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Basulto Academy of Defense > Articles > Posts > Greasing The Groove – The Search for Motor Efficiency and Mastery of One’s Destiny

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April 25
Greasing The Groove – The Search for Motor Efficiency and Mastery of One’s Destiny

The author, Rolando Garcia III, has been a respected senior-member of Basulto Academy of Defense for two decades and is a multi-discipline martial arts instructor and sought-after RKC II Kettblell coach in NYC.  He is also the author of the acclaimed book, "Intrinsic Exellence".  Here he addresses the concept of "Greasing the Groove", a term popularized by Pavel Tsatsouline, former Soviet Special Forces instructor and the father of kettlebell training in the West.  Read carefully and apply to all things.

Jiu Jitsu Katana sword.JPG

In the time and labor intensive tradition of making the magnificent Japanese Katana, it is said that the sword is born in the roaring fires of the forge, but its soul comes out of the chaos and into the hands of the warrior-samurai only with the precise aide of the “Toshigi” – the quiet craftsman who is far removed from the blazing fire and the spectacle of battle.  

The toshigi tirelessly polishes each section of the blade to bring it to life.  It is said that the razor precision of the blade, and its unearthly beauty, comes out only through the repeated and focused efforts of the Toshigi.  It is important to note that, in this light, the oft celebrated samurai, whose narrative is inseparable from the Japanese sword, would be far less heroic and note-worthy without the Toshigi to ensure that his blade is equally reliable, effective, and refined.  Before the katana, there is the raw sand that needs to transform into Tamahagane, and before the samurai, the sword needs the polish of the toshigi.


Somewhere in our own search for personal heroism and effectiveness lies the eternal and historic narrative that we must transform ourselves physically, mentally, and spiritually, from the raw material of our current selves and into a close approximation of an idealized superior self.  This narrative binds all those who seek a better way of being through a self-determined perspective.  All those inspirational memes you see on social media, written by self-made optimists who urge you to not quit, to work harder, to seek to always feel better and be better – those memes are permutations of this narrative that humankind is the master of their destiny…if only one worked hard enough and (ironically) not give so much precious time to social media.     

This is different from those who believe that what we experience as autonomous beings is actually part of a probabilistic phenomenon:  wealthy or poor, fit or fat, happy or sad, all of these states are pre-determined by a combination of Machiavellian socio-economics, inherited genetics, and randomly fluctuating biochemical probabilities.  Those who hold this view (whether they call themselves nihilists, pessimists, or realists) believe that circumstances change toward one’s advantage or disadvantage as randomly and without pattern the same way the clouds gather and disperse in order to make your day sunny or cloudy, inspirational or glum.  This perspective essentially states that you are the master of your own destiny…depending upon the range of variance of your fluctuating deviations, be it genetic or socio-economic.  This perspective downgrades sweat equity by default, but there is a strong reason for this.  No matter how much you love basketball and practice it everyday, if you’re 5’2” you will probably never be the next Michael Jordan. 

 Somewhere between the self-determination theory and the probabilistic mindset lies your individual approach to self-improvement.  On the one hand, you train with that “Be limitless” inspirational meme that The Rock posted on his Instagram account two days ago, but on the other hand you remember reading an article two years ago that cites a study on WebMD that musculo-skeletal morphology is genetically pre-determined and that you experience overall steady decline once you are 29 years of age.  Or was it 39?  You hear The Rock in the first pounding 5 minutes of your warm-up, but you remember the steady-decline study about 15 minutes later after your 2nd work set. 

 It is cool to be a self-made two-sword carrying samurai, until you read somewhere that your samurai-boss can basically tell you when to disembowel yourself at any given time, for any reason and no reason whatsoever.  You are self-determined…until you’re not.

 Rolando Samurai.jpg
Whether we are adding plates to our bench or deadlift, or adding medals to our BJJ trophy, all our efforts are dictated by a desire to either overcome overwhelming odds, or to relent to them.  Heroic or humble, badass or just being, the mindset of a warrior athlete falls somewhere between being self-made and being self-accepting.  You are either pursuing the idealized self, or remain content with yourself. 

