Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Living up to the name

I'm well aware that while I go by the moniker 'bjjmissionary' on this blog, most of the posts have centered around Judo, and not BJJ. This is something I found odd myself and I did some thinking last night while listening to a live jazz performance at 'No Black Tie'

Now, there is definitely no lack of interest on my part in Jits. I have Eddie Bravo's book on the Rubber guard next to my bed, and a Joe Moreira thome on side control nearby as well. I even fell of my bed a few days ago practising a roll-out. So as far as obsessions go...well, I'm a pretty sick puppy

But I have a definite bent towards Judo at the moment in terms of practice and I think I've worked out why.

Judo practice for want of a better word, is more fun. It is ironic as there is a language barrier between myself and most of the players there (they are chinese educated and my spoken cantonese veers between horribly atrocious and incomprehensible). Definitely, it's not the environment - a small, dusty corner dojo that might have been designed in space starved Hong Kong.

Yet, the strangest thing is that I'm pretty sure I enjoy it because of one simple fact. In judo, you can throw people over your shoulder - and they expect to be thrown. Sure, you fight for it not to happen but if it does, no big shakes, no tantrums and you just keep on doing randori. This goes for everybody - from the most senior sensei to the whitest white belt. Throw, be thrown and enjoy it.

This seems to be missing from BJJ. Ironically, I used to hear the slogan "In BJJ, we leave our ego at the door". Sadly, I don't see much of this in reality. I guess because in recent years. BJJ has taken on a very much air of competition and dominance. In a roll, everyone's going for a submission - and that's the money shot.

If you don't get it - you start questioning your validity as a blue, purple or whatever belt. So if your whole sense of self-worth lies on whether someone makes you tap; you get an atmosphere that is as far removed from that idealistic slogan in the first place. You fight the tap out of insecurity, you seek the tap because of it as well.

Please don't argue with me that BJJ is more competitive and that there are competitions, so you have to be more ruthless. Judo is an Olympic sport and there are more full time judo competitors out there compared to BJJers.

When was the last time you gave the tap to someone. Not once, but over and over again? When was the last time a higher belt or an instructor gave you the submission - not in drilling but in sparring? Drilling doesn't count, it allows you to maintain that unspoken power heirachy ("Oh, I let you tap me because it's a drill" ). But in sparring, now the mask comes off and we're going to see what your self-esteem rests on...

So, the most honest thing I can say is that I don't enjoy BJJ as much anymore because of the way it is structured these days. It has become a way for upper middle class kiddies (because it is expensive vis-a-vis other arts) to get their mini-power trip. People talk about being a 'target' when you get your blue belt. Good grief, Where did all this nonsense come from?

I don't remember being a target for anyone when I went up the Judo belt heirachy and I certaintly didn't think that just because I hit brown, that I was within hitting distance of the black belts. In fact, it was the opposite - I suddenly saw them as further away. And the feeling was indeed humbling.

Chris Hauter has been the only BJJ black belt that I've had those positive vibes about as someone who doesn't give a rip about the whole heirachy thing. And sadly, he's seen as flaky as a result in some BJJ circles. I wonder, as a Christian, is this how they saw Jesus? When the crowds exalted him and wanted him to be an earthly king and when he refused to play according to their rules; they called him flaky as well?

A japanese phrase which we use in Judo which I love is: Sore Made

It means "that's all ", "It's over". And it's a lesson that in life, it's good to throw but that sometimes you learn more from being thrown and that at end - it really is the end; so let it go.

One lovely story which I read about goes like this:

In one of the dojo's in the U.K, an amateur Judo player once boasted that he would drop the visiting Japanese instructor in randori that day. His friends laughed and hooted. Why? For the distinguised visitor was none other than Yamashiro Yamashita; the Olympic champion and former 3 times world champion. He was also undefeated for something like 10 straight years. This man was and still is a judo god to many players

During randori, there was a lot of tugging and shoving and suddenly, there was a loud sound. The impossible happened - a god fell to earth. The whole judo went deathly silent, really silent. The champion smiled wryly, brushed himself off, and got up to randori again. It was then said that from then on, the amateur judoka received throw after throw from Yamashita but each time he did so; he was smiling. For that one moment - he had touched the sky, and no matter how many times he came down to earth: he had been where only the gods were, if ever so briefly

Yamashita knew that all men, even Judo gods, were mortal. And sometimes they fell. It's no big deal. You just get up and straigthen your belt.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Four stitches in a finger pointing to the moon

So, my trip to Singapore for Rodney King's weekend seminar tend out to be a bit of a bust. Having received four stitches in a freak accident a week before meant that the chances of me training were slim to none; less my stitches suddenly exploded and believe me, the thought of paying for a restitching in Singapore Dollars was not an appealing one

But it was a good trip for other reasons. I got some inspiration for poetry, which my friend Kathleen is helping me with and also met up and made some new friends (always a good thing). There's always a silver lining in a cloud and a stitch in time (or four), saves nine. :-)

One really serendipitious moment was seeing Rodney roll with Yuri before class started. As I told my coach, Vince of KDT academy, that completely blew me away. Why? Mainly because he didn't roll like what I had envisaged.

