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Tradition only gets us so far

It is correct to say that we wouldn’t have Jiu Jitsu if it weren’t for legends like Jigoro Kano or Helio Gracie. It is also correct to say that most of us reading this would be doing pottery or something else with our free time if it weren’t for the tens of thousands of practitioners that dedicated their minds and bodies to each other in order to learn. While we can be thankful for those who came before, do we owe them anything in the way we practice and cultivate the sport?

The sport has grown enough that it is starting to fracture under its own weight. This weight being the obvious differences in practitioners passions. Gi Jiu Jitsu vs No Gi Jiu Jitsu. Self-Defense orientated vs Sport Jiu Jitsu. Train hard vs Train for longevity. These differences occur because of the amount of people now doing the sport. It is exciting but can also bring about heated debates which we have seen.

If we go back to the “beginning” it was lead by a few. There weren’t as many Chief personalities to cultivate so many styles of Jiu Jitsu. Helio is the most famous “Chieftain” but he certainly wasn’t the only one. It is important to note that Helio and the family created a brand that we refer to as Brazilian Jiu JItsu. He and his family took something that wasn’t theirs and created a product that became palatable to the masses. Check out this article for a quick history lesson on BJJ

Other practitioners at the time in Brazil and other parts of the world were creating their own versions of “Jiu JItsu”. These did not have the same traditions, same rules, or same focuses. Do you think Kano was angry that they didn’t follow his particular brand of Jiu Jitsu? Do you think that he would have the right to be angry? Could he be angry at the Gracie family for branding “Brazilian Jiu Jitsu” when its origin was certainly Japanese?

My opinion is that a true martial artist doesn’t focus on feeding the ego of him/herself or their sensei but focuses on the value the sport brings to the individuals practicing it. If you are a Jiu JItsu practitioner and you have found that the people in your community don’t like warm ups or bowing to old pictures on the wall that is ok. If you found self-defense focus to be BS then that is ok as well. If your dojo culture wants to granby roll in circles around other gyms in the gi that is great. As long as people are learning about themselves, developing skills, having fun, or whatever your mission is to do, keep doing it.

Martial arts have been around for centuries with different chiefs putting their unique spin on it. What is lost in history is how that may have been viewed at the time. Perhaps Kano was an outlier who started a practice which traditionalists hated. Perhaps Mitsuyo Maeda hated the way Helio ran a class. I believe we can acknowledge change as it happens. Celebrate the fact that more people are training than ever before. For that fact, we owe everyone from the past, even those we disagreed with, a debt of gratitude.

Keep an open mind that those that came before you were just people as well. It is ok to make changes or improvements as you see fit. Don’t forget your past and take action to improve upon it. Keep training my friends.

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