The practice of Jiu Jitsu involves lots of physical contact and very intimate ranges. Whether you are just learning new techniques, drilling or “rolling” (sparring), Jiu Jitsu requires close-quarters contact with another human being. It is one of the reasons that personal hygiene and proper care of your training gear (gi, kneepads) is often a preoccupation of practitioners and coaches alike.
Sure to come up at some point in your Jiu-Jitsu/Grappling journey is the discussion or experience of skin-borne infections. Some of these can be down-right dangerous in addition to scary (MRSA, for example) but the most common and easily treated is “ringworm”. Though this is actually a simple fungus, it is intimidating mostly because of its contagious nature, being passed easily from person to person.
- How to identify Ringworm.
It strikes such emotion and fear in the hearts of grapplers that many years ago, a war cry of a particular grappling team was to yell “Give’em the worm” as their teammates competed on the mats; a sort of “psychological warfare” to off-balance the opponent and put them on the defensive.
How to treat Ringworm and keep it from spreading.
Ringworm is deceptively named because it has nothing to do with a worm but is actually a fungus of same type as “athlete’s foot”. Ringworm causes a round-shaped scaly, crusted rash that can take a “ring-shape” at various stages. It does not always itch and may first start out as a vague, round shape. A physician would be able to identify the fungus by using a black light to view the affected area. The fungus will fluoresce (glow) under black light.
- Please don’t come to train. Stay off the mats!
If you even suspect that a skin infection you may have is fungal, PLEASE stay off the mat. It may be hard to accept this small break in training but ringworm is very contagious and you will not only spread the infection but delay the eradication of your own condition. Fungal spores spread further than just where you can see the tell-tale ring pattern. Do NOT just cover up the ringworm lesion you can see and come to train. You will still spread the fungus.
- Treat the ringworm immediately
The longer you wait to begin treatment the longer it will take to get rid of it. Several very effective over-the-counter anti-fungal creams are available and even stronger ointments can be obtained with prescription.
Continue using the anti-fungal cream for at least one week after the actual ringworm pattern is gone. Even after the infection appears to be no longer visible, the spores can still be dormant.
How to “Ringworm Proof” yourself.
- Shower after EVERY training!
No matter how tired and spent you are after a hard training session, do not ever, under any circumstances, skip a shower! Use a good quality bodywash (see below) or tea-tree oil based soap. It is not uncommon for Jiu Jitsu friends to go and eat and be merry after training but at the very least, wash your hands, arms, face and neck with good soap until you can get to a proper full-body shower later.
- Change/Wash Clothes, Gi and Bedsheets
If you are not already washing your gi, rashguard, kneepads, etc. after every training session, then you are being part of the problem! But once you actually identify that you have ringworm, also wash all your bedsheets and make sure to not re-wear any clothing form one day to the next.
- Jiu Jitsu Body Wash
A little gem of folk-wisdom I picked up while training in Brazil: Training in Rio gets hot and sweaty quickly. In the early days of Jiu Jitsu, going “sim kimono” (no gi) meant shedding the gi-top and forgoing the now-ubiquitous rash-guard. I learned that fighters (especially those training two sessions a day) would shower immediately after coming off the mats using a mentholated dandruff shampoo (like Selsun Blue).
The post training routine involves using this medicated shampoo as a body and hair wash, then allowing it to dry for a few minutes in the shower, before washing it off. Though the process may seem unscientific at first, it is good to note that the fungus that causes dandruff (Malassezia globosa) and the ringworm fungus can be considered cousins sharing many of the same characteristics. Try this simple home-remedy bodywash as a preventive measure or to supplement another anti-fungal prescriptive regimen.
If Jiu Jitsu can be truly called the game of Human Chess, then the choke is the ultimate checkmate. On the chessboard, the Mata Leao Choke (or “Lion Killer”) would be, as the name implies, the King (or King Slayer). As the patriarch of the Gracie Family, Granmestre Helio Gracie once said “For the choke, there are no ‘tough guys’.. .with an arm lock he can be tough and resist the pain.. With the choke he just passes out, goes to sleep.”
The choke takes its name from the tale of Hercules and his battle with the Nemean Lion of the impenetrable skin. Having discovered that this gigantic lion was impervious to sword or arrow, Hercules grappled the lion and choked it by wrapping the beast’s neck in his mighty arms. Though some of the contemporary Greek art depicts the stranglehold as something more akin to a modern Guillotine Choke, many artifacts depict a choke from the rear of the colossal lion.
