This post is written by one of my Jiu-Jitsu students, David Taylor. David has been learning Jiu-Jitsu with me since early 2006, after many years training in various Karate styles.
Switching to a new martial art can be a very rewarding and at the same time frustrating undertaking. The good bit is that you should have already learned valuable lessons in mind-set and culture. The difficult bit is unlearning incompatible principles.
Happily for David, he was prepared to "empty his cup", and is adapting well. Here are some of his reflections...
From Karate to Jiu-Jitsu
by David Taylor
I have just finished my first year of Jiu-Jitsu with Sensei Dan at Monash Caulfield (that's me in one of the early photo entries having my arm twisted and then reciprocating). In the previous 20 years I have trained in 4 styles of Karate and reached middle brown belt levels a couple of times. Sensei Dan thought that I might like to write about my experiences on this change-over in styles from the kicking and punching of Karate to the throwing and grappling of Jiu-Jitsu.
Before we go further: I do not claim to be an expert in either martial art. This article is intended to share some of my observations and experiences, not to be a definitive comparison on the relative merits of Jiu-Jitsu and Karate.
Why martial arts?
I started doing martial arts while attending University. This was just after the movie An Officer and a Gentlemen had come out with some good karate-style fight scenes in it. I wanted to take up an exercise that had other benefits besides keeping me fit. In our uncertain world no-one can guarantee that they will never be attacked. When that day comes it is no good breaking out into an aerobics routine!
Fortunately I have never had to use my Karate training for self-defence. Maybe the awareness that goes with doing a martial art has helped me from ever getting into a tight enough spot to resort to having to kick and punch. As one of my instructors used to say, "If you need to physically use your Karate you failed your awareness training".
Switching to Jiu-Jitsu
As I moved around
What is training in Jiu-Jitsu like?
Jiu-Jitsu is complex and intricate
How does it compare? Complicated right from the start! In Karate you start with a couple of basic kicks, punches and blocks and even if done half-right they sort of work. As a beginner you can sweat away doing the routines and get a great deal of satisfaction thinking that you are going well.
Immediate feedback from hands-on practice
With Jiu-Jitsu it is possible to throw someone twice your size, or restrain him with a painful lock, but in learning these techniques I found that they never ‘half-worked’. The immediate feedback on the effectiveness of your technique is much more confronting than in Karate training!
Lots and lots of techniques; infinite combinations and counters
The range of techniques — initially mainly throws and holds — is also much wider in Jiu-Jitsu. In Karate if an assailant punches at your head you respond with some sort of upper block, but in Jiu-Jitsu there seemed to be an almost infinite range of possible counters and counters-to-the-counter! Do I attempt a choke? A hold? A throw maybe? How do I choose?
As a beginner in Karate I used to come home physically exhausted until my fitness had built up. In Jiu-Jitsu I tend to come home mentally exhausted. The challenge is to learn the basics of a technique and get it to work well on a variety of partners, but that is only the beginning. How does each technique work in combination with other techniques? Where can it be used as a counter to an opponent’s attack? With practice the techniques become honed and more automatic, but the possibilities become more and more varied.
Works at a very close range, both standing and on the ground
Another big difference is preferred fighting range. In Karate training you strive to keep your opponent at something of a distance, and it is only at more advanced levels that you begin to work a variety of ranges. Through Jiu-Jitsu I have become comfortable operating at very close range, both standing and on the ground, even grappling from on top of or underneath an adversary.
Unlearning as well as learning
I had to unlearn a few things about how I weighted my stance, learning to be much more aware of my balance, and about varying the distancing from the opponent.
I enjoy the mental and physical workout of Jiu-Jitsu class. It is an on-going challenge to learn and combine all the different techniques, but as I do so I am improving my ability to defend myself, and widening my options in the event of an altercation. If the day comes when I have to actively defend myself maybe I will be able to restrain my attacker without throwing a single punch!