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.

The Arctic, Jiu-Jitsu, and Perspective

What do backpacking in the Alaskan Arctic and jiu-jitsu have in common? They both can serve as a lesson on proper perspective, but only if you want them to.

It’s a fact of life that things that are worth doing are often not going to be easy. Sometimes during those endeavors, you’ll encounter situations where everything looks like it’s going downhill. One lesson I learned in the arctic gets applied all the time to my jiu-jitsu, as well as life in general.

A friend of mine and I were backpacking in the Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska. Incidentally, he is the first person that made me tap to jiu-jitsu, despite outweighing him by 50 pounds. Apparently it was a sign of lessons to come.

We were just finishing up our backpacking route into the remote native village of Anaktuvuk Pass after a long and fast hike in. All during our hike in, we saw numerous signs of bear and wolf tracks headed towards the town. We surmised that the animals were probably after garbage, and we made a mental note to be careful about where we made camp.

Both of us were exhausted by the end of the day, and we had to find a camp site that we didn’t have a clear idea of where it was. All we knew was that it was away from the town and located somewhere on the other side of the mile long gravel airstrip. We had jokingly referred to our destination as “The Ass-Pit”, because from the descriptions, it was clear the locals didn’t want to see us, and we would get the least desirable location to camp. We had no idea how accurate that term would be.

We resigned ourselves to another mile of hiking down the side of the airstrip and finally found a spot with a couple fire pits that appeared to be a likely spot. There was willow brush all around us, which sounds pleasant until you consider that those low willows are ideal bear territory, and you always avoid camping in those areas in the arctic if possible. They are called “grizzly mazes” for a reason.

I was tired, sore, and now convinced the locals wanted us to be eaten by bears. The ground was poor for setting up a tent, and there was trash and alcohol bottles scattered about (keeping in mind that Anaktuvuk Pass is a dry town). Periodically some of the locals would ride down in their trucks, stare at us for a couple minutes, then turn around and go back towards town. As the evening wore on, I was getting an early and unpleasant taste of the civilization I was trying to escape by hiking the barren tundra.

I ended up in an uncharacteristically bad mood, and our nickname for the campsite seemed prescient. I couldn’t imagine a worse way to spend my last night in the arctic. I sat there, munching on almond M&Ms, just wishing for the otherwise spectacular trip to be over.

My friend saw my bad mood, and started whittling down our situation. If we ignored the locals, bear territory, trash, bad ground, and long day . . . we were in the middle of the arctic, the sun was shining, the mountains were beautiful, and we just had just spent over a week of thoroughly enjoyable backpacking. I had even proofed out the utility of a experimental tent that I had built.

In that moment, my whole perspective of my situation changed. I previously had chosen to focus on the easy negative targets instead of seeing how fortunate I really was. The m&ms got twice as tasty, and my mood for the evening became bulletproof with enjoyment of my situation.

Just like my scenario in the arctic, I have found that Jiu-Jitsu will periodically test you and ask you what you choose to focus on. I have seen countless students quit for various reasons, others who decide to coast and just play with jiu-jitsu, and others who have hit frustrating walls. All of them made choices based on their own criteria.

When jiu-jitsu is going your way, it’s easy to be a fan and tell everybody about how wonderful it is. Yet how do you react when you are injured or frustrated or ready to quit? What about when school politics become an unwanted force? Like any human endeavor, there will be good and bad things that happen on your path. You certainly can’t completely control what happens during your jiu-jitsu journey. The one thing you can control is how you choose to react.

If you are training jiu-jitsu, you are in the small percentage of people who are doing it and reaping the benefits. The longer you train, the more you become a member of an even smaller percentage of people who have the right perspective and perseverance to get past the inevitable hardships. If you choose to focus on these positive aspects, and choose to have your perspective reflect how fortunate you are, your jiu-jitsu path, and your path through life will be easier and more enjoyable.

Injuries may temporarily force you out, but you may get more time to study. Brick walls of nightly defeat can spur you to focus on getting better. Inevitable politics or internal social issues become secondary to getting on the mat and improving yourself. Temptation to quit is tempered by realizing how far you’ve come and how much you’ve achieved.

How you to react to events is completely your choice, and your choice can trend towards the positive and uplifting by maintaining a good perspective that whittles away the meaningless negative aspects of what is happening to you. I do this all the time in jiu-jitsu and life, just like I had “The Ass-Pit” transformed into a beautiful valley. Perspective and choice are yours to work with. Choose your perspective wisely.

Wisdom Is Transcendent

Jiu-jitsu is often on my mind, but it is just one aspect of my life. When I read, I prefer philosophy over fantasy, political over fiction. As I read, I naturally test and apply concepts to areas not necessarily intended by the text. The Bible, Marcus Aurelius, Augustine, Hayek, the Art of War. . . So many books contain wisdom that transcends the immediate topic area. It is as if an abstract concept is made real through application, despite the various applications.

Sometimes, application to jiu-jitsu is apparent, as if the writer were advising a blue belt on how to learn and grow.

  • “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”
  • “Look in, let not either the proper quality, or the true worth of anything pass thee, before thou hast fully apprehended it”
  • “As flattering friends pervert, so reproachful enemies mostly correct.”
  • “There is an advantage in obedience to such rules not being coerced, not only because coercion as such is bad, but because it is, in fact, often desirable that rules should be observed only in most instances and that the individual should be able to transgress them when it seems to him worthwhile to incur the odium which this will cause.”
  • “Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat.”

These thoughts were obviously intended for a purpose other than jiu-jitsu. Yet because jiu-jitsu is laser focused on the idea that “If it works, it’s good jiu-jitsu”, fundamental truths of the physical and mental are forced to the front. We are led to questioning, “is it life, or is it jiu-jitsu?” Simply put, yes.