The choke is often called the “Rear Naked Choke” or RNC as a translation from the Japanese hadaka jime which means “naked choke” (i.e. a choke not requiring the gi or kimono). It is important to note that what makes this choke effective and relatively safe is that the pressure is applied to the carotid arteries and not to the windpipe. It is blood flow restriction and not airflow restriction that brings about the incapacitation.
Not unlike the scenario faced by the mythological hero, to be successful at applying this choke requires sound knowledge of both proper positioning of the arms and achievement of positional dominance. Once this choke is locked in, unconsciousness is inevitable for the recipient.
Law Enforcement will often use a modified standing version of the Mata Leao or RNC that deemphasizes the role of the secondary hand but can still use the same pressure to induce loss of consciousness by safely constricting blood flow to the brain (not by constricting air flow). The “Lateral Vascular Neck Restraint” used by law enforcement uses the same principles to reach SAFE incapacitation.
Every finishing attack (submission) requires, in simplest terms, two key elements:
- Positional Dominance: management of the opponent’s body to allow maximum amount of attack pressure (to pin or control) and deny space for defense.
- Submission: Pain or incapacitation via Leverage and/or Pressure at the Fulcrum/Point.
1) Whether done from standing or from the ground, the Back Mount position must be first achieved. If on the ground, both feet must be turned into hooks that engage and lock to your opponent’s inner thighs to monitor and control his movement as he tries to turn into, away or stand up from the control.
2) Whether from standing or on the ground the SEAT BELT must be achieved. The arms are locked around the opponent’s shoulder and underarm with your upper chest sealed tight to their upper back in a position called the “Seat Belt” (like a car seat belt that traverses from shoulder to under the arm). Your chin is locked over your opponents shoulder.
This differs from the Law Enforcement “Lateral Vascular Neck Restraint” which is often initiated from standing with the head locked behind the shoulder/head and is used to bring suspect down to the ground in a controlled and safe position.
You can choose to maintain the Seat Belt Control position and opt not to choke your opponent or develop another submission from this position (i.e. Sliding Collar Choke, which can also be applied on a jacket or coat).
Note: the lower arm (“Underarm Hand”) should grip the “Over-the-Shoulder Arm” and not vice-versa. This allows you to still develop the Mata Leao when the opponent rips down your lower arm.
The arm positioning is critical in creating an air-tight seal for your opponent’s neck. From the Seat Belt Grip the “Over-the-Shoulder Arm” wraps around to the opponents far shoulder (not, as is often incorrectly executed, with the hand to your own bicep). Once your elbow is lined up under your opponents chin and with the centerline of his face, the secondary hand (the “Underarm Hand”) comes behind the opponents head. At this point the hand that is wrapped around the neck can reach for your bicep or even better your shoulder.
The opponent’s head is pushed forward with your rear hand and head while the arm flexes to apply pressure to both SIDES of the neck (at the carotid arteries).
Unconsciousness is reached for most between 6-15 seconds. Most people revive safely on without assistance almost as soon as Mata Leao pressure is relaxed or within 30 seconds.
You know this choke is being applied correctly to you if you are not feeling pain at your trachea or Adams Apple and you will know you are executing it correctly when your opponent taps painlessly or goes to sleep in your arms.
The long and arduous path to a Jiu Jitsu Black Belt is often compared to the academic track of an advanced university degree. The level of commitment, dedication and stick-to-it-ness needed are equal to if not greater than someone completing their PhD or pursuing a medical profession.
But many drop off this vaunted track before reaching their goal, never understanding why they did not progress through each “degree” (academic or Jiu Jitsu rank) and not realizing they sabotaged themselves through their own ignorance.
If you are not progressing through the ranks at a pace that you expect (especially in a modern age of instant-gratification), then you should self-monitor these important aspects of both academic and martial arts degree graduations.
1) Class Attendance- this does NOT just mean time “enrolled” in the course (like wine aging in the bottle). It means come to class and doing what needs to be done. (example: if one person has attended class 160 times in the last 5 months, you should not expect the same results or “grade” with only 40 classes in the same time period). In all academic coursework (and public education) attendance requirements are stipulated and required.
2) Knowledge of Standards – there is no mystery as to what you are expected to know and understand. All good teachers and courses provide the standards and expectations from day one. “Cramming” the information at the last moment has been proven ineffective in all areas of study, so learn your curriculum progressively.
3) Assessment – this means knowing the standards and when/how to apply them. There are different levels of expectations for every grade, but you either know them or need to work on them. A good instructor tells you what areas need help but it’s your job to do the work.
