Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Jiu-Jitsu is Adaptable

The Adaptable Art
Jiu-jitsu is usually translated as the gentle art, but other translations are valid. I particularly like the flexible or adaptable art as alternatives which help to fill out the meaning.

Jiu-jitsu is adaptable because in just about any self-defence situation it offers a wide range of techniques to hopefully dispel the threat.

If you only have a hammer(e.g. hit 'em in the head) or maybe also a screwdriver (head or groin?) there will be a narrower range of threats that you can deal with, and in more ambiguous situations a nuanced response may be beyond you.

Jiu-jitsu instead offers a wider range of responses via a huge collection of techniques, and limitless combinations. For example, in our system there are around 80 distinct restraint and control techniques, not counting variations. And restraint and control accounts for about 30% of our training.

Of course more techniques means more complex decisions. In a self-defence situation one does not have the luxury of planning! The art must be internalized to the extent that response flows from the situation with minimal thought. This requires long practice and regular training. The techniques must become literally second nature.

One useful exercise is to practice against common attacks. A partner attacks in a pre-arranged way and you respond. At first students of jiu-jitsu learn standard responses, but are encouraged to move on to a more reflexive form of practice in which initially the response (and later the attack) is not pre-determined.

Once someone has a couple years of training and has a reasonable grasp of a range of techniques, a great exercise is to take a pre-determined attack and not plan a full response to the attack, but just try some initial movement and see what flows from there. For example: If someone grabs my wrist, it does not matter whether I twist to the left or the right, I can continue to turn and apply an effective jiu-jitsu technique.

Over time the better initial responses should become ingrained through such training.

The syllabus is not just a bag of tricks, but rather embodies a set of principles in myriad ways.

In a real attack the situation will not exactly match what has been practiced, but the practitioner must nevertheless respond to the threat. In doing so (s)he will invariably deviate to a degree from classic technique, but will apply the principles nevertheless.

Application to every-day life
If I only have a hammer everything looks like a nail.

We all face difficult situations, often when dealing with others. If we only have one or two habituated responses we are very limited in how we deal with these situations, and will find ourselves with little or no choice. With no choice one inevitably feels disempowered.

By acquiring more options through learning, and becoming more adept at when and how to apply them, we give ourselves more options.

So even in the toughest situation, you can exercise choice. The more options that you can find, the better the chance that you will deal gracefully and effectively with the situation, rather than resigning yourself to endure it.

Now that's empowering!


Anonymous said...

For me jj is a good base to start from but it’s by no means perfect: it shines in close-range standing grappling and defenses against grabs, chokes and body or headlocks, in most systems ground-defenses are ok but a little static, proper, crisp defenses against quick punches and hard kicks aren’t usually part of the system (which means you’ll get hit by a good puncher or kicker before you can close the distance and employ your techniques of choice), weapon-defenses are usually not bad per se but can be improved upon. What I like about jj is what you mentioned: adaptability and the focus on forcing a decision close to the opponent, on top of that there’s always room to grow and explore different ways to string together techniques. One answer to the problem of art vs practical application would be to have one standard response to an attack (choke, punch…) and train it separately until it becomes instinctive: first protect yourself and stun him, after that you’ll have a small window to apply any technique you want. This is the method we have chosen for our self-defense system and from the intermediate stage on we train our students in semi-free and free exercises and sparring (with and without protection, armed, unarmed and on the ground) in order to learn how to apply the basic techniques against a genuinely resisting opponent, not someone who’ll surrender or take a fall right away. What we emphasis above all is an effective and instinctive first reaction to attacks, realistic attacks (when you act as the attacker punch at his face not beside it, when you choke push him back and force him to fall back into a proper stance or risk being pushed over) and develop the attributes necessary to adapt to failure of the initial technique and inevitable resistance and flow using kicks, punches, locks, throws and chokes until you’ve subdued the attacker and the fight’s over. A large part of our system is devoted to kickboxing with a focus on street-application: if all else fails a good cross (usually open hand to protect the knuckles) will do wonders and in the context of self-defense I don’t care what technique does the trick and keeps me safe. In less danger situations I favour locks since they offer control and pain-control, when faced with a dangerous opponent I’ll rely more on striking techniques, if I see he has a boxing or kickboxing background I’ll try to close the gap and grapple using jj-techniques… Adapt, be honest with yourself and identify weaknesses in your system, weaknesses which can be ameliorated by cross-training. Jj is a great system but other arts have a lot to offer too and in this day and age of MMA and access to a great variety of arts and systems from across the globe the self-defense styles or systems should adapt as well and no style has it all.

What do you think about cross-training and how do you train defenses against kickboxers and armed attackers?

Anonymous said...