It was amorphous, yet highly structured and rational. The best way to describe it would be diaphonous. Amazingly smooth and silk like. But to say it had no strength or power would be completely wrong as well. The positions that Rodney got were as strong and as solid as they come.

That's beautiful BJJ :-)

I had expected either a plodding, safe game or a strength/power based set from him but not that, which goes to show sometimes that stereotypes can be wrong. And I'm glad I was because I got to see something really special that day. And I think what was special was not that I saw a BJJ black belt's skill or a collection of techniques.

Rather, it was a culmination of years of experience, muscle memory, thought processes, techniques and mat time distilled in the present (or now, the past). It's not a set of moves - it's a state of mind and body. But that aside..

..it looked da bomb!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Beautiful Judo (Part 2) - Flying the friendly skies

I resolved that starting this year, I would do Beautiful Judo

Judo that looked like those gorgeous black and white photos in my books. Judo that made people fly over your shoulder but where you didn't look as though you were having severe constipation while you were launching him. Judo's maxim, "minimum force, maximum efficiency" doesn't occur when you channel your inner steroid monkey to throw a guy off the mat. To effect this, I knew I would have to pay more attention to the Japanese insructors at my club

The Japanese teachers where I train are a wonderfully strange lot. I used to think that they would be all stern,frowning and inscrutable to the highest degree. Yes, I admit that that's quite stereotypical but hey, I watched too many Kurosawa movies in my time

As I mentioned, almost serendipitously, it was here that I met Sensei Japan Air Lines; or Sensei JAL for short, as I will call him. Anyway, Sensei JAL and the rest of the Japanese teachers are always smiling, calm and eager to share their knowledge with anyone who was interested. Unfortunately, the language barrier poses some issues and I wish I had learnt Japanese as I have no doubt as to the goldmine of information which they possess. Still, whatever I pass on to me is treated like nuggets of gold. Pure gold.

Sensei JAL is different in that his English is quite good, and he is a born teacher. He loves instructing and teaching; it shows in his face, his movements and what he says. He wants to share his Judo with you, but not just any old Judo...he wants you to learn beautiful Judo.

He's called Sensei JAL because whenever I randori with him, he's launched me some many times through the air I could get frequent flyer miles from him. In fact, I think I've enough distance collectively to make it to Tokyo. And he does this by timing, by tai-sabaki (body movement), use and control of 'Ma' ( A Japanese term denoting space) and just good,ol' fashioned Judo elbow grease.

If Judo was cuisine, his would be soul food. Good for you. Good for the family. Nothing fancy, no plating - just served with a whole lotta sincerity and honesty. It's beautiful Judo and that's what I want to learn from Sensei JAL


Beautiful Judo (Part 1) - Slugger Malone and the alley cat

I've been in the martial arts for more than a while. One thing that I used to obsess over is whether I recived the best, most technical instruction possible in that art. Now, unless your name ends with Trump, you are not likely to get the opportunity fly to Torrance to train BJJ with the Gracies nor are you likely to be able to then hop on the next flight to the Philipines to work on edged weapons with Leo Gage.

You are where you are. And most times, you train where you am as well. Granted, my grammar is horrendous there but you get the idea. Likewise, my Judo.

I learnt my Judo in small, cramped training halls from a host of instructors who ranged from absolute saints to some who should be on the show 'Cops'. (And not as the boys from Law enforcement either). One sometimes showed up a little sauced up from the bar. Other times, he didn't show up at all. Others taught me just enough to breakfall (and now in retropsect, not even that!) and one particular instructor, whom I will call 'Slugger Malone", was an absolute classic.

Slugger (not his real name obviously), was the most passionate, psychotic, toughest Judo figher I had ever seen. He was an ex-international fighter and somewhow, I think he was, and still is, fighting those matches. I learnt most of my Judo from him actually.

It was not pretty Judo. Heck, it wasn't even pretty by dragged-down, no-hold barred alley cat brawl standards. I looked like an epileptic ferret on speed during randori; but then, did I really think I was going to look like the Marquis of Queensbury learning my judo from a guy called 'Slugger'?

Nevertheless, I owe him a debt I can never really repay. He did teach me Judo though, effective European, Russian style pickups, grips and takedowns that had my Japanese instructors shaking their head in anguish and probably wondering why Professor Kano even bothered introducing his beautiful art to the cloddish oafs like me in the rest of the world.

Was I happy? Of course not. My techniques resembled nothing out of a Judo text book, unless it was called " Judo for Pachyderms". It was effective, but it was....ugly.

And then I met Sensei JAL