Solo Jiu-jitsu

There isn’t any. I know, that’s kind of a dire diagnoses but one of the really fun aspects of training is that it is generally a partner experience. Playing jiu-jitsu alone is a little like imagining a chess game in which you are always the winner. You’re playing all the moves after all! So instead of telling you about push-ups or stretches which you obviously don’t need “jiu-jitsu” slapped on (like those toy-makers in the wake of Star Wars who just labeled random chintz with a Star Wars sticker) I’m going to talk a bit about how you should be thinking about your jiu-jitsu.

Back in the early 90s when my brother and I started chasing down all the Brazilian Jiu-jitsu related kit we could find (Imagine the dearth of VHS and lack of fancy gis (I still never got my Krugans!)!) we drew pictures and we skimmed Judo books (this was the world before Youtube and hand-held computers) and we created flow-charts. I hear that some big name well marketed jiu-jitsu celebrities are currently creating flow-charts, this made me chuckle when I heard about it as it was something my brother and I did in ’92 because there just wasn’t enough material for us to think about while we spent our hours bored at various jobs (in my case, a banking crisis had just dumped me out of a preferred rental shop job with which I was funding my URI education and dropped me in a Barnes and Nobles cafe making lattes for rich people and daydreaming about all the cute ladies who I worked with!) . Brother and I would sometimes compare our results over Sunday dinner with the folks. We also would sometimes roll around on the living room floor Dad trying to hop in and going too hard. Poor dad is made out of cinder blocks and 2x4s and never learned how to train gently (too much kenpo!).

The idea, which is hard for me to imagine needing to draw out at this point, is to create a bank of options to develop new ways of thinking about positions, or to possibly open up new doors to strategy. It can help you be a little bit more experimental with your game. Once you’ve exhausted your plan, A, B, and C. What strategies would you like to include? Describing your best moves, and understanding their possible outcomes is the goal, but also meditating about failures.

What causes you to fail the most? Opponents you can’t move, or opponents who run around you? Ah, now we’re getting to the real meat of the process. What’s a response to a heavy stack pass? What processes separate an advanced practitioner from a newbie? I’ll tell you; it’s predicting the problem. An advanced player stops the attempt much sooner than the newbie who doesn’t recognize the problem until it’s basically executed.

There’s an old Zen story that takes place in old Japan. I forget where I collected this one, but it’s possible Daito Suzuki may have shared it in one of his books on Zen. The story goes of an old friend visiting a family man, after some sake the family man wants to introduce his old friend to his sons. He begins to call the youngest, but the visitor stops him with a smile and says, “Allow me a little test.” The visitor places a flower pot on the door so that when the son comes in, the pot will fall on him. The father calls the youngest son, the boy bounds in kicking open the door and takes the flower pot on his head, but as he’s impacted he turns and cuts the flowerpot in half with his sword, resheathing it and bowing to the visitor in greeting.

“Very good!” the visitor says, and after they dismiss the boy, another pot is set on the door for the second son, a bit older.

When the young man is called he opens the door, manages to see the falling flower pot, sidesteps it catches it, places it on the floor and proceeds to introduce himself to the visitor.

“Very good indeed!” the visitor compliments his old friend.

Finally, the oldest boy is called with the flower pot in the same position. As he approaches he notes the open door, and the flower pot, and with a smile, carefully removes it from the door before passing through it.

And of course, this is the best trained fellow of all.

These stories are often very pedantic and you know where they’re going , but you have to remember they have to have a certain form to reach the most of us.

I like to describe this as the boulder rolling down the hill problem. It’s a cartoon scenario: the giant rock is coming down the hill. In scenario one you see it coming very early, you have time to collect your loved ones and favorite guitar and books and then step out of the way. In scenario two you see it a bit later, but you still have time to step out of the way. In scenario three you are late, the shadow is on you and you don’t have time to sidestep so you run and run, and maybe you get lucky but more often than not you get squished. I suppose another scenario could be that you’ve already dug a defensive ditch, or you’ve dynamited the boulder in preparation, yes, fair enough! That would be the master I suppose. But you can’t be completely protected from every attack! Some of the attacks are going to happen, especially if you play with other people who match your skills.

The best means of becoming a good predictor of the game-play is tons of time on the mat. However, just getting smash-passed over and over again doesn’t really teach you a response or a way to recognize the trouble. Which, is why we have classes, so that we can pass on the tricks that have worked for generations. When you’re not at class it’s good to meditate on the various problems you run into, and so you develop a kind of argument. When A does this what can B do? If A is more proactive can B do that? What can B do if A is more proactive? And on and on.

Here are some things to think about:

  1. If you never open your guard and you’re very strong you can thwart a lot of smaller people from ever attacking. You can control their balance easily and if you can control their hands they have few chances at developing a game. But, your closed guard does not move the contest forward, you don’t practice anything, and you won’t be prepared for opponents that match your strength. Some big athletic people never get past this stage because not many people push them to do so.
  2. If your goal is only to win choose to battle lots of people smaller and newer than you. If this sounds ridiculous–good! Because it is. Your goal should be to be as good as GOOD and STRONG people. And to get that good you need to emulate what they do so that you can develop a game as good as theirs.
  3. You don’t need every technique. Jiujitsu is huge and no one person uses all of it. None of us would live long enough to master every possible move. Master a few from each position. Use them a lot, make them yours. You don’t need to be a catalog of the latest and greatest (as there really aren’t any, it’s all marketing) moves of the day!
  4. Experience is the best teacher. An old adage says: All questions are answered with more mat time. Don’t start complaining that the move doesn’t work for you after you’ve spent only a few minutes, or worse, only two reps, working on it!
  5. A popular martial arts movie said “There are no bad positions.” I disagree, there are bad positions that why we work so hard to practice from them. I’d have preferred the movie said, “All positions are your teachers!”

OK folks, use your thinkers, sit and ponder while we can’t be on the mat. Draw a picture of your thoughts. We’ll be back to the fun soon enough!

Use the commercial breaks on TV to visualize some moves off your back. Do a sweep. Consider an armbar. Move your hips! 🙂

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