The Gentle Art
Updated: Oct 4, 2021
As many know, Jiu Jitsu translates from Japanese as Gentle art. Why then, do so many practitioners go home with sore ribs, cranked necks, and a disdain for “that one spazzy white belt?” The answer is as deep as a John Danaher explanation of mount.
Professor Jon Friedland of Neutral Ground, my sensei for 14 years (ish) now, has always said “submissions should be a gift.” When I was an athletic, younger white belt I did not understand the meaning of this. Why would anybody gift me their arm? We are practice fighting, and in a fight you try to win. When you square of vs an opponent you don’t think to yourself, gosh Josh, I hope he gives me a gift today. I thought to myself “I’m going to f*ck this guy up” or “I can always beat this guy.”
As the years past, and professor Friedland got uglier, the wisdom of his words started to become apparent. As you go through your BJJ journey you realize that the gift comes from the series of choices that are acted out in any given roll. Grappler A may have gotten a dominant position. Grappler B then makes the choice to put more awareness into the scramble of getting out, and leaves his arm behind. Thus gifting the arm to grappler A.
If everybody had the mindset of all submissions are gifts, we wouldn’t have so many cranked necks and angry elbows. Every grappler would wait until “gifted” a submission and then, and only then would they take it. The problems with this is individual ego. Our egos demand that we win, and most of the time that we win with whatever force is necessary.
Raise your hand if you have been under somebody who is a football player 100 lbs more and they are doing everything they can to squeeze your neck! Or that college level wrestler that relies on superior athleticism and just holds you because he hasn’t learned enough Jiu Jitsu to even force a finish. No gifts are given, they are taking whatever they can get.
This mentality is great if those are the only tools that you have. IF you are in a fight and you are athletic, use it! IF you are in a fight and you are bigger, use it. If you are in a fight and you are faster, use it. God has bestowed us all with gifts, and when in a possible life or death situation you should use every gift you have.
That said, on the mats we focus on developing the tool of knowledge. The mats at our neighborhood gyms are not a life or death scenario. You can tap, you can communicate, and you are around people that care. Through my lens, your neighborhood dojo should be a safe haven for movement. A schoolhouse for learning. A public house for developing yourself.
But Josh, what about MMA fighters and heavy competitors? You perform like you train right? They surely have to go hard right? In camp, I can agree, go hard with others that know you are going hard and they are willing to give up their bodies for your success. When not in camp, that same athlete should be moving and learning. The more a person gets positive reinforcement for things that there athleticism or size gets them, the smaller amount of weapons they will have when against a similar size or athleticism. Movement allows us to learn. A lack of movement is a lack of opportunity to learn.
The people in the gym that go hard every roll on everyone regardless of skill, size, or speed advantages do us all a disservice including themselves. I’ll use myself for an example. I am a black belt and have been training for almost 17 years as I am writing this. If I wanted to, I could smash a 140lb white belt. I could get side control and make them eat my shoulder for 5 minutes straight. That would be a guaranteed WIN for me right? Let’s take a second and see if anything was actually won however. I didn’t try anything new, I already knew I could hold that person, that person didn’t get a chance to move, that person is frustrated, I didn’t get a check, medal or trophy.
When grapplers have the mindset of winning on the mats everyday they are hindering themselves. Creating a game of win or lose means that you are only going to try what you “know.” You won’t want to take the risk of “losing” and trying a new move. You essentially put a blinder on, only able to see what is known and not seeing the whole picture. When you try and WIN you are stopping most of the ability to learn.
Our wanting to “win” makes us sqeeeeeeze that darce, or crank that knee bar forgetting about the positions of leverage that make the strangles or joint locks work. We try and muscle through our shitty mechanics. This is why our training partners look past us when its time for a roll, this is why our Jiu Jitsu becomes stagnant, especially when we roll with comparable skill and size. It is because of this must win mentality that we see most of our injuries.
I am here to put an end to this in everyday practice. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu can be learned and practiced safely and for a long long time. The gentle art lifestyle brand of Jiu Jitsu is playful, precise, and painless. When you understand both how and why a technique works, you can play with it to make it your own. The answer isn't to squeeze harder, the answer becomes a matter of anatomy and science. Each submission attempt that isn’t a gift becomes an opportunity to transition into one that is. If you get submitted or caught, it's ok. Learn from it, understand it so you can break down its mechanics.
If you are having trouble with certain training partners, or find yourself getting injured a lot feel free to reach out and we can brainstorm solutions. I hope to see us all on the mats in 50 years, still loving the wisdom that the sport provides!