My Apology

I have to apologize, but not in the way you are probably thinking. I’m referring to the lesser known definition of apology, which is to make a rational defense of a position, also known as apologia. I am a firm believer that if you are going to have an opinion on something, from jiu-jitsu to science to religion to politics, you ought to be able to defend your position, even if you have to argue within someone else’s ground rules.

For the BJJ perspective, one of the things I do is to start each class with jiu-jitsu roulette. Students pick a number from 1-20, and I roll an extra large d20 die. The student with the closest number can ask any question about jiu-jitsu, from theory to technique. While this appears to be a simple case of answering any outstanding questions, it is much more to me.

We are constantly tested during sparring, with the physical truth sorted out by both partners. The person who is successful learns what works, while the person who fails learns what does not. This is valuable, but too often the lessons have to be repeated many times before you semi-subconsciously learn what is good or bad to do for that specific situation. You are training your instincts, but not your mind. We are informally tested when we discuss technique with friends, and while that does develop the mind somewhat, it is often no more than determining what is a good thing to do for a given scenario. There needs to be more to fully develop your jiu-jitsu mind.

An simplistic way to develop your mind is to classify a technique and label it. Old school, new school, Gracie, 10th Planet, traditional martial arts, MMA, self defense, etc . . . This gives a way to identify that which is yours vs that which is part of the “other” and therefore implied to be either inferior to your technique or unneeded for your purposes. Labeling things takes just enough experience and intelligence to classify, but it does not necessarily give you a true sense of the utility of what you are labeling.

When I am asked to explain a technique, like for my jiu-jitsu roulette, I strive to answer not just the question of what to do, but why it is being done. A rational and formal defense of my answer requires more than just saying what to do. If I am asked why I do something, I can’t say “because that’s how it’s done”. I must refer back to core principles of jiu-jitsu such as leverage, timing, frames, weight distribution, and most importantly, strategic goals. In essence, I am engaging in apologia for my jiu-jitsu. My students get their random questions answered, and I am challenged at every class to defend my jiu-jitsu.

There are two results possible when I am defending my position. Either I successfully explain my position, or I have to provisionally accept new truth. So, for example, when a student asks me if it’s ok to do something novel from a particular position and it appears to work, my first thought is to play devil’s advocate and look for what is wrong with their suggestion based on my ability to reference established jiu-jitsu principles. If I can’t immediately find a problem, then I must accept that the maneuver is potentially legitimate until I can further analyze the scenario. Classifying and labeling a technique helps me build relationships to known thought processes and inspiration, but it does not necessarily give me a physical and strategic truth that I can incorporate into my jiu-jitsu.

A case in point is 10th Planet. When coming from a traditional BJJ lineage such as the Gracies, it’s easy to make jokes about 10th Planet and dismiss the techniques within the system. Much like schools that emphasize sport vs self-defense, 10th Planet makes certain assumptions about goals which influences their overall perspective.

For me personally, there are big swaths of their system that I don’t use. However there are also chunks that I can find no reason to ignore. They are in active pursuit of their version of physical truth, and they do an effective job of apology for their system.

What is the SimpleBJJ lesson? It doesn’t matter if the source is a white belt or a black belt in a different branch of jiu-jitsu, or even a black belt in a different martial art. By implementing a rigorous apologia for your own jiu-jitsu, you can comfortably incorporate truth from any source.

Test yourself in sparring, and in your verbal defense of your approach to jiu-jitsu. Make your apologia rigorous and receptive to new ideas. For me, the greatest form of apologia is to take a contrary view, provisionally accept it, then argue for it’s invalidation based on its own self-contradictions, while providing a coherent view of my own consistent theory to replace it. This means that when you are presented with something interesting that you can’t immediately refute, accept its potential and explore the consequences of it.

Apologia comes in to play because a rigorous defense of your own position gives you experience in analyzing a scenario and presenting the physical and mental truth of your jiu-jitsu. If you determine that you can’t make a good argument against the contrary view, then you should begin the process of incorporating the knowledge into your jiu-jitsu. Figure out how to reconcile that view with your own. You may end up finding a deeper understanding of jiu-jitsu.

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