4) Benchmarks – comprehensive assessments at periodic intervals (ie. trainings/seminars). Some courses (ie academies) only offer a high-stakes pass/fail final. Others have mid-terms, tests, quizzes, etc. You may personally prefer one or the other but you don’t get to just “skip” it because you don’t like it and expect to graduate.
5) Tuition does not equal graduation – unless it is what is referred to as a “for-profit university”, don’t expect to magically get your diploma just because your tuition check cleared. Quality schools expect quality work. (ie same for academies).
Before asking your professor (at university or the dojo) if you are ready for promotion/graduation, evaluate your own performance and progress using these criteria.
On Saturday Oct 11th, 2014 Mestre Royler Gracie conducted another great seminar at Gracie Humaita North Carolina in the beautiful mountains of western North Carolina. Prof. Armando Basulto had over 40 Jiu Jitsu devotees on the mats to learn from the master himself on his annual visit.
Among the promotions that Mestre Royler presided over that day was a very special one. Christine Basulto, Prof. Armando’s wife and student of over 15yrs, was awarded her Black Belt in front of all present. This makes her the only Gracie Humaita Female Black Belt in the state of North Carolina and one of the few women Black Belts in the world who were promoted directly by Mestre Royler Gracie.
Royler Gracie addressed the assembled students to comment on Christine’s long-time commitment through the years and challenges. Christine had maintained her training and discipline through the birth of twin boys, graduate school degrees, work-related responsibilities and all while administrating the Basulto Academy of Defense full-time.
It is said that the Thousand Mile Journey begins with one step. Christine began training with Prof. Basulto not long after they met and married 20 years ago. As a NYC inner-city schoolteacher who had to travel late-night alone through-out the city, she was motivated to learn an effective martial art. At the original Basulto Academy of Defense in New Jersey, she was the only woman on the mats for many of her formative Jiu Jitsu years.
Christine was a Silver Medalist at the 1999 Royler Gracie Championships and was also a competitive kick boxer, being a member of the 2002 USA Savate Team to fight in Belgium (coached by Prof. Armando). When the couple moved to North Carolina to raise their newborn twins, she continued to train as often as she could while the new academy was established.
Today at Gracie Humaita North Carolina, Christine has assumed a leadership role, helping to develop women’s participation in the “arte suave” and organizing Women’s Self-Defense Seminars and running specialized “Women’s Training Nights” at the academy. Now the academy boasts a range of women fighters ranging from yellow belts to purple belts, all taking their first steps on their personal Thousand Mile Journey.
To those uninitiated in martial arts or those uninformed about real-world combative skills, the seemingly inferior position of a Jiu Jitsu player fighting off his back using his legs to control, entrap, submit or reverse an attacker seems a baffling way to handle an opponent.
When the Gracie Family created the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC) to showcase their art to the world, the general public watched with amazement as Royce Gracie fought, defeated and submitted several larger, stronger martial artists of various disciplines while fighting off of his back using a position called The Guard.
Master Carlos Gracie, Jr. explained the strategy and tactics of The Guard by using the analogy of a castle’s defensive walls:
“The Guard is like a fortress of a castle, a construction that gives security to Jiu Jitsu. He who has a solid wall to defend himself is better prepared for war. …From the top of the wall he can post his offensive arsenal.”
But The Guard is not intended as a place to simply hold and squeeze an opponent. In fact, letting the pace settle into a stalemate when an aggressive opponent is trying to attack will always leave the defender one step behind.
“But there is the possibility of lowering the drawbridge. You choose whether to fight with the bridge low or high. In a war the wisest path is to start the battle with the walls, completely blocking off your enemy.
"In the closed guard you are fighting with the opponent outside the walls. If the guy opens your guard, he lowers your bridge. It’s the threshold position, which obviously demands a new strategy."
"If he invades – that is, if he passes your guard and gets to the side – the battle starts developing inside your domain with you in a much more exposed position. It's gonna demand three times as much force to defend, but it doesn’t mean there’s no way out.”
One of the main tenets of Jiu Jitsu is becoming “comfortable in the uncomfortable.” Developing your Guard game, tactically and strategically, will take you past the level of mere survival and into the realm of victory.
Many years ago, while practicing a particularly complex move with a partner, the Master said to me, “One side will teach the other.” I assumed at first that he meant that my partner and I would help each other to learn the technique well. This was not the case at all. What the master was actually instructing me to do was to practice and internalize the technique on one side of my body before attempting to master it on the other side. The process of deconstructing a technique in order to learn it properly prepares the brain and body to review it and “teach” it to the other side of the brain/body.
