Jiu Jitsu, the antidote to bullying.

If you have met me or heard my story, you will know that it started way back in primary school, where I was a victim of school yard bullying.

Mine was not the atypical, Hollywood style ‘give me your lunch money or I’ll beat you up’ bullying. I don’t actually recall the full reasons, but to me it seemed that my circumstances were the cause of the taunts, name calling, pranks and beat downs. Based on who and what I was and probably various other factors I wasn’t even aware of, I was picked on and often beaten up by fellow class mates. Maybe I wasn’t ‘cool’ enough. Maybe I was a nerd. Maybe my sense of humour wasn’t understood or appreciated. Honestly, I can’t remember.

What I do remember was how if affected me as a person, both my confidence and my desire to fit in. It also lead me (eventually) to Jiu Jitsu. It is one of the main reasons I become an instructor, to be in a position to reach children who are experiencing the same things I did.

As an adult, I can look back at the (some vague, but still there) memories of bullying attacks and each time I can see how knowing Jiu Jitsu as a boy would have helped me in these situations.

  1. Jiu Jitsu techniques (especially the Bully Proof programme) are taught in a fun, safe, playful environment, so that as a child you not only learn how to defend yourself, but get some good healthy exercise at the same time.
  2. Jiu Jitsu teaches you how to control and subdue an attacker without inflicting any injury on them while doing so.
  3. Once you know how you can deal with a bully, physically if you need to, you now have the confidence to stand up to them.
  4. This confidence leads to the ability to shrug off any taunts that are directed at you in the first place, never having to place yourself in a situation where you have to defend yourself anyway.

If I had one wish, it would be to have enough time and resources to teach every single child in the country the art of Jiu Jitsu.

For now, I’ll happily settle on reaching every child in my community.

Jiu jitsu, the best form of self defence for women?

Walk into any GJJ/BJJ gym/club/school and take a look at the split between genders. I’ll guarantee that it’s probably a male to female ratio of something like 1 in 10. Perhaps more. Why is this the case? If jiu jitsu is supposed to be a good form of self defence for women, why don’t more women take part?

The answers to this question lie partly in the following article by Eve Torres, a model/actress/performer who also trains Gracie Jiu Jitsu, is currently married to Rener Gracie and teaches the Gracie Women Empowered programme at Gracie Academy in LA.

In my short experience as an instructor some, if not all, of the following reasons are common.

  1. Ladies don’t want to take part in a sport where you willingly allow someone, possibly a strange man, into your personal space.
  2. Jiu Jitsu tends to attract males to the sport, and it can be intimidating for a women to train in this environment.
  3. It’s not really fun or feminine rolling around on the ground getting sweaty.

In the old days of the original Gracie Academy in Brazil, the idea of a group class didn’t exist. All lessons were done in a private class format. As long as the student felt comfortable with the instructor, the lesson was held. This would have made it much easier for a woman to learn the defensive techniques of Gracie Jiu Jitsu.

For those ladies who want to learn some form of self defence, but find it hard to make that first step, I have some advice I can offer.

  1. Take the first class with someone you trust. A husband, boy friend, good friend, cousin, brother, sister, mom, whoever. There is nothing easier than attempting something strange and scary with a partner.
  2. As much as it is hard to allow someone into your personal space, remember that a would be attacker will not have a problem with it. You are better off having already experienced this with someone you trust, than your personal space being invaded by an unknown attacker.
  3. Make sure you ask any and all questions that come to mind. The instructor is there to help you not only learn the technique, but also to tailor it to your specific strengths and weaknesses.
  4. Ignore the rolling. I’ve said this before, but if you search ‘Brazillian Jiu Jitsu’ online I guarantee you will come across a bunch of links of sweaty men rolling around in pajamas. This is only one aspect of jiu jitsu. Do yourself a favour and take a look at the Gracie Women Empowered programme to see how jiu jitsu can be applied in real life situations

Finally, if you do take the big step in trying out jiu jitsu, and it really isn’t for you, then don’t give up. There are many other martial arts/self defence programmes out there that may suit you better.

The old saying, ‘rather be safe than sorry, applies. Rather learn some self defence and not need it, than not learn anything and need it one day.

