needed to read this. I’ll admit, I’m guilty of judging other arts as well. “That wouldn’t work in a fight!!!” Kind of pretentious of me, especially considering I don’t even train jiujitsu to be a better fighter. I do it because it is fun! Maybe the aikido guy with his fancy wristlocks and cooperative training partners that flail about as he sends them flying are just simply having fun. Hell, when I look at it from that frame of mind, it does look pretty fun.

  2. Ribeiro’s comment is spot on. I like to think that when a jiu-jitsu lover’s been in the sport long enough, to know their stuff, they respect all sports – basketball, karate, tennis or boxing; they all require skill. I think questions like: “Will this work on the street?” indicate a person’s lack of skill to grapple and maybe they’re concerned with the amount of time they’re prepared to invest into jiu-jitsu. If a person has a limited number of moves up their sleeve they may be concerned with learning one that may not work in all scenarios – eating their minimal time for investment. If a person’s got a stack of tricks up their sleeve they won’t be concerned if something’s not for the street. When people do high mat time they’re not concerned with fighting on the street; they’ve probably just finished a session in the gym or on their way to the next session.

    A key sign to showing somebody’s lack of knowledge in jiu-jitsu would be in questions of doubt.

  3. Seriously, there is no perfect martial art. Some focus more on punches, others on kicks, others on throws etc. It all depends on the situation that you’re in. For example, are you in a small or big space? Are you on the ground? Is your opponent bigger or smaller than you? How many opponents are you facing? That’s why the ideal thing to do is learn from a variety of styles and use the techniques more appropriate to the situation that you’re in

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