There is very real proof of this phenomenon as documented by brain science studies and is referred to as Bilateral Skill Transfer. This refers broadly to the transfer of a skill learned on one side of the body to the other. For example, the acquisition of a particular skill involving the left side of the body (i.e. a Jiu Jitsu sweep, a boxing combination, etc) is accelerated if that skill set has already been mastered on the right side.
Think about the various ways that Bilateral Skill Transfer can be utilized in your training.
Apply this knowledge to avoid missing training due to injury; instead of completely exempting yourself from training, modify your practice to drilling and learning a skill on the “other side”. Forcing your brain/body to learn and practice a skill on the other (less dominant) side will actually benefit the injured side during the hiatus. Studies have even shown a transfer of strength bilaterally when training/practicing a skill on the uninjured side.
Tactically, mastering any combat skill bilaterally makes you an even more formidable opponent. Whether for competition or for self-defense, forcing your opponent to have to defend from completely different angles while maintaining your familiarity in defending from both sides gives a powerful strategic advantage. Since the majority of the population is right-side dominant and trained for mastery on that side, being able to attack as a “southpaw” is like having a secret weapon up your sleeve.
Since Lefties are so rare, opponents do not face them regularly and therefore have a very shallow "movement database" for reference. This gives southpaws what scientists call a “negative frequency dependent advantage”.
At the foil fencing competition in the 1980 Moscow Olympics, the entire six man pool of fencers in the finals was left-handed. French scientists Charlotte Faure and Michel Raymond have analyzed and found that there are higher rates of left-handedness in native societies with more hand to hand combat. Their studies have hypothesized that natural selection preserves a certain amount of left handiness, particular in males, as a combat advantage.
Some skill sets have particularities that require adjustments when transferring a technique or tactic from the dominant side to the weak side. For example, a Jiu Jitsu sweep may require an adjustment in grips and a punching/kicking combination may require different angling when facing an opponent in an “unmatched lead”.
When learning a new technique it is always better to concentrate all your energy on perfecting the set of movements and make adjustments on your dominant side. As the technique begins to reach the proficiency of “thoughtless automaticity”, then you should begin the process of having your dominant side teach your weaker side the technique. You may be surprised, in fact, to discover that your “off side” ends up being smoother and more effective since it has benefited from the Bilateral Skills Transfer.
Dedicated, focused and repetitive practice; It is an inconvenient reality that most people pursuing mastery (or just competency) of a skill don’t want to face. It takes concrete self-discipline and it’s much easier to make excuses about schedule, soreness/injuries or physical limitations (“I’m out of shape/too fat/not flexible enough”) than it is to “show up and put out the effort” training session after training session.
K. Anders Ericsson, a Swedish psychologist and one of the world's leading theoretical and experimental researchers on expertise, is credited with coming up with the 10,000 hours rule (it takes an average of 10,000 hours to achieve “elite-level mastery” in any given skill whether it is chess, music or Jiu Jitsu). The important thing to focus on is not the head-reeling number of hours needed but that it is “deliberate practice” that leads to improvement; i.e. “Practice doesn’t make Perfect; Perfect Practice makes Perfect”.
Nowhere do we see this precision practice leading to mastery demonstrated with more success than in historical records of ancient samurai. Samurai were conditioned to see great value in even the simplest of tasks (from the drawing of the sword from its scabbard to even innocuous things such as the tea ceremony or a stroke of the calligrapher’s brush).
Even the most basic of motions were repeated, with deliberate precision, over and over again until the movement seemed not only natural but innate.
Samurai of the Wood-Cutting School
Among the last generations of samurai was a teacher named Yamaoka Tesshu. At his dojo, he would have students spend the entire first year perfecting the overhand chop. This was full-time study – and an entire year spent practicing the same move every day.
Critics of Tesshu dubbed his dojo “The wood-cutting school” because of this practice.
There may have even been a reference to this as a double-entendre in Akira Kurosawa’s movie “Seven Samurai”; when we are introduced to (the character) Heihachi Hayashida he is chopping wood, later he introduces himself as a samurai “of the wood-cutting school.”
Ridiculous as it sounds, now and in his own time, Tesshu understood the importance of perfecting even the smallest actions. By having his students repeat the same action for a year, day in and day out, they could subconsciously execute the stroke with incredible strength and perfect technique, without even thinking about it.