5 Tips to get ready for your Blue Belt assesment

The blue belt is probably the most important and, I believe, coveted belt in Jiu Jitsu. It is the first belt you have to ‘grade’ for and indicates that you have progressed from the rank of beginner and can now start your journey towards mastery of the art.

I’ve had the opportunity to take my blue belt assessment three times. Not that I failed any of them, the first was my actual blue belt test, the second was to qualify to be accepted into Gracie Jiu Jitsu Cape Town’s Instructor programme and the third was to be accepted into the Gracie Academy’s Instructor programme. As such I feel I can confidently say I am qualified to advise what is required to pass your blue belt assessment with flying colours.

1) Get a good bad guy.

The most important aspect if your assessment is not how well you know the techniques, but how well your bad guy does. The assessment is aimed at testing your reflexes against the most common forms of attack, as detailed in the Combatives programme. If your bad guy does not know and understand all the attacks, as well as how to effectively and, most importantly, realistically present them to you, you stand as good a chance of failing as you do if you don’t know the techniques well enough.

The best kind of bad guy is either someone you have trained with extensively, another blue belt, or your instructor. Remember however that your instructor may not be available to be your bad guy as he will probably be the one filming the drills, so rather make sure you have someone else in mind.

2) Know your techniques.

I know this sounds pretty obvious, but it actually isn’t. I’ve had the opportunity to assist a few students over the course of the past 3 years with their assessment preparation and believe me, a lot of people who think they know the techniques well are surprised at how many key details they have missed or forgotten (myself included).  The human brain can only process so much extra information so unless you are training techniques for 1 or 2 hours every day, some pieces of information get lost.

Not only that, but knowing the descriptive names of the techniques will go a long way to assisting your execution of them in a timed drill.

Your best course of action, if you can’t train every day,  is to review the Combatives videos (either via DVD or online) as much as possible. Even to this day I often review techniques when preparing a lesson and I pick up little details I have forgotten.

3) Use your time wisely.

We all love rolling. It’s one of the most fun things in Jiu Jitsu. But there is ample time to roll once you have your blue belt. While you are preparing for your assessment use any spare time (even rolling time) to practice and review your techniques or assessment drills.

When I took my first assessment, my training partner Duncan and I gave up our rolling time to practice our assessment drills. Even if it is only one rolling session per class you give up, it will be worth it in the long run.

4) Time yourself.

Each of the five assessment videos needs to be filmed within 5 minutes. Trust me, you don’t want to find out on filming day that you can’t do the techniques for a drill within that time. Before you even book your assessment day, make sure you have at least completed all 5 drills within the time limits.

5) Instructor input.

This is not a requirement, but once you have completed all 4 steps above, I suggest booking one (or two if required) private classes with your instructor. Often he/she will be able to give you pointers in areas that you haven’t thought of, or pickup critical errors you aren’t aware of, just because they a) know the techniques well and b) are seeing your execution of the techniques from a different perspective.

If nothing else, it will help break that fear of doing the drills in a timed environment while someone else is watching. Stage fright can be a game changer come assessment day.

And finally, above all else, remember to always, always, ALWAYS stand up in base!

Excerpts from my self defence talk at the last Girl Geek Dinners in Cape Town

I recently had the opportunity to do a short self defence talk at the March Cape Town Girl Geek Dinner

Below is an abridged version of that talk.

“Hi my name is Jonathan, I am a developer, gamer, geek, husband and dad. And from the age of about 5 to about 13, because of my nature and circumstances, I was bullied at school. This led me in my adult life to find something that would give me the tools to defend myself and the confidance to be to do so. I found these answers in Gracie Jiu Jitsu.

Before I start I want to ask two questions

1) How many of you have a plan for backing up your data/work files

2) How many of you have a plan for if you are attacked in the street/driving home/in a mall

Isn’t it sad that most of the room have a plan for question 1, but only a handful of people in this room have a plan for the question 2.

Because I am talking specifically to ladies tonight I want to talk about the reasons that women typically dont do self defence. I refer to the following article, where Eve Torres, WWE performer and Gracie Jiu Jitsu student talks about why she didn’t want to ever take a self defence class : http://bemoxie.org/why-women-dont-learn-self-defense/

1) I didn’t think it would happen to me. I thought I was pretty vigilant and aware of my surroundings.

2) Even if it did happen to me, I wouldn’t really be able to defend myself. All the kicking and striking in the world couldn’t incapacitate a larger attacker, especially since I couldn’t even hold my own against my younger brother at the time!