In my view it’s good to have different options to respond to an attack (self defense has many dimensions and not every situation requires you to break someone’s nose or beat them into a pulp in order to be safe) and technical variety contributes to the motivation to keep training yet a certain base of about a dozen simple, high-percentage techniques is necessary to adequately respond to an unannounced threat. It’s like my sensei used to say: it’s better to have 15 techniques that you have complete mastery over and that are so instinctive you could do them blindfolded and against a wide variety of attacks and the changing conditions of a fight than hundreds you superficially ‘know’ but can’t apply under stress. If you can pull off an intricate throw or joint manipulation under stress with the punches flying that’s great but to me it’s the sign of a true master who truly internalized the technique (it’s become part of him/her) but for the majority of people, especially those unwilling to spend years learning jj or another equally intricate art, it’s not a realistic option. If you need quick results your best bet is still krav maga (basically jj escapes and groundwork coupled with striking-based counter-attacks centered on the muay thai clinch) or if you are a man some type of kickboxing since you’ll likely be faced with striking attacks (thaiboxing would be preferably since it deals with close range elbows and knee-strikes), if you’re more interested in a more holistic concept and are willing to invest more time jj is an excellent art (for self-defense too, with a little tweaking) and in my view self-defense is only a part of martial arts and a relatively small part at that.

For me the ability to tailor my defense to suit a specific context is invaluable and doing the same things over and over again just isn’t my thing (kickboxing is fun but it’s always the same thing: kick, punch, punch, kick… ad nauseam) but that being said the defenses should be realistic and for me only training jj just doesn’t cut it. Of course I don’t know what you teach and train exactly so this criticism doesn’t necessarily apply to you but a lot of the ‘old school’ jj dojo’s are too fancy and too traditional in their approach: basically a lot of the defenses against punches and kicks are sub par (if someone’s knows a little bit of boxing or kickboxing he’ll just blow through your defense or get you with his second or third shot since most likely your cover will be wholely inadequate (I have never seen a proper cover in all the jj schools and seminars I went to) and your defenses too committed. Weapons are a second weakness: with knife or stick strikes you usually don’t get a second chance and if your lock or throw failed you’ll be dogmeat. Most of all weapon defense should be dynamic, adaptable and flowing: static attacks (if someone slashes at you with a knife he will not leave his hand dangling for you to grab it and apply a fancy lock), slow defenses and pre-determined moves that I learned in my initial jj training simply won’t cut it.

What I missed most of all (and what I found in Filipino kali) is a teaching process that is based on drills (i.e take a defense and break it down into the respective parts and train them seperatly with as many reps as possible in a certain time-period) and favours instinctive response based on the opponent’s action and reaction to your initial defense. In weapon defenses you should always try to combine defense (block, parry or avoidance) with a simultaneous attack, preferably to his eyes or knees doing as much damage as possible. Never assume he won’t fake you or change his attack after contact and keep sticking to him, locks are fine but only after you’ve beaten him senseless and have firm control of the weapon, otherwise they’re just too risky and his other hand isn’t paralysed… it’s always nice to work with a compliant partner but in reality it’s at least possible he’ll clock you in the face with his other hand while you’re busy putting a fancy lock on him. ...

Dan Prager said...

Hi Anon

Interesting perspective. I've responded to some of your points in a series of posts starting with this one.

You write well: perhaps you could start your own blog!

-- Dan

Anonymous said...

I've responded to your posts separately, I think we have a good discussion going here. Thanks for your compliment, others have told me the same thing but I don't have the time to regularly write pieces (I'm on holiday right now), plus there's the moral obligation of responding to comments even if they're complete nonsense.

Dan Prager said...

Hi Anon

Given the size the thoughtfulness and prolificness of your comments, I think that a blog would not be beyond you. BTW: It took me a while to realise that not every entry has to be magazine article length, and that such an approach is unsustainable for me anyway.

Also, there a long periods without extensive commenting, and while I try to respond appropriately to comments, I don't think that there is a moral imperative to do so, but who knows! Maybe I missed the internet century edition of the 10 commandments?

Anonymous said...

Thanks, it's true you don't have to write something or reply everytime but if you start something you should at least put some effort into it once in a while and if you're blogging and people take some time out of their busy lives to follow your writings and comment on them you should respect that and put in the effort to at least provide them with quality every so often. For now it seems like too much of a commitment and I already have quite a lot of things going on as it is, even more so in the near future since I'm planning on embarking on an evening education program.

Right now I can read a blog or two at my leisure and reply if I feel like it (it spiked my interest for some reason) and I can contribute in a substantial way. I'm content with that but I may start a blog somewhere in the future. Who knows?

PS: it's always funny to me how you can actually have a meaningful discussion with someone you haven't even met in person and who lives across the globe. Perhaps the most amazing thing of all is that you can have more in common with them than with people you meet everyday and who live in the same culture and country as you. Long live the internet! In any case it's done wonders for keeping my English fresh and up to date. Perhaps I should do the same with my French, I never use it and it's become as rusty as a shovel left in the yard for too long.

Dan Prager said...

With respect to your PS, it is a bit like having pen pals, or pen enemies (penemies?), when discussion degenerates.

I wonder whether as another alternative you might seek out an online forum to work through and test your ideas. I don't really have a particular one to suggest for non-BJJ plus JJ mix, but if you find one, feel free to let me know.