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.

A greater understanding

For me, I use things that I have learned about. If I have a question about something, I look for information on it. I try to understand it better. I dig into the mechanics of it, the history, the tradition, the current uses, the science, the experiences of others, and so on. That’s what lead me to BJJ in the first place. Research lead to understanding which lead to action.

In BJJ, when I am learning a new technique, I learn the mechanics of it. That way, I can understand how something works, why it works, and what ways to go about applying it.

For example: Side Control Escape to Guard

This technique is based on creating enough space to bring your knee through, under the opponent in order to recapture guard. The mechanics of it include a bridge, an arm brace, a hip escape, and a hip in with a leading knee.

The bridge creates space for space. It bumps the person up. This is actually, by itself, eliminating space. You’re getting closer to the opponent. But, in the entire scheme of the move, it creates space for the creation of space.

The arm brace fills space. If you’re escaping with your arms in a good defensive posture you are able to use them to brace the opponent. You created space for space with the bridge, then as you hip out you fill that created space with a bracing structure of your arms. Again, this in itself is not an escape. If you stop here you’ll likely get yourself into trouble.

The hip out creates space between you and your opponent. It’s extra space because you bridged. It’s filled space because you’re bracing. The further you hip away, the more space is created for you to fill with your leg as you bring it in to establish guard.

The hip in with the leading knee refills the created space with what you want instead of what they want.

When I understand all that, even in its most basic explanation, I can start to put the move into action. That understanding should drive me to action that reflects the information I have about it. This helps me to see what I’ve missed when the move doesn’t work. Sometimes I doing bridge, or hip-out, or bring my knee back in. Sometimes the opponent blocks a key element of the move. That doesn’t delegitimize the move, it simply presents a problem to be solved, which is why other moves are created.

The vast majority of my submissions lately have come in the form of the cross lapel choke. The reason is because I have developed an understanding of the mechanics of it. That understanding lead to action. That action lead to experience, which lead to problems, which lead to analytical thinking, which lead to new strategy based on the original understanding of the mechanics.

So, if you struggle with a technique, go away and do your homework. Learn why a move works, I bet (not that I’m a gambling man) you’ll see it in a whole new light.

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