3) I didn’t want to look stupid, or get hurt training. I was already putting my body at risk with the work I was doing in the ring with WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment), and I couldn’t afford an injury.

4) It didn’t appear that fun or feminine. I would much rather take a dance class or hit the gym on my own.

The truth of it is that Gracie Jiu Jitsu is the only self defence program that I have found that requires no previous experience, that deals specifically with being attacked by a larger, stronger assailant, that will not result in injury during training and that is loads of fun.

Before I end off, I’d like to list the reasons why I, as a geek, think Gracie Jiu Jitsu is the ultimate form of self defence for other geeks:

  1. We like elegant solutions to problems
  2. We don’t like to reinvent the wheel
  3. Mostly (pause for sarcastic smile) we are not the biggest fans of exercise regimes
  4. We are methodical and apply a methodical approach to our work and lives
  5. We like structure and a structured approach to problem solving

Gracie Jiu Jitsu fits into all of these criteria

Thank you and good night”

What I learned from the Metamoris Pro Invitational

1) Take out the points and give a longer time limit and you will see some great submission finishes.

2) Keeping it too playful can go too far and put you in a really bad position.

3) Even the boogeyman can be defeated by good technique

3) Arm bars can be escaped from but only when you are in a competition/rolling environment. Faster hip pressure and that arm snaps.

4) Sometimes even World Champions can be sore losers.

5) If Rener Gracie was so badly injured that he could no longer practice jiu jitsu, he definitely has a career in sports/jiu jitsu/MMA commentary.

6) Next time, I’ll wake up early and watch the replays, not the live stream (the time delay between the US and SA is just too much).

All in all a great jiu-jitsu tournament, I am starting to look forward to the next one.

KeepItReal vs KeepItPlayful

Very recently, Ryron Gracie, head instructor of Gracie Academy has started being promoting something he has called the KeepItPlayful Movement.

In essence, the ideals of the KeepItPlayful movement are aimed at teaching students of the art of Gracie Jiu Jitsu to never allow egos to dominate their sparring/training. By keeping it playful during a sparring session, one’s aim is never to dominate your opponent with the goal of submissions only. Instead you and your opponent allow each other to experiment with jiu jitsu, or as Ryron calls it, to ‘play’ jiu jitsu. In this manner both of you learn something new about yourselves/your opponent/the techniques, while at  the same time you are able to train with a vast majority of opponents, without running out of steam or injuring yourself.

This is a mindset that I have been in agreement with for some time now and anyone who has read this blog will attest to that. In all my sparring sessions my goal is to keep it as relaxed as possible, so that I can learn more about my jiu jitsu and the jiu jitsu of my opponent.

However it is important to remember that sometimes when keeping it playful you can often forget that you also need to keep it real, a sentiment that both Ryron and his brother Rener Gracie have installed in many jiu jitsu students who have watched their videos or participated in a seminar or class with either of them.

Keeping it real shifts the focus of jiu jitsu to the self defence applicability of the techniques and ensures that you are also spending some of your training time in honing your self defence skills. Does this technique ensure that I am preventing a knock out punch? Can I maintain this position against a larger, stronger opponent? Would this work if my life depended on it?

In my humble opinion both mindsets are valid in the right circumstance. I think it is great the Ryron is promoting the KeepItPlayful Movement.

However we should never forget the importance of KeepingItReal. In my/an ideal world, Rener would be promoting the KeepItReal movement in parallel to Ryron’s KeepItPlayful movement, reminding us all of both sides of the Gracie Jiu Jitsu coin…

 

The ‘don’t tap me’ philosophy and why it hinders your progress.

I’ve recently had the opportunity to cross train with members of various other local jiu-jitsu schools.

It has been quite an interesting experience training with students of other styles and understanding their fighting mindset. It allows me to broaden my jiu-jitsu by trying out my techniques on someone who would not react in the same manner as a fellow student at my school. I’ve learned so much more about myself than about the various people whom I have sparred with.

The one thing that I have seen a lot is what I like to call the ‘don’t tap me’  philosophy. In basic terms this is where someone who is in danger of getting into a submittable situation uses their speed/strength advantage to power out of a bad situation instead of relying on technique. Its great for them as it means they don’t loose by being submitted. But they don’t learn anything in the process.

