Monday, August 16, 2010

Determining skill

As a practitioner of jiu jitsu, I've often been confronted with the question "Professor, how do I get good?" or "Is he good at jiu jitsu?"..

Being "good" at jiu jitsu is a fickle thing.

It is very much like conversing with a friend. First, I believe you must learn the alphabet. It is critical to be well versed and educated in the basic structure and manner in which jiu jitsu is conducted. I believe it is not too much to expect a white belt to learn all the chokes and locks possible in jiu jitsu. The further your education is in the alphabet, the more words (techniques and rational combinations) you can form. A beginner (after being gently coaxed into jiu jitsu using appropriate an introduction of basic movements), should be taught every single sweep, escape, choke, and lock variations that is possible. In this way, I believe they become exposed to the existence of any and all such movements and are able to explore, like children often do with words their parents use, the mechanics by which those sweeps, locks, escapes are utilized on a human body.

If I only taught a beginner the alphabets A, C, and S (armlock choke and sweep), there are not many words he can form..much less sentences or intelligent conversations to interact with his opponent. It would simple be shouting the letters A, C, and S in different sequences. He would also stuck in the guard and helpless on a bottom position! In such a situation, the louder, most obnoxious  (stronger or most insistent) fighter would win the argument. You can obviously see how this is not jiu jitsu. Just because you know three letters or words of katakana does not mean you know how to speak Japanese. You can imagine just as well, the people who believe jiu jitsu is simply a sport of submissions mixed with athleticism are really trying to win ten different arguments with only ONE debate topic and strategy.

When a proponent of jiu jitsu is fully and completely educated in A-Z (all basic and apparent techniques), he is then ready to begin to comprehend the sentences and words we use. Every now and then we might need to check the dictionary, but he is fully capable of taking any new techniques, positions, combinations and strategies and breaking them down and simplifying them into the alphabet that he knows.

After a certain while, performing and practicing jiu jitsu is as easy as speaking. The proponent no longer has to translate the word into his native tongue before speaking, he can easily construct different sentences, speak intelligently with his opponent and even form his own way of conversation and play with sentence structure at his own leisure.

What I am trying to say is: I believe a good jiu jiteiro does not THINK to remember what the escape from side body was when he is caught in it already, or what the certain mechanics of that armlock was when  he is halfway through catching the arm. A Jiu jiteiro intelligently KNOWS how the body moves, the extent of which an arm is capable of stretching, and what movements are required to break an arm.

It should be like speaking, except it is with your body.

This is why so many instructors will often beg their students to go slowly and flow softly. Attacking each other with force and strength is like watching Will Farrell and John C. Reilly converse with each other in Step Brothers. The roll is going nowhere, and even if someone wins, it is redundant. We put our children through grade school for a reason. What good would it be to enter our 6 year old child into a college debate club? Go slowly. Regardless of your age or background, a new language takes time to understand fully.

A perfect conversation is one that is elegant, deep, refined, cultured, and full. It is succinct on paper (Pass the guard, mount, choke) but complex in action (imagine the 50 different guard passes, 3 different mounting techniques, and the myriad of submissions that the proponent must have performed and countered before winning!)....

I hope you understand, my friend!

- many thanks to my good friend "Brian 'the Chinese Mafia' Chang" for helping me with this.


  1. I try to make the distinction with my students between understanding Jiu Jitsu and knowing Jiu Jitsu. While I am in no way as wise or knowledgeable in Jiu Jistu as the Professor or many of the readers here, I see a separation between the two. A jiu Jitsu player can know lots of techniques and know all the steps to each techniques. He may even be able to land these techniques and put them together in series. But i feel that often techniques are not jiu jitsu, they are examples of jiu jitsu. By studying the techniques you can gain a higher understanding of jiu jitsu and then you will no longer need the techniques.

  2. This holds true in all arts and all arts face the same problem, whether its wing chun chi sao, bjj rolling, boxing punches, etc, many times the students want to 'win" instead of "learn" and Professor Sauer states things so perfectly, people need to learn the alphabet and have a conversation , not argue! Professor I am a huge fan, and thank you for sharing your wisdom with us!