- Paul Nowak
People are drawn to Jiu Jitsu for many reasons. Many come to learn self-defense and to empower themselves. Some are drawn to the sportive and competitive facet of the art and are interested in amassing medals and tournament victories. But everyone who steps on the mats knows that Jiu Jitsu is a very honest endeavor.
There are no short-cuts and no paths to self-delusion as to what you can or cannot do. You must put in the time and suffer through the daily grind. The repetition is to be found not just in the drilling of techniques but in the weekly cycle of just showing up to class.
But if the ELITE level Jiu Jitsu competitor must put in their 10,000 hours in order to compete against the best in their field, how much more dedicated should practitioners be when they consider that they train to achieve REAL WORLD competency to defend themselves or their loved ones? Daily practice for all should be approached in this manner.
Practice (Jiu Jitsu class) can be a fun and relaxing escape from the daily work/school schedule, but sustained, deliberate practice can at times feel like an endless grind if you don’t understand that not everything has to be “fun”. Sometimes the joy is in the work itself and the pursuit of incremental self-improvement.
The elite don’t just work harder than everybody else. At some point the elites fall in love with practice to the point where they want to do little else.
This article was originally printed in the Blackwater newsletter and by various Law Enforcement and Military Journals in the 1990's.
Prof. Armando training a special detachment of British Royal Marine Commandos.
Some coaches subscribe to the old saying: “Pain is the best teacher, but nobody wants to go to his class.” Though it should be obvious that nobody wants to train just to get hurt, there is much value in experiencing the “pain” of not only pushing yourself physically and mentally, but of preparing yourself for the physiological shock of the “give and take” of an altercation (in or out of the ring!). In other words, get used to getting hit…or “tapped”…or hit with a stick…or….
Warriors throughout history have made “experiential learning” part of their training. Men who prepared for war were expected to deal with the stress and shock of being on the receiving end of an enemy’s attack, but were expected to keep their wits and respond in kind. In knighting ceremonies, the newly minted knight was often struck a blow across the face with the admonition “let that be the last blow left unanswered!”
Medieval chronicles depict knights, emboldened by a chivalric code, religious fervor or courtly love, taking blow after blow, with lance or sword and continuing to fight, vanquishing their opponents before (often but not always) succumbing to their mortal wounds. Though at times these accounts could be exaggerated, the archeological evidence showing both weapons and men surviving after repeated battle abuse, show this was not a fantastic or even uncommon occurrence.
In more recent history, during the Civil War and the “Indian Wars”, the subject of the "Dead Man’s Ten Seconds" was often mentioned in accounts depicting battles. In many of these stories fighting men continued to fight heroically for ten or more seconds after taking a fatal blow, oftentimes mortally wounding and defeating their opponents before succumbing to their injuries.
The term “Dead Man’s Ten Seconds” appears in some early Western documentation (i.e. accounts of Texas Rangers, not Dime Novel idealism), depicting old gunfighters of the Frontier era receiving fatal wounds yet still out-firing their opponents.
In most of these gun battle encounters, from the time of the fatal hit to the time the lack of blood flow carrying oxygen to the brain caused loss of consciousness/death, was approximately ten seconds. Headshots of course in most cases take out the subject at once as expected. This happened enough that the term “Dead Man’s Ten Seconds” became part of the lingo and jargon of the Frontier.
Experienced fighting men of the period were aware of these “Ten Seconds”. One account (a first hand account in the book "A Texas Ranger" by N.A. Jennings, circa 1870’s) tells about two Texas Rangers that had a huge dislike for each other but, both handy with the gun, knew that the other
“…would have his "Ten Seconds" to do what he needed to do. I have heard several men tell another man in the heat of a bitter dispute to take his best shot if he wanted but he "Would have his ten" as well. I never witnessed it go past that point knowing full well they meant that they would follow thru.”
These “Ten Seconds” are far more common in a knife fight after a fatal wound, and in most cases it takes some time before the loss of consciousness is complete. Duels with Bowie knives were common during this same period and accounts of these fights in newspapers of the time tell of the combatants wounding each other over and over and continuing to fight (see “Duels and the Roots of Violence in Missouri”, by Dick Steward).
Two books, "Forensic Pathology" and "Gun Shot Wounds", both by Dr. Dominick J. DiMaio, Medical Examiner, discuss that if the central nervous system is not hit and the skeletal structure has not been damaged to the point that it cannot bear the weight of the body, a fatally hit human can still function for 10 seconds or longer.