True gems of wisdom can be applied to various contexts without losing potency. We all color our interpretation of what we read, and sometimes that coloring reveals a transcendent concept that can be applied concretely to other areas.

“The process of learning involves interpretation, and the fewer particulars we require in order to arrive at our generalization, the more apt pupils we are in the school of wisdom.”

Abstraction allows us to apply mental models to concrete instances in jiu-jitsu. For example, allowing yourself to be picked up in the air for the sake of completing a submission works fine in a sport context since slams are generally not allowed anymore, but in a MMA or self defense context, a slam can knock you unconscious and have dire consequences. The abstract concept here is that a submission is not worth attempting completion if it puts you in a worse position. A reinterpretation of this concept is that when you have mount and are working on a submission, you should always keep mount rather than allow a reversal. The top mount is more valuable in any context than any guard.

Keep an open mind for wisdom, no matter what the source is. It may be a philosophical text, or it might be a white belt. The best wisdom does not need to be attributed to a source to be given weight.

 

(yet for the curious, quotes are from:
The Bible, 1 Thessalonians 5:21, The Apostle Paul
Thoughts of Marcus Aurelius, Emperor Marcus Aurelius
Confessions of St. Augustine, St. Augustine
The Constitution of Liberty, Friedrich Hayek
The Art of War, Sun Tzu
Ideas Have Consequences, Richard M. Weaver)

Levels Of Frustration

I’ve been on both sides of this guide.

  • Level 10: Coach looks like he’s sleeping. Your attacks aren’t even close.
  • Level 9: Coach moves his hands. He knows what you are thinking. This is still going to end badly.
  • Level 8: Coach actually defends a submission attempt. You apparently have some idea of what you are doing. But not that much.
  • Level 7: Coach sweeps you. He either wants to look at the clock right side up, or he’s concerned you might flail and give him a black eye.
  • Level 6: Coach submits you after twenty seconds. It’s either competition training day, or you nearly injured him. Spaz.
  • Level 5: Coach shrimps. You almost did something good.
  • Level 4: Coach grips you. You either did something good, or coach is bored.
  • Level 3: Coach is submitted by you. Was it legit? You can never tell.
  • Level 2: Coach submits you after five minutes. Coach is having fun. You might be getting tested but you aren’t sure.
  • Level 1: Coach promotes you. This is all you, kid. Good job.

A SimpleBJJ Christmas

Everything is an excuse to have jiu-jitsu involved.

First up, Brown Belt On The Shelf

So you've got yourself a cute, fun loving brown belt on the shelf...
So you’ve got yourself a cute, fun loving brown belt on the shelf.

 

He is a champ at getting into trouble, and making messes. He also likes to be able to blame others for his bad behavior
He is a champ at getting into trouble, and making messes. He also likes to be able to blame others for his bad behavior.

 

However...make sure you hide your cookies and treats.
However…make sure you hide your cookies and treats.

 

You NEVER want to allow them to eat after midnight
You NEVER want to allow them to eat after midnight. . .

 

or they will turn into this!
or they will turn into this!

 

Leaving you with no other choice than to make sure their trouble making days are over. — with Amy Elliott.
Leaving you with no other choice than to make sure their trouble making days are over.

 

Then, we have The Night Before Christmas
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all ‘cross the mat
Not a student was tapping, not even to naps;
The heavy bags hung beside the mats with care,
In hopes that St. Jiu-Jitsu soon would be there;

The students were nestled all snug in their chokes,
While squeezing of RNCs danc’d on their throats,
And Coach in his black belt, and I in brown belt,
Had settled our match with a long vicious pelt —

When out in the lot there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the mat to see what was the matter.
Away to the door I flew like a flash,
Swung open the front door, ran out in a dash.

The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,
Gave the luster of medals to objects below;
When what should appear, despite my tired hands
But a stretch limo, and many Brazilians,

With a little old driver, a plate that said “JITZ”,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Jitz.
More rapid than armbars his students they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and call’d them to train:

“Now! black belts, now! brown belts, now! purples and a blue,
“On! takedown, on! control, on! tap them so true;
“Take center of the mat! To top of the mount!
“Now smash away! Smash away! Smash all from mount!”

As black belts that before the wild white belts fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount them who’ll die;
So on to the tap till our students were through,
With their hands full of pain — St. Jiu-Jitsu knew:

And then in a twinkling, I saw on the mat
The planning and springing of each little trap.
I protected my neck, and I choked with no sound,
Down with defense, St. Jiu-Jitsu made me feel bound:

He was dress’d all in white, and a red belt did wear,
And the belt was all scar’d up with age and tear;
He attacked me with ease and took my back,
And he look’d like a black belt revealing my lack.

His eyes — how they twinkled! His tricks he would show,
His hands were like vices, his toes were like velcro;
His normal looking arms, with ease did he throw,
And the gi on his back was as white as the snow;

His knowledge of jiu-jitsu he showed with skill
I dreamed and wish’d, oh if it came in a pill!
He had a stern face, and his hips made of steel
That shrimp’d when he swep’t, turning me just like a wheel:

He was normal and plain, simply carried himself,
And I laugh’d when he tapped me in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of my head
Soon gave knowledge I had everything to dread.

He spoke not a word, but focused like a merc,
And submitt’d all the colored belts; no work,
And laying both his hands aside of his waist
And giving a bow, he departed, posthaste.

He sprung to his ride, to his team gave a smile,
And away they all flew, after thrashing us a while:
But I heard him exclaim, ere he rolled out of sight —
Jiu-Jitsu to all, and to all a good night.