Lets go a little deeper.

Lets say you are stronger than your current opponents and every time someone sets up a twisting arm control you use your strength to power out of the control. You dont want to be in twisting arm control, because you know it probably means an arm bar, so you feel good. You have successfully defended the arm bar attack. The next time your opponent sets up twisting arm control you power out again. Life is good. Every time you use strength to power out of the twisting arm control you are saving yourself from being arm barred.

But what if one day your opponent is bigger, heavier or stronger than you. What if he is more skilled and can negate your power move simply by using his better technique. Now you cannot power out of the twisting arm control. Suddenly you are in an arm lock threat position you have never been in before. You cannot use your strength and you have no defence to the next step, the inevitable arm bar.

Now, had you decided somewhere in the past to allow someone to get twisting arm control, you would have experienced what it was like to be there. You could have determined what your defence options are. Maybe they went for the arm bar and you spent some time in that position and learned some way to defend the arm bar. Or maybe they got the arm bar but you saw an openinng you could have used and promised yourself to you would try that next time. Or maybe you just learned a better way to get an arm bar.

Everytime you get into a ‘bad’ position, a submission threat, under top mount, under side mount, you are learning how to defend, escape or use those techniques. Every time you learn how to defend or escape or use those techniques you add another tool to your toolbox.Everytime you add a tool, you have more tools to unleash on your future opponents, giving you the edge every time.

The ‘don’t tap me’ philosophy may mean you don’t loose on the mat, but how it affects what you learn (or don’t learn) about jiu-jitsu and about yourself is worth more than any submission you might give away.

Helio Gracie fight philosophy backed up by science

 

(by James Smart, co owner and head instructor at Gracie Jiu Jitsu Cape Town)

In the Jiu Jitsu world, we know about the changes that Helio Gracie made to Japanese Ju Jitsu. By using leverage he made it more useable by a smaller weaker person and he incorporated live sparring. Some also know that he had a strategy of not losing the fight.  Helio figured that if he did not lose the fight, then in by default his opponent in his attempt to beat Helio would defeat himself, either through exhaustion or through making a mistake.  Others may know that Helios’ sense of preparation or planning for the fight gave him and his family an edge. At the stage of creating these philosophies some 80 years ago, what Helio could not have known, is that in years to follow science and research would prove  that his strategies where sound.

I will now attempt to break down each element of Helio’s strategy and thinking, to show how it makes 100% sense scientifically.

Changes to Japanese Ju Jitsu

Having done Japanese Ju Jitsu for many years, when I started Gracie Jiu Jitsu I found the difference to be subtle but significant. In Japanese Ju Jitsu there are many small joint lock and locks that require great accuracy of finger and thumb placement to be able to make them effective, in Gracie Jiu Jitsu this finite manipulation was excluded. The joint locks are on larger body parts i.e. the elbow, knee, shoulder and use much larger body parts to do the lock i.e. the whole arm, two hands etc. Another marked difference I found was that in Japanese Ju Jitsu, a very lager number of techniques had to be “set up” with a series of other movements and to “soften your opponent”. In Gracie Jiu Jitsu this did not seem so necessary.

So how does this apply to being able to fight more effectively and to science?

In a fight situation it is well known that the fighter’s heart rate goes up and you become stressed. How stressed will be talked about later, but your stress levels will affect many psychological and physiological abilities. At just 115 Beats Per Minute (BPM) your Fine Motor Skills deteriorate, at only 145 BPM your Complex Motor Skills deteriorate. What does that leave you with…………..Gross Motor Skills!

Now might be a good time for me to clarify what the different Motor Skills are that are relevant to this article.

Fine Motor Skills – Skills that are performed by small muscle groups, such as hands and fingers and frequently involve hand-eye coordination. In a fight situation a fine motor skill would include an action requiring hand-eye coordination such as catching someone’s moving hand in a wrist lock.

Gross Motor Skill – These are movements that generally involve large muscle groups or large movements. In fight, a gross motor skill, would include pushing, pulling or two handed gripping.

Complex Motor Skill – Complex Motor Skills are skills which involve hand-eye coordination, timing or tracking and have multiple technique components. An example of a Complex Motor Skill in a fight would be a Double Leg takedown.