In a gun battle, perhaps more than in unarmed combat, the most unpredictable component affecting reaction time and capability is the psychology of being shot. We are conditioned by TV and the movies to expect a person (and ourselves) to fall immediately and die instantly when struck by a bullet. As countless police videos will attest, this only happens with any surety in the movies. Many "one shot stops" occur because of the psychological trauma of being shot, regardless of the physical damage done. Of course, this assumes a certain degree of rationality, which can be absent due to drugs, alcohol and psychosis.
Michael Platt, who was involved in the FBI's “Miami Massacre” (1986), was hit with a non-survivable wound within seconds of the initial gunfire. He continued fighting and killed two agents, and managed to wound several more before dying. Ed Mirales, an FBI agent, was shot in the arm with a crippling round, yet was able to work the action on an 870 shotgun one handed, and end the fight.
Though most people are fortunate to have their knowledge of killing limited to TV and movies, police officers are trained to expect someone who has been shot to be capable of continuing the fight for some time (at LEAST 10 seconds) - certainly enough to empty the magazine on their weapon. With this in mind, law enforcement personnel (and our combat troops) are taught to keep firing as long as the bad guy continues to present a deadly force threat- i.e. they drop the weapon or lose consciousness.
The only shot that will instantly stop a fight is one which disables the central nervous system, (brain or spinal cord). Dr Martin Fackler, the director of the wound ballistics laboratory at the Presidio of San Francisco in the 1980's, did the definitive work on this subject (Wound Ballistics Review Volume 5 Number 1, Spring 2001). It followed the 1986 Miami FBI shootout, and helped the FBI (and others) reach decisions in handgun calibers and bullet design.
One of the conclusions of the study was that if the brain or upper cervical spines are hit, incapacitation is almost invariably immediate. If not, the bullet must create a large enough wound cavity and disrupt blood-bearing organs (lungs, heart, liver, spleen) and arteries to promote the rapid lose of blood and consciousness. Depending on the size of the wound cavity, organs involved, and rate of blood loss, incapacitation can take 10 seconds or longer.
In Basulto Academy’s Combat Pistolcraft curriculum, we always train both aimed fire and instinctual or “Point of Aim” fire. This is not only to accommodate the degradation in fine motor skills caused by the adrenaline rush but also to prepare one tactically and mentally for being able to return fire and “stay in the fight”, even after having received a wound.
This “Stay in the Fight” mindset is an attribute that must be developed and trained in all self-preservation scenarios. It is not simply the “get tough” attitude in dealing with training injuries or exhaustion. It is also a “trained familiarity” with the trauma of “getting hit” so that response time, accuracy and intensity are not effected.
My Muay Thai teacher instilled in his students the mantra of “take one, give two!” He was tough fighter in Thailand, his commitment so complete to the ring that he had a tattoo across his forehead (literally!) announcing his occupation as a fighter for all to see. Many of the blows received in the ring, whether it be a Savate match, a Muay Thai or boxing match, would put the average pedestrian down before the cameras would have time to take a picture. What makes fighters tough is their familiarity and acceptance of the blows as part of balancing that algebraic equation of “The Fight”.
Daily sparring is not enough (though it is a step in the right direction). For obvious reasons, you could only limit yourself to the “shock” of a particular intensity and/or scenario (unless you are willing to ask your training partner to shoot you or stab you weekly so “you can get used to it”!) What is required is also a complete realignment as to your expectations and limitations when the chips are down. You must develop your “Will to Survive” beyond the mere “tough guy” level.
Your mind must be sharpened to the commitment to “stay in the fight” regardless of pain or surrounding distractions. Visualization, before and after training, is essential, but your mindset while sparring or “rolling” or even at the firing range must be developed as well.
This can, and should be a self-managed part of your training, but a good coach will lead you to it without you even knowing it. You should incorporate this mindset development into all facets of your training.
• For starters, when sparring, never allow yourself to stop or quit before the round is over. Do a whole round where you are not allowed to punch or kick (only defense) followed immediately by a round where you respond to every hit by your opponent with 3 blows.
• When grappling, always roll for a predetermined time period (not until someone taps) and do not reset after each “tap” but rather have a mutual agreement that as soon as a submission is locked in, you immediately release and continue from that position.
• At the firing range, dedicate a portion of your time to point firing and not just target practice. A great drill is to do a set of Squats/Pushups to raise your heartrate, then immediately draw your weapon and fire.
