Saturday, September 19, 2009

Slow, like a snake

I took a pleasant phone enquiry yesterday from a chap in his late forties, asking for some advice about martial arts, and about jiu-jitsu in particular.

This fellow is currently practicing karate, but the training is very hard on his knees, and did not seem sustainable. He had done judo as a child, and some aikido in his youth, and had decided to look at alternatives.

Like me, he wants to be able to continue to do martial arts as he gets older, without destroying various body parts. Now he was doing his homework.

I told him that I thought that this is an issue of school and teaching over style, and that I understood that in Okinawa it was quite usual for karate to be practiced into old age, but that I suspected that the kind of practice was different from what was being taught in many Western karate schools.

The conversation ended on good terms, with my main recommendation that he make a trip out to my style's HQ -- much closer than my own class, which was on the other side of town.

Regardless of whether he ends up training with us, I hope this man can find a martial arts school that suits his needs.

* * *

Going hard and fast is not a sustainable strategy as you get older. One of Roy Harris's older students explains:
We were encouraged to wrestle “slowly”. Slowly? That puzzled me. How could you wrestle slowly and be effective? Wasn’t fast and hard always better? I would have gone on believing this except for the fact that both Roy and his senior students were able to demonstrate this principle to me first hand. If you have never experienced being submitted slowly with an arm bar or choke hold, it’s hard to understand what it’s like. It’s the “boa constrictor” approach. The big snake on top of you holds you down patiently; he reads your mind and knows exactly what you are going to do next. Every time you move to get away, the snake tightens his grip a little more, and a little more, until you can no longer move or breathe.

So I too began to practice grappling by moving more slowly, more patiently, more precisely. And I began to find that it worked for me too. Of course, old habits die hard. Every so often when another student would start to get the best of me, the competitive urge would rise up. I’d start thrashing about, trying to make techniques work through sheer speed and power. I’d re-injure my back or some other part of my body, and go home cursing my stupidity. At forty-some years old, I was too old and vulnerable to injuries to try and compete head to head with athletes twenty years younger. So I had to get smarter.

After many years of practicing this new way of wrestling, I’m pleased to find that I can frequently hold my own against opponents who are much younger, faster and stronger than me, even if they are coming at me with everything they’ve got. I get injured less (and injure others less). I’m continuing to learn and can look forward to many more years of enjoyment in the sport. -- Tom Moon

I would post a photo of a boa constrictor, but I really hate snakes!


Ice said...

Yeah I'm soon turning 35. As I have gravitated towards the slow and deliberate method of grappling.

You are right,I do find that it's easier on the body and more effective. You also get into the moment where you get to feel your opponents moves as opposed to being lost in your own movements.

It also lets me conserve my energy and use burst energy when I do need it most.