So how does all of this relate to Gracie Jiu Jitsu – Gracie Jiu Jitsu in general, is made up of Gross Motor Skills. An Arm Bar, a Body Fold Takedown are all largely Gross Motor Skill techniques. Whether by Genius or by instinct, Helio Gracie when creating Gracie Jiu Jitsu, must have realised that the fine motor skills required for many martial arts to work, were simply too hard to do in a real fight. Yes, there are some Complex Motor Skill techniques in Gracie Jiu Jitsu, and to be able to solve all problems there has to be, but as for Fine Motor Skill, I can’t think of any.

If you take into account that Jogging is considered a 60 to 65% of maximum heart rate activity (with no stress) which means your heart rate will be somewhere around 130 t 140 BPM. In fight, you would have already lost or seriously diminished your ability to use fine and complex motor functions. I added “with no stress” in there because stress does play a part that I will explain. So, consciously or subconsciously, I can see that Helio thought, (maybe not using these terms) it is guaranteed in an attack situation that my heart will elevate, it’s almost guaranteed that it will be above 115BPM. So in a fight, if all I have will have at best is gross and complex motor skill, it makes sense for me to only train techniques that include complex and gross motor skills!

Sparring

The next of Helios strategies, that I believe came more from Judo than Ju Jitsu (but please don’t shoot me if I’m wrong) was Sparring or what today we commonly call Rolling. During a fight our cognitive ability (think, prioritize, understand, plan, remember, and solve problems) deteriorates at about 175 BPM. Only using gross motor skills will combat this deterioration to a degree due to the fact that they do not require so much cognitive ability to bring into operation. However, many skills and even more situations do require a cognitive process. The question then is, if we know our stress and heart rates are going to rise. How can we make the cognitive process easier? In many martial arts we are taught a technique and then we drill it 20 times, 50 times, 100 times, often depending on how dedicated you are as a student. The problem is that in most cases, the drilling of a single technique does not teach us when that technique should be applied in a real environment. This means that, when the day comes that the fighter is “in fight” has a heart rate of 175BPM and sees an attack, the process of selecting the correct technique is very slow due to the fact that it is the first time the brain has had to process that information and make that selection.

Helio incorporated Sparring into the learning process, and in fact in more recent years, Reflex Development and Fight Simulation has also been included in the training process by Ryron and Rener. How does this benefit the student? In sparring and even more so in Reflex development and Fight Sim, we are not only practising the techniques, but we are incorporating them into a cognitive learning process. Our brain is processing the information, recognising the problem, building pathways for that program to be recalled quickly and solving new problems all in a relatively comfortable environment. In fact, studies have show (known as the Inverted-U Hypothesis) that between 115BPM and 145BPM cognitive processing is working at its’ best. So by doing a Fight Simulation and not accelerating the heart rate too high, we are able to optimize that learning process and give the brain and the body the reflexes to respond quickly when being attacked.

Not Losing

In Helios strategy of not losing he had 2 tactics. Firstly, it was to not make a mistake, to allow the opponent to do all the trying to win and eventually for the attacker to make a mistake. The second tactic was about being comfortable no matter where he was. Helio was comfortable underneath the mount on anyone. He had been under the mount on some of the best fighters of his day and not lost. If he was comfortable under Ricksons mount, then how could he not be comfortable under anyone’s.

Both of these strategies link into the same effect. Helio by being comfortable underneath was able to stay calm, keep his heart rate and stress levels at a level where he could use his Gross Motor Skills, Complex Motor Skills and Cognitive processing at its’ most effective. Conversely, his opponent by being on top, unable to beat Helio and not comfortable underneath, resulted in frustration which would send his heart rate through the roof. The fighter would be losing his Fine Motor Skills (which many martial arts rely on) deteriorating his Complex Motor Skill and have diminished Cognitive processing, resulting in a mistake, leaving the Calm and relaxed Helio to finish the fight.

We have all felt these effects when sparring normally in two ways. Firstly when we roll with someone we think we should be able to beat, we then try harder, stressing more and putting pressure on ourselves to be the victor. As a consequence, our brain freezes and we end up not being able to beat that person. Secondly, when we roll with someone we think can beat us. We get mounted, are not comfortable, get stressed, try to escape when we shouldn’t, make a dumb mistake that we would not normally do (this dumb mistake is the result of extreme stress and called Hyper Vigilance) and get tapped out.

