Posts Tagged ‘faixa preta’

Triumph

There’s always that question, particularly in Jiu-Jitsu, of whether the belt someone is awarded is legitimate. This question isn’t asked the same way in other arts because the criteria are different and in Jiu-Jitsu there is more of a hang up on who can tap who. Is it all about that? If you get that purple belt, should you be able to tap any blue belt? If you are a brown belt and can tap a black belt, do you automatically deserve your black? Does it depend on size or strength combined with technique? Is there a simpler answer?

Technique conquers all. I believe that. But the technique doesn’t guarantee victory. All things being equal, equal technique and experience, the bigger or stronger or faster opponent will typically come out on top. You shouldn’t be expected to best a 250 pound athlete of a purple belt if you are a 150 pound purple belt. So the performance basis of any martial art, Jiu-Jitsu included has a cap on it.

Furthermore, shouldn’t the “art” aspect be considered? The philosophy. The principles behind the technique and the knowledge you gain are benefits of the study and practice that potentially carry on further than even the techniques themselves. Just as in yoga, self-study or self-reflection is a premise of the journey, Jiu-Jitsu likewise should be approached with concern toward the character development of the practitioner. This hits closer to the heart of the questions posed in the beginning.

Here is what I have surmised as one of the most important considerations in progression in Jiu-Jitsu: it’s not a matter of are you better than anyone else, it is whether you are better than the you the you were. Can you tap the yesterday you? The last week or last month you? Do you have a more refined lens or approach to training than the previous you?

Can Buchecha tap Relson Gracie? I’m gonna say most likely. Maybe not, but I’d put my money on Buchecha. So why not give Buchecha the red belt? Let’s pose a different question. Who can teach the most people a deeper understanding and appreciation of Jiu-jitsu? Who can show someone the most versatile of movements for a multitude of situations to the most diverse individuals with varied levels of physical ability? Now my money goes on Relson.

So again, Jiu-Jitsu wins, because it’s not about just a few criteria. A true professor in my estimation, watches students closely and insightfully, considering many aspects of their ability and character. I understand that there are schools and teachers who only award rank based on performance in fights or tournaments. “You got a gold medal? Here’s your next stripe.” “You got a rear naked in your mma fight? Here’s your brown belt.” Sad to see.

I’d rather put a stripe on the belt of the kid who looked the bully in the eye for the first time in his academic life than on the belt of the kid who was already an athlete in five other sports and is now tearing up all the grappling tournaments. That guy who could barely tie his shoes because he was so overweight and now can roll for half an hour – that’s the guy I admire. Again, I admit, I love watching uber talented athletes do miraculous things on the mat or in the ring, but they are not half of the hero as the woman who stopped the sexual assault that was about to happen to her.

So while you have to be able to perform the techniques with understanding and appropriate proficiency, and you should be able to defend yourself easily with these techniques against your physical equal of an opponent, these are but partial criteria in considering ranking qualifications in Jiu-Jitsu. Personal growth and development, and as Grandmaster Helio said, the triumph of human intelligence over brute strength, these all should be considerations in determining rank.

This isn’t always the case. And these are my opinions. And these are my convictions.

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Sometimes I want to shout at people, “Do you know how lucky you are?!” This is for several reasons, but as it applies here, about having a place and ability to train.

Not to sound like the curmudgeon old man saying “back in my day…” but really, that’s how I feel sometimes. Having traveled all over the country to train with anyone and everyone I could when first starting BJJ, I cannot imagine what it would have been like to have a huge academy with multiple black belts where Royce Gracie comes to visit! Yet, that is what our students have now at the academy where I and other Jiu-Jitsu brethren teach. Crazy.

But, other days I get it. If you don’t know anything about martial arts, and you hear that there is a black belt on every corner (in Karate or TKD or whathaveyou), you may not see the value. Or you may hear the price tag and think, “but I can join the health club down the road for like $40 a month! Why pay $100 or more for BJJ?” If you teach or even train at an academy that is worth anything at all, you feel my frustration with people for not understanding or appreciating what they have near them. So I will offer some ideas I have heard and come up with on my own over the years to combat ignorance.

First, let me address the price tag. For those who argue that lessons cost too much…compared to what? Seriously? If you haven’t trained, don’t know the benefits, you have no basis of comparison and therefore no grounds on which to argue. Second, look at what you currently spend your money on. If you skip a few fast food trips, cut out the overpriced coffee, get rid of an indulgent unhealthy habit or two, then you will easily come up with the $4 a day it takes to pay for BJJ training. I said $4 a day! Additionally, by cutting out those costly bad habits you doubly improve your health consciousness when you consider that you’ve replaced an unhealthy habit for a healthy lifestyle choice.