Ultimately, the ideal is to feel confident in what your mental and physical state will be even when “traumatized”. Your ability to “stay in the fight” is important in a competitive sport environment, but in a self-preservation mode, your “ten seconds” could mean life or death for you and your loved ones. You owe it to yourself, and your loved ones entrusted to your care, to “Cowboy up”!
The idea that a Jiu-Jitsu practitioner cannot learn while injured due to his or her inability to drill new techniques or roll “live” is completely antiquated.
Humans have eight intelligences or means in which to solve problems and or create products (Gardner 1983). Of the eight, which are Verbal-Linguistic, Musical, Logical-Mathematical, Spatial, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, and Naturalist, three of these innate intelligences are directly related and weigh heavily as factors in a Jiu Jitsu student’s overall progression in the sport.
Of the three primary intelligences used in Jiu-Jitsu when injured, Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence is excluded since you are physically incapable of participating. Two other intelligences have a slightly more distant connection and warrant review. The following will explore the intelligences and how they are used in the study of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and more importantly how they will help you continue training while out of commission.
Logical-Mathematical intelligence allows individuals to utilize and comprehend abstract relationships. The fields of study that rely most heavily on this intelligence are Science, Mathematics, and Philosophy. Individuals with strong Logical-Mathematical intelligence are most capable of analyzing the various components of a problem set. Then they use their hypothesis to begin work on testing for a solution, and possibly changing their hypothesis if a solution is not reached with the model that they originally created.
If a Jiu-Jitsu student who possesses logical/mathematical intelligence approaches every position as a problem that has a solution, they can then begin to systematically break down the position and come up with a solution (a pass, sweep, submission, or escape) that matches the desired end result. Having to evaluate a teammate’s troubled areas, because you are unable (due to injury) to analyze what is problematic in your personal game, is beneficial. This holds true mainly because being on the sidelines offers you a different vantage point impossible to see when you are in the heat of the moment and can’t see the “big picture”. With even a small amount of adrenaline in your body, your perception of detail can and will be skewed.
For a “real life” example of this you need look no further then the ever so common occurrence in which a police officer walks into a situation, tries to question witnesses, and is given multiple accounts with various details of the same altercation (involved parties lying to protect themselves for legal purposes excluded). By looking at the big picture you can evaluate a sequence of events or even the minutest of details and fix its short comings, or optimistically add a new concept, technique or approach to your game that you previously hadn’t understood before you took time on the side lines.
Spatial intelligence is the second primary means of continuing your training while injured. People who are strong in this intelligence are able to mentally re-create, perceive or create visual information, then store it into their memory, and recall it as visual images when necessary. People who have a strong Spatial intelligence commonly “web” their ideas before writing a paper or making a decision (do Rickson’s BJJ webs start coming to mind?).
During every group class, most instructors demonstrate a set of new techniques, clearly demonstrating conceptual principals and detailed body mechanics and movements. This is the area where someone with strong Spatial intelligence will excel. By focusing on techniques as a chain of special relationships, or a mental slide show, they will be able to at the very least have the gross movements of the techniques, which they can later use to fine tune the technique once they have their doctor’s clearance. It is extremely important for this style learner to focus their attention during class in such a way that will help “etch” a picture in their mind’s eye.
These last two forms of intelligence I personally consider to be a secondary means of progress while injured, although an argument can be made to support them being of equal importance.
Individuals with strong Interpersonal intelligence thrive on small group work. Having access to groups is readily available in Jiu-Jitsu classes. If for any reason another student is having difficulty with the details of a technique while drilling, the injured student can verbally assist those in need. Coaching his or her teammates will keep the Interpersonally intelligent student sharp and keep their “mind in the game”. If you enjoy working in the group setting, you may want to ask your instructor if you can assist during class. However, first make sure you know your stuff, or you will end up forming bad habits in those you are trying to help, or somewhat even worse, loosing your own credibility.
The last of the intelligences that will have a positive effect on your game while injured is Intrapersonal intelligence. Intrapersonal intelligence is recognizable in someone who is effectively able to capitalize on their strengths and truthfully assess their weaknesses. It is of the utmost importance for all those who participate in Martial arts, the grappling arts especially, to recognize their weaknesses. When you have identified your weaknesses it is now time to begin work on correcting your shortcomings. Again, this will have to be done by living vicariously through your team members. If your weakness is sweeps from the guard, watch the approach used by a friend who has tight sweep game when they are in your position of frustration. Again even understanding the gross body movements of a technique is a definite step towards success, which later can be adapted to fit your particular style and body type.
