The Time Between

It has been 3 years since my last post on this blog. Much has happened since then, as would be normal in a 3 year span. I thought I would get back into things by telling a story of the time between… but, not the full story. I’ll just talk about the stuff that has effected my ability to do BJJ.

In 2014 I moved from Upper Hutt to Rolleston. For those outside the know Upper Hutt is just outside of Wellington, in New Zealand’s North Island. Rolleston is just outside of Christchurch in New Zealand’s South Island. Upon arrival I decided to take a year off of BJJ so that I could settle into things.

In 2015 I started coaching high school basketball. I also joined a league where I hurt my knee 5 minutes into my first game… which is a really bad start to a season. I went to the doctor the next day. That began a 9 month process where I was treated for a knee sprain. After 9 months, and still very little improvement I was sent to a specialist where it was discovered that I had severe damage to the cartilage in my knee as well as a missing ACL, which is a pretty important thing to have.

In January 2016 I went in for surgery to replace my ACL and fix the damaged cartilage. This completely restarted the already 9 month long rehab process.

I am now six months into my recovery. It is still sore. It is still weak. It has changed the way to function in my everyday life. I am in the worst shape of my life. I have zero flexibility. I have zero strength. I am slow and lethargic. I got to the point where I had almost completely given up on ever playing any kind of sport again.

Then, I was approached by a friend who knew I did BJJ and heard that it might be able to help with his son’s bullying problem at school. I thought long and hard about it and decided that I would give it a go. I would teach this kid BJJ.

That has reinvigorated my desire to get back into BJJ. I have taken the mats out of the garage, cleaned them up, dusted off my Gi pants, pulled out my Gracie Bullyproof curriculum, and begun teaching BJJ. I am getting back into doing regular exercise in order to get back into shape, and rehabilitate my knee. I have gotten back into a stretching routine and have even decided that I would get back into writing my BJJ blog… which would make sense… because I’m here writing stuff… yeah.

So, look forward to some more blogs and I continue to jot down my BJJ journey.

Loss = Win #2

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I wanted to take quick advantage of my previous post by highlighting an experience. 

Last night I went to a new gym down in Christchurch, New Zealand. At this gym I experienced a lot of loss. I felt very slow mentally and physically. My technique ranged between sloppy and non existent. I am also not in getting-crush-fitness. It’s amazing how quickly your body adjusts to not having people trying to crush the breath out of you and help you pass-out. 

All of that is just time. I will get back into shape. I will get used to the physicality of the game. I will get my movement back, and my mind will sharpen. That’s all fine.

What I realised is that I have some major holes in my game. Much of this has to do with the kind of gym I come from.

Now, before I get into it I need to make it understood that this is not criticism. This is observation. Things are not better or worse, they are different. The difference simply create realities. 

The gym I’ve been training at my entire BJJ career is (generally speaking) a defensive, arm-drag, head-to-head kind of gym. Guys don’t play guard, they get back to their knees and re-engage from bottom. They attack from side-control, and don’t (again, generally) tend to shoot for mount or attack the back. Why is this? It is because every gym will look like its teacher. My instructor plays this kind of game. A lot of guys at the gym are big and strong. Therefore, as the small, weak guy I spent a lot of time on the bottom and chasing submissions through transition, especially when guys were in bulldozer mode. That’s how I’ve learned BJJ. 

This new gym is very different. These guys play a lot of guard. Most of last night I was put in a position of dealing with the guard. I’ve spent 2.5 years playing guard. I quickly realised last night that I didn’t have a passing game. Another issue is that I’m seeing guards that I’ve never had to deal with before. There were spiders, and De LaRivas and seated guards. I was, quite simply, stuck without a clue.

Hole #1- Guard passing, specifically of open guards. 

I got quite good at attacking in the guard. However, since my old gym wasn’t a guard playing gym there weren’t many guys great at passing the guard. It’s not bad, it just isn’t needed. At the new gym, since people play the guard, guard passing is a fundamental part of the gym’s game. I got passed like my guard was a small plate of warm butter being cut by a knife on fire… yeah, a fire-knife. 

Hole #2- Guard Maintenance and pressure. 

I lost a lot last night. But, I can see where I’m losing and adjust. Therefore, Loss = Win. 

I will now look at drilling guard passing, of various guards. I’ll build a game plan out of that for dealing with the things that I’ve seen so far. From there, I will simply add and adjust to whatever else I see. The idea is to have 1 or 2 main passes that I learn to get to from different guards. I will also drill my escapes. Drilling escapes give good fitness and deals with a lot of basic BJJ movements that are useful everywhere. It’s never a bad idea to drill escapes. I will also pick a standing guard, and a kneeling guard to focus on. The focus will be movement and maintenance along with a submission chain and a sweep chain (chain = 2 or 3 techniques that work with each other). 

When you experience loss, if you adjust what caused the loss, it will become a win. That’s the beauty of BJJ. 

