Monday, 11 February 2008

Use the Force Luke!

After Monday’s trials, Wednesday’s session was just what I needed to re-focus on what I need to be doing in my BJJ. Dean T worked solely on the whole balance/sensitivity thing, mainly from standing. We worked with low grips pushing up (as if you were pinning someone against a wall), high grips pulling down and straight arm grips pushing forward and were simply working off these to affect the balance of the opponent. All of this was related to defending an imaginary “sphere” of personal space – making a sort of frame of energy and just deflecting the opponent or defending the space with a fluid frame. It’s a tricky concept to explain, hard to do. It’s pretty easy to understand what needs to happen and when it’s done to you, you can feel exactly what is happening. Dean trained with me for quite a while, and at one point, he deliberately trained in quite a hard way, then, without warning, switched to the softer style. The impact was really marked. When training hard, I was able to get in on Dean, to take up grips and affect him, but the very second he switched, I could get nothing and was off balanced in a matter of seconds. It was literally like a switch had been flipped.

I think the toughest thing about this is mental discipline to override your natural urges to resist, or to use strength to combat the aggressor. Then again, I’m not so sure these are natural urges. My kids are three and I’ve shown them, albeit in a playful way, various BJJ principles and I’ve watched them playfighting. My son moves so fluidly and without effort that I’m so envious of his natural movement and it just makes me feel that I’ve somehow lost, over time, the natural movement that we are all capable of. We’ve somehow got to return to the source. If I playfight with my dog, he doesn’t push back, he rolls with what is happening and recovers and takes his chances when they’re there. Fighting, in the aggressive forceful sense seems pretty unnatural. When Dean demonstrated the principles, it felt like there was nothing that should be stopping me doing what I wanted to do – there was a zero energy to what he was doing. I was ultimately the architect of my own downfall – as I moved, I off balanced myself, Dean was just a facilitator in making me go to the extreme of that position.

The session was much more like the sessions were when I first started training with Dean. Plenty of practice, but also lots of Dean talking about the principles, trying to aid our understanding. Dean was really passionate about what he was teaching and it was great to see and to receive – it’s really inspiring and after a period when Dean, and he’s admitted it himself, was less enthusiastic about the whole thing, it’s great to see someone recapture a passion and want to share it with people.

We talked about Kuzushi (good article here), which appears to have gotten lost in Jiu Jitsu and in Judo, where competition with its rules and time limits have forced competitors to bypass the need for sensitivity and breaking balance via the use of pure force and strength. If you look at regular BJJ competitors and top Judo guys, they’re all strong, athletic people. Sure, they’re skilful, but they are all physically capable of imposing their will or a throw on someone through sheer strength and determination. It’s a small percentage of people that will affect a person’s balance so profoundly that a throw is hardly required. This is Kuzushi. I looked back at some old footage on Youtube of Jigoro Kano – the founder of Judo and Kyuzo Mifune (one of Kodokan’s finest proponents) and there’s hardly a single “big air” throw in their demonstrations. The subtlety of what they do is all in the Kuzushi. It is this, that we are practicing, and I know it’s the single most important aspect that I can try and get to grips with in my Jiu Jitsu. Get this right, everything else will take care of itself. All the techniques that so many people “collect” are simply the things that you apply at the end of your efforts (or lack of!) in Kuzushi.

Dean spent a lot of time with me this session and I really appreciated it. At a time when I could quite easily let the desire to use strength and get quick results take over, this was an excellent grounding in the style of Jiu Jitsu that I need, and want, to be using. This is why I’ve stuck with this club all through the times when we could and should really have folded. It’s pure. It may take longer, but it’s profound in it’s proficiency. It’s like anything – if you rush the job, you may get it done and it may be OK for a while, but in time, the lack of proper foundation or preparation will show. Like painting to illustrate a point. You can slap gloss paint onto a bit of wood and it will look good, but, after a while, cracks will appear, then the paint will start to peel and fall off. On the other hand, you can sand the wood properly to provide a key. Wash down with sugar soap to remove any grease that may affect adherence of paint. Apply a primer, then under coat, then coats of gloss. All of this will take time and seem like a lot of effort, but the end result not only looks better, but will last inordinately longer.

My point is this – these are my foundations that will make my Jiu Jitsu stronger. I know this. My foundations are not a collection of techniques, which, admittedly, are quicker to learn and look better, but it is this that is ultimately going to take me to where I want to be.

Does it mean that I’m not going to train hard against hard opponents, enter tournaments, still use a bit of strength from time to time? Does it mean that I will not get tapped by those less capable than me whilst I try and get to grips with this style? No. It just means that I need to have this in the forefront of what I’m trying to achieve when I train and let it soak into my mindset. That’s the challenge.

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