 You add those plates because you believe that a sword is wrought from raw materials, and must be plunged into the fire of our wills in order to face battle effectively, and hopefully heroically.  Or you drive yourself in practice to tap everybody on the mat, to achieve a similar effect.  The constant need to win, to drive, to add more, all of it is based on a conceptual argument occurring within you, which happens to be between two conflicting perspectives:  should you work harder to make yourself better, or should you work less and accept yourself as you are?

 The phrase “Greasing The Groove” was made popular in the 90’s by renowned strength specialist and author Pavel Tsatsouline.  His premise, based primarily on Soviet Bloc exercise science and physiology, states that strength is less of an outcome of big muscles, and more of a result of refined motor control.  In other words, the ability to move big and heavy objects is primarily a sharpened skill, requiring less muscle, and more inter-muscular coordination.  Many of his books urged the consumer-grade athlete to disregard the pump and flush approach found in most mainstream magazines, and to rely instead on the proven science of high-frequency training used to develop elite level athletes in Eastern Europe. 

 Here is an example of greasing the groove, as it pertains to a pulling skill:  the pull-up.  Set-up a pull-up bar at your home, either as an independent stand or as a bar secured to a door.  Every time you walk by the pull-up bar, you do 2-3 pull-ups  Vary your dosages and rep-schemes so that one experiences a sense of polish without fatigue (the pump and fatigue go hand-in-hand).  Some days, do 1 each time you walk by.  Some days do 5, depending on your biofeedback. 

 The approach is so effective and simple that it is the typical approach in most military units around the world.  From what I understand, this is the approach that is utilized when a unit is neither in boot-camp nor in the heat of battle, when the warrior is neither in the forge that tests his mettle, nor in the fog of war when it is utilized to its fullest.  When Filipino warriors were not at war, they practiced sinawali and sumbrada drills.  When the samurai were not at war, it is said that their dedication to Zen expressed itself in hours-long practice of postures such as Seigan, Chu-Dan, or Nagashi.  The way of a practicing warrior, in this light, is spent mostly on polishing, on refinement.    

 Grease The Groove is the approach utilized by the warrior in order to remain in a constant state of polished readiness.  No longer is the warrior the raw material that needs to be shaped into a blade, nor is he thrown into battle by factors outside of his control to meet his ultimate fate, the warrior who lives between his fire and his destiny instead thrives only in the humility of his constant commitment to the truth.  Neither a raw recruit nor mythologized warrior, the purpose of this approach of constant refinement is neither to change or accept his nature, but rather to reveal what is, in fact, his true nature hiding underneath his own delusions.  

It is only through this process of discovering one’s true nature can the warrior have any hope of swinging the odds in his favor, on and off the battlefield. Between the perspectives of self-determination practices which seeks to add to our abilities and perceived status, and the self-accepting practices of the probability model, lies the constant and daily dedication to understanding the truth of our being. 

 Rolando with Katana.jpg

There is a well-known story of an award-winning Toshigi currently living in Japan, who turned a 3-hour polish session into a 21-hour marathon, because he felt that in order to win the grand prix prize, he had to bring out an ornate and rare pattern on the blade he was working on.  When his Sensei approached him, he said to his Toshigi “This blade is making you ask hard questions, yes?”   

 The Toshigi eventually won the grand prize, but only when he came to a deeper realization about his 11 years of practice:  the duty of the Toshigi is not to himself, but to the sword.  His purpose is not to impose his will upon the sword, but rather to serve the sword to bring out its true nature.  What he had desired was an ornate and rare pattern on the blade, when in fact the blade’s true structure (determined much earlier in the forging process), was a simple pattern – considered the most difficult to achieve.  He achieved the grand prize by making clear the truth of the blade, his profession, and his simple purpose. 

 Be the toshigi of your warrior practice – neither a slave nor a master (both are delusions).  Seek instead the truth hidden within your being.     



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