Loss = Win

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I learn more from a loss than I do from a win. 

I remember having to learn an escape from headlock side-control because a brute of a man at the gym I was attending used it really well. It was uncomfortable to have all his weight on my chest as he methodically went about dismantling my pathetic defenses. If I didn’t get out of that position early, and with gusto, I would tap every time. 

I remember having to abandon the deep-half game because the sweep that I knew got countered by a good friend, and training partner. He turned my go-to sweep into a counter armbar. I wasn’t willing to invest more into the deep-half so I had to find another way to sweep. 

I remember getting dominated in a guy’s guard so often that I one day decided that I just wasn’t going to go into it anymore. It changed the way I looked at guard passing, and the rules we seem to create around engagement. It was the first time I was forced to apply the, “if it happens every time you go in there, why do you keep going in there?” logic. 

I remember getting caught with a figure four every time I moved when rolling against my instructor. It meant that I was moving with chicken wings hanging out. I needed to move less like a chicken trying to jump over a fence and more like a guy who’s elbows were sewn into his ribs. 

I remember, very early on, that I decided that I wanted to last long enough to be able to play the game. That forced me to look into postures and survival and escapes. 

I remember very few wins. 

Loss has caused me to take far more significant steps to growth in my Jiu-Jitsu than any wins that I might have experienced. Winning has provided me with a minimal ego boost for at least ten seconds each time, but that every loss has resulted in a better game.

The great reality to this beautiful, gentle art is that a loss is far more of a win than a win will ever be.  

Postmodern Martial Arts

I am currently studying at a theological seminary run by The Salvation Army in New Zealand (which is part of the reason I haven’t posted in so long). My current topic of study is how post-modernity has effected the Christian faith.

Now, I’ve always felt that the world of martial arts and the world of religion have a lot in common. Especially when it comes to the more traditional vs the more contemporary expressions of both. Well, in my studies I’ve realized more and more that BJJ is a great example of post-modern martial arts. 

First, definitions. Modern and postmodern are terms used to describe how people think. The way people think has always been consequences of society. 

Modernism is all about human reason as a way of discovering systematic truth in an orderly world. There is truth, and we can find it out, and everything else is wrong. 

Postmodernism is basically the opposite. It is a believe that human reason is flawed (a logical conclusion of a look through the history of “truth”), and that the world isn’t orderly and therefore can’t just be limited to systematic truth. This is simply because people discovered that there seems to be layers of truth and that everything contains some truth AND some non-truth and that all of it is relative to whatever reality someone might exist in.

Got it? Exactly, you’re not really meant to. That’s kind of the point. 

That brings us to martial arts. 

Every martial art in the world thinks it is the best. If it didn’t think that it wouldn’t continue to be whatever martial art is it. That’s just silly. Many martial arts exist and teach in the modern realm of human thought. We do this because this works. It works because I tell you it works, because I was told that it works by someone else who was told that it works. This is what we do because this is the true path to better martial arts. You do it this way because it’s the truth. 

Then comes Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Now, if you haven’t read the history of this martial art you need to. You can google it, or find it in many BJJ books (especially ones done by the Gracies), or many MMA books. 

BJJ is a martial art that has it’s base in effectiveness. I won’t get much into that here, because it’s not the point of the post. 

What I will talk about is how BJJ works so well for someone like me, a postmodern thinker. 

I believe that everything in this world is relative to the user. Truth for me might not be truth for someone else. BJJ is a great example of this. Marcello Garcia and Roger Gracie have very different games. Both games are true. Both games work. However, if Garcia started to roll like Gracie and Gracie started to roll like Garcia, neither would preform as well (I don’t think). Therefore, what is true for Garcia is true, but not for Gracie. What is true for Gracie is true, but not for Garcia. To teach that either is wrong is not a true teaching.

I am at a club as a 70kg guy. There are two other regulars that are under 80 kgs. That means that my reality is different than anyone else’s reality. What works for me is actually different than what works for others. It is all relative.

That works, and is actually quite enjoyable for a postmodern thinker. If I were told, “These are the moves. They are to be done in exactly this way. Never deviate” I would be lost in a sea of big sharks trying to do all the same stuff. That modern form of thinking just wouldn’t work. I would quit and leave. 

BJJ also works really well for me because it gives that opportunity to test truth in a live setting. That’s a key for a postmodern thinker, the safe space to test truth claims. 

I don’t accept something just because someone tells me it’s true. I don’t just believe something that someone says just because they have a certain degree (or belt color). I want to test it before I’ll accept it. BJJ gives me that opportunity in live, full contact sparring.

So, I want to encourage anyone like me, a self-proclaimed postmodern thinker, to embrace all the amazing stuff about this great martial art. Your game can be relative to you and you can test truth claims every time you hit the mats. Don’t waste the opportunity to explore. 

Keep thinking, and test every possibility.

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