Next, the difference between training Jiu-Jitsu and training at McDojo’s Martial Arts Emporium down the road with their 50 black belts. Black belts are not easily acquired in BJJ. You can go into most Karate and Tae Kwon Do schools and sign a contract virtually guaranteeing you a black belt at the end of a length of time. Show up, memorize some forms and terminology, never having to test out your skills in any realistic capacity, you can still get a black belt…when you’re about 12 years old or younger.

I have never taken a test for a single belt or even stripe under Royce Gracie. If he felt like I had improved since last he saw me, he would tell me to put a stripe on my belt. Sometimes this would be a while. I never know when the rank is coming, so I am concerned only with training and improving for the sake of the art and my own benefit. I don’t disagree with those instructors who conduct tests for their students. I even see some value in it. Regardless or testing or not, you are guaranteed that you will have to improve, stay fit and able, and be sure you can make the techniques actually work. This makes Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (particularly Gracie Jiu-Jitsu) one of the most realistic martial arts out there. I would say the most realistic, but I will concede that there are others possibly. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

What’s more, you may find those saying they are not very concerned with self-defense, that they stay fit and healthy on their own, and that they have other hobbies. That is all well and good. But, my friend, have you even tried Jiu-Jitsu? For so many, it is a lifestyle that makes you want to move and learn and eat well and live better in every conceivable way! Why not try something that has those potential effects? And you may need to remind these people of the idea that, while there may be no good reason in the world to fight, there is every reason in the world to know how to fight! Oh, you have a gun for self-defense you say? You got it on you right now? At every second of every day? Because that is how often I have my Jiu-Jitsu with me.

BJJ may not be for everyone (I believe everyone can benefit from it however), so I don’t go out proselytizing all over the place. But I do speak my mind and share my knowledge and passion where those seeking more information may find me. I hope the aforementioned ideas might help you convince someone to give training a chance too.

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Firstly, this isn’t a religious post, except in the fact that jiu-jitsu is a deeply religious thing for me. Rather, I’m referring to having faith in the training, in the technique, in the realization that all will come when you are ready for it.

The first truly Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu technique I ever learned was a half guard pass. I had virtually no context for it. It had never come up in a fight and I hadn’t realized what it was if it occurred in training prior to learning it. I repped it out and listened to the explanation for it but it wouldn’t be accessible to me for some time.

Finally, probably 2 or more years later I found the exact right scenario and that technique, which I thought I had forgotten by then, came to the surface. I was ready for it! Has this ever happened to you?

This is one of those beautiful jiu-jitsu epiphony, metaphorical moments of clarity, when it all makes sense again. When the roll speaks to you, you understand it to be the truth because it proves its inherent value in the moment perfectly. There are of course other moments in life when the pieces fall into place, but jiu-jitsu is so often times complex and chaotic yet formulaic and precise, that it seems to hold an equation up to the universe and say “See! This is how it works!”

Sorry for the philosophical rant, but that’s the nature of the thing. If you dismiss a move as not useful, either in itself or just for you, you miss out on the possibility that maybe you were simply not ready for it. It happens the other route as well. For example, the white belt who has “mastered” the upa escape and now only relies on the elbow escape because the upa is “too basic.” Or then there is the intermediate student who “needs another sweep” because everyone has caught on to his standard sweeps. It is simply a matter of readiness and appropriateness. So then the statement above could equally say, “If it isn’t happening for you, the situation isn’t appropriate for it.” Same meaning.

The answer, to me, is a matter of having faith that if the technique is trained enough, it will work for you when you are ready. Or that you will reach a moment when the situation is apporpriate and you were able to apply it to the situation. The only missing ingredients then, are a lens for determining if the technique is sound in itself (which comes with time), and the patience to stick it out and develop proficiency and ability with the technique (which takes faith.

Now go train!

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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.

Faixa Preta

Posted: December 28, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

Since last posting anything I have been promoted to black belt. It has made me think about all those times I have searched out, either on the web or in person, other black belts to hear about their experience on this journey. Sometimes it was a pleasing find, hearing edifying words from respectable and eloquent documentarians on the trials and joys of their path to black belt. Other times I would find frustrating and annoyingly unappreciative individuals that acquired too cheaply and quickly their rank and have a superficial understanding of what I focus my energy and efforts on daily. But to each his own, and maturity comes with time in.

My path to reaching black belt (not that this is a destination by any means, because I am in this for life regardless of what hangs around my waist) is the product of 16 years of training. Sometimes difficult, sometimes taxing, all the time enlightening. Training for me has offered many things, most significant of which is a vehicle through which to understand the world. But what I want to share here is a belt-by-belt breakdown of my experience for reference to any BJJ pracitioners out there, so that they can look at it (mistakingly) thinking it may offer insight to what they can expect on their path. Did you catch that parenthetical “mistakingly?” Because every individual is so very different, each experience will be somewhat, if not dramatically, different from mine. But here it is anyway:

Blue Belt

The first belt after white in the system, for me was very dramatic. I already had a black belt in traditional jujitsu, so one might think getting my first rank wouldn’t be quite so significant. But the difference in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and anything else I had ever done had proven to me the amazing nature of this martial art, my home within the system, and effectiveness redoubled by Royce Gracie’s recent wins in the newly formed UFC at the time. This was in the late 1990’s and Helio Gracie would be the person to award me my blue belt, along with some of my training compatriots and best friends at the time, most of which would continue the journey with me for the next decade and a half.