Preparation

Preparation can be seen in two main ways in Gracie Jiu Jitsu both ways giving the same very important result. Firstly we see that Helio prepared for a fight by having a plan. He knew he was not going to exchange punches, he knew he was going to close the distance, take his opponent to the ground, maintain and or improve his position and then submit his opponent. Having a clear plan gave Helio confidence, it decreased his stress before and during the fight. Stress level has a direct affect on the heart rate, the greater the stress the more elevated the heart rate. Reducing this had the effect of reducing his heart rate and as we now know, this resulted in him being able to perform better in the fight.

Preparation also has another benefit, in Fight Simulation classes we prepare by exposing ourselves to a simulated stress of our opponent trying to hit us. More recently we have included some “stress drills”. Both having our opponent trying to hit us and the stress drills has one main effect. It changes our perception of firstly that we can protect our self against the punches and secondly we become comfortable with how exhausted we will feel in a full on fight.

When someone learns to swim they learn in the shallow end of a swimming pool. Once they can swim in the shallow end they move to the deep end of that same swimming pool. Nothing has really changed in the swimming part, the only thing that has changed is that the student knows they can’t touch the bottom. However, the students stress levels will elevate because there perception of the associated danger of not being able to touch the bottom is greater. Once the student can swim in the deep end confidently they may well move to the Ocean. What happens to their stress level? It goes up again, simply due to the associated danger of the open ocean. Now if the student goes back to the deep end of the swimming pool, they have significantly less stress, simply because the perception of the danger has changed.

Fight Simulation and planning has the same effect of swimming in the Ocean, it changes our perception of the associated danger, decreases our stress level, decreases our heart rate and in turn makes us more able to use our Complex and Gross Motor Skills and our Cognitive processes.

Bringing it all together

Helio was not only ahead of his time with regards to the development of Gracie Jiu Jitsu Techniques, but also with his mindset. Somehow, Helio may have figured out that his ability to learn to defend himself in the shortest possible space of time, revolved around not only leverage, but a number of other key elements. He majored on techniques that used Gross Motor Skills. He created training methods that keep stress levels low enough to use cognitive abilities and strategies to speed up cognitive processing. Helio  kept the heart rate low enough to be able to use Complex Motor Skills and finally, he developed methods to change his perception of the of danger he was in.

This information was collated and transferred into a Gracie Jiu Jitsu context by James Smart. The main source of information and scientific studies was Bruce K. Siddle excellent book – Sharpening the Warrior’s Edge.

The death of the survival instinct

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will have by now noticed a common thread in most of my posts. You should be familiar with phrases like “respect the punch” and “the self defense philosophy”. All these things point to what I see as the key aspect of Gracie Jiu Jitsu; that of self defence first.

For me, jiu jitsu is about defending myself. If I can’t defend myself against an attacker, then I am wasting my time. It is all well and good competing and testing myself against live opponents in a controlled environment but when my back is against the wall I want to be sure that I have skills that will prevent me from being taken out. The key to this is in the way I train. Am I aware of what techniques work and don’t work in a street fight situation? Am I able to determine what my attacker would typically do and be able to “convince” him to react to me the way I want him to?

This become really clear to me recently when I had the oppurtunity to spar (in a fight sim class) with a blue belt from outside our academy whose training is (what I consider to be) competition based jiu jitsu. As is normal in these fight sim classes, my aim as the agressor was to attempt to punch my opponent (specifically in the face) while he used jiu jitsu to defend himself. As our session progressed I found that, contrary to anyone else trained at our academy, I was easily able to land (light) punches to his head and face, specifically those areas that would lead to knockout blow at full pace.

To me this was almost unfathomable! That someone who had a similar (if not longer) period of jiu jitsu training under his (pardon the pun) belt would have such holes in his defense! It was as if even his built in survival instinct had been replaced with the desire to get a technical submission, above all else. I realised that there would be white belts in our academy who would have better self defense skills.

So this leads me back to the question that crops up from time to time. Look at your training. Are you training for a real situation, or three five minute rounds? Are you training with the constant threat of punches, kicks or worse being thrown at you or are you just training for the next competition?

Are you keeping it real? Because it you aren’t, on the day that it becomes real, you may have to find out the hard way…