Another method to improve using this process is to simply borrow or purchase instructional videos that address what it is you are looking for. It must be understood that you cannot expect to have the techniques completely ironed out at the time of your return, but the large concept and body mechanics will come after a short time of drilling.
More likely than not you posses an amalgam of each of the above intelligences, so it is important to use all of the defined methods to enhance your training while injured or not. You will certainly find it extremely frustrating to sit against the wall while everyone around you is doing that which you love most, but you will certainly thank yourself for the temporary mental anguish once you return to the mat and quickly come to realize that you have not lost as much in your game as you had originally predicted.
I must stress two methodologies of the utmost importance that you should practice while injured.
1. The first being strict note taking. Taking notes - as detailed as possible- will allow you to revisit everything you had “physically” missed once you return, and will be a concrete outlet for you to mentally delve into Jiu-Jitsu.
2. Secondly, by going home and revising your notes you will be able to practice the second of my endorsements, that being mental Jiu-Jitsu. Simply take time to close your eyes, and envision yourself performing the moves you had seen earlier that evening. This will help trick your body into believing it has actually preformed tasks that it has yet to try. All professional sports coaches use a variety of non-kinesthetic activities to enhance their players’ performance. It is now your turn.
Joseph Tardio is an experienced educator and long-time student of Jiu Jitsu. He was one of the original students of Basulto Academy of Defense in New Jersey and is now a Brown Belt under Prof. Chris Savarese.
Normally, in a school classroom, you learn and then you are given a test. In Jiu Jitsu, first you are given a test and then you learn. This happens every single day you are on the mats.
In Jiu Jitsu, students are often asking the Professor, “What do I need to work on?” or “How am I doing?” With so many aspects to Jiu Jitsu to work on (attack, submissions, guard passing, self-defense) it can be overwhelming to choose which areas to prioritize in your training. Sometimes, this can also just be a student’s thinly-veiled version of the question “When can I be promoted to the next belt?”
To outside observers of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu culture, especially in its early days in the United States, it appeared that students were promoted to the next belt once they began to “tap the upper belts” during “rolling/randori”. This misconception was further reinforced by the lack of standardized “promotion tests” that many other martial arts conduct for their students (and which many Jiu Jitsu academies now implement).
What an observer cannot perceive is that in each and every academy the Professor/Coach is closely monitoring each student for his or her own individualized development and progression, regardless of how they are faring against others in the academy. So the student is being tested (or assessed) every day in class. This is how a student progresses individually in skill, knowledge and consequently, belt grade.
Belt promotions are simply away of assessing your progress in Jiu Jitsu. There are some basic “minimum times” stipulated for belt promotions (usually based around a practitioner that is taking an average 3 classes a week) and attendance at special seminars or training sessions is generally expected but most important is the technical knowledge and tactical application of the various positions.
All of the students at most reputable Gracie Jiu Jitsu Academies are expected to be very familiar with the approximately 104 techniques of the Gracie Fundamentals curriculum, with progressive mastery expected through the higher belts. In addition, the practitioner should be able to demonstrate knowledge and application of defense, submissions, escapes, takedowns and guard passes. But how is a student of the arte suave to keep track of everything he or she needs to know? The best way to build your knowledge base is to organize all the techniques into categories and make sure you are familiar and comfortable with as many as possible.
Categorize the different positions (Guard, Mount, Side Control, etc.) and then know your Attacks and Defenses for each one. For example, a White Belt should have the ability to recognize the fundamental sweeps from the Guard as he is approaching the time to transition to Blue Belt. A Blue Belt should be able to recognize how to set-up those fundamental sweeps from variations.
A sample list of sweeps from the Guard might look like this:
Fundamental Guard Sweeps
- Scissor Sweep
- Hip Bump Sweep
- Elevator Sweep
- Pendulum Sweep
- Sickle Sweep
- Knee Push Sweep
You could start to develop a list of submissions from the Guard:
Fundamental Guard Submissions
- Cross-Collar Choke
- Arm-Hook Collar Choke
- Straight Armlock
Start creating your categories of techniques and check yourself for which ones you know and which ones you need help with. Oftentimes, the Coach or Professor will be watching you “roll” and coach you to do a “Hip Bump Sweep” from your current position. Can you recognize the position and how to capitalize on it? Is your technique structurally sound? Were you even able to identify a “Hip Bump Sweep”?
That is the way to self-monitor your progress and know “how you are doing”. That is your real test and you take it every day you step on the mats.
All photos courtesy of Dawn Arneach.