Blue belt was exciting and eye-opening. The possibilities were endless and brand new techniques were all over the place, even as geographically-challenged as my friends and I were. We would drive all over the place when money would allow to see a BJJ teacher, whether he was black or brown or purple belt. Back then, purple belts were amazing to see, and very rare. We got to train under Royce several times at seminars before he eventually asked if we would be interested in becoming a Gracie Academy Training Association, since that is where he and Rorion were at the time together. And when a few years later, Royce began his own Network, we would be among the first of his affiliates.

Blue belt is truly the hardest belt to get rid of. You spend a great deal of time in this one. I did at least. Stripes were seldom, and many years went by in blue belt, with some years earning me a new stripe and others leaving me relegated to  my previous year’s rank. About 6 years I spent at this rank, but I was happy training and proud of every stitch of that belt. And it wasn’t as if anyone around me was passing me by, so I was content with training for training sake. Also, the geographical challenge and slow steady pace of my rank achievements led me to develop a deep understanding and appreciation for basics which I still impress upon my students to this day. Like Royce says, “If you don’t know the basics, you don’t know shit.” Blunt but accurate in so many ways.

Additionally, the chess game and all the metaphors were popping up constantly. Aside from the practicality and effectiveness of BJJ, the ability to see natural laws in action with substance and energy was springing up like a well inside me. This didn’t, and doesn’t necessarily for anyone, lead to tapping more guys out, but what it does for you in the long run on and off the mat is the most valuable resource you will ever acquire in training. Understanding something deeply gives you insight to the inner-workings of the universe I feel, and this is how jiu-jitsu spoke to me.

Purple Belt

Purple is a roller coaster. It was for me anyway. The early days as a purple belt came fast and furious and I realized soon why so many say it is one of the worst belts to have. At purple you don’t get an inch of slack from the brown and black belts as well as having blue belts after you to say they tapped a purple belt. I worked the hardest in this belt, and matured a lot.

The upside is that by the time most people hit purple, they have a firm foundation, and the creative juices really begin to flow. You begin to see possiblilities in each move, understand how to really transition more smoothly, and simply put, by this time you should start feeling more fluid. You may still get pulled into someone else’s game, and shaken a bit, but it is a gut check for your ego. I experienced a world of frustrations, and too many moments of pride; each of these emotional reactions were imaginary and fleeting in the grand scheme. Not many purples quit training, and it is because the innerworkings of jiu-jitsu start to reveal themselves and you see the art for what it truly is: infinite.

Brown

And then there is brown belt. Perhaps the best belt to have, as it carries nearly the prestige and respect as a black belt, with the other black belts giving you the pat on the back as a member into an elite club, and the lower ranks looking toward you as a sagacious veteran. These aspects are nice, but not nearly the main feature of this rank I enjoyed.

After a brief period of adjustment and relinquishment of that sturm and drang of the purple belt, I began to find a freedom at this point in my training. The flavor of this freedom was of the nature that allowed me to shuffle off the armor of ego and tension. The fear that comes with comparing oneself to one’s peers faded (not completely disappeared but faded), and I gave my self many new permissions. It is a wonderful feeling to give yourself permission. I’m talking about permission to make mistakes, to deviate from the prescriptive traditions of your teachers and predecessors, and permission to be great. Permission to feel afraid and not to buckle under the fear, and permission to appreciate your good points without being narcissistic. The effect this has on your training and practice and life in general is magical. With all transformative moments in life, it needs to be reigned in at times because it can be nothing short of an intoxicating feeling, and intoxicants can lead to wrecklessness. This may sound abstract or obscure, but when it happens maybe you will know what I mean.

Black Belt

I will take this moment to say that with every belt I got emotional. I cried when my partners and I got our blue belts that day from Helio, Rorion and Royce. I bawled when I got my purple, out of appreciation and exhaustion of Royce nearly killing me on the mat. I cried from the unexpected surprise of getting my brown belt from Royce. And black was no different except that maybe I cried a little harder. It was a rough year in many respects, and of course a long road to get to that day. And for it to be in such similar fashion as when my jiu-jitsu family and I all got our blue belts together, felt full circle.

I am not on the same path anymore. I have begun a new journey and the details of it reveal themselves to me each day. I am growing to be a better teacher and practitioner, and hopefully a better person through refinement of my art. I feel like this is the job of a black belt.