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.


Albert said...

Hi Mike,

I agree with you to an extent, but equally I feel you're choosing to view BJJ training with a negative mindset.

When I roll with anyone, I roll with them based on what I feel they should be able to accomplish. If I take it easy on someone it's usually because they're injured and I'm watching out for a bad knee or what have you. If I roll harder with someone it's never to "take them out", it's because I want to push myself - and that happens when I push them.

Offhand I can't think of too many guys who I've seen throw a tantrum when they can't get a tap. Sometimes when I don't, I do feel disappointed in myself, because I choose to view my training partner as a puzzle that I failed to solve. Not because my inability to tap him in 4 minutes means I'm less of a man, or something.

I think it all goes back to a choice of how you perceive a given situation. When I rolled with guys like Adam, I'm positive he wasn't being malicious or egotistical when he smashed me repeatedly. He wanted to tap me because I presented a problem in terms of strategy, that was perhaps unique to the gym.

Besides, it seems your issue is with individuals rather than "Judo vs BJJ culture". You can't fault "Judo" or "BJJ" because all they are, are inherently neutral systems of combat. You can't fault "culture" (I've never trained Judo so I can only speak for our BJJ gym) because I truly believe that a positive culture has been set. The only logical place to find fault is with specific people.

You can agrue that the nature of BJJ, i.e. making people "submit" to your will, thus making you King of the Hill, top of the heap for 5 seconds, is more attractive to miscreants and overgrown boys - than, say, Judo, where (and again, I say I've never trained Judo) you figure out how to unbalance and throw someone.

I would respond that again, this perception is determined also by personal choice. I never "give" someone the tap when I roll with them. I never have. I feel it's disrespectful to my partner if I give them less than my best because if I half-ass around with someone who is fully fit and able, it means I don't take them seriously. I find it hard to believe that someone who conducts himself like a caveman in a BJJ class would go a Judo class and suddenly become a nice guy.

If I get tapped by someone junior to me, I want them to know they earned it. If I get tapped by someone senior to me, I want to know that I gave it my best shot.

Once more, personal perception. Don't fight the tap because of insecurity. Fight the tap because you want your partner to be better than he is.

I felt like a bit of a target after I got my blue, because suddenly one or two guys rolled harder with me. At first I hated feeling like that, but now I try to look at it as them pushing me to raise my game. I should not HAVE to care if they're carrying around a lifetime of issues with their own masculinity or whatever.

The slogan is "leave your ego at the door" for a reason, and I feel it's for each person's own good. It doesn't matter for beans who you are and what you can do, there's always someone who can tap you like a typewriter, so just be cool and be humble and you won't ever have to look like a tool.

Really, you should be finding fault most of all with guys like me. Most importantly, as a senior in the class, it's my responsibility to help maintain a healthy culture. I like to think I do my best, but nobody's perfect.

I dunno, what d'you think?


The bjjmissionary said...

Hi Bert

Thanks for your comments. I do think that, however, you've not quite gotten the message of what I was trying to get across.

I don't think all martial arts are neutral in terms of philosophy, execution or techniques. They all have a bias, bent or however you choose to phrase it.

Most RBSD styles do not bother with a philosophy centered around co-operating with your opponent or lightly teaching him the error of his ways (e.g: Aikido or the like). Inherent in their execution of those moves is a philosophy or paradigm that makes it different from Judo, or BJJ for that matter.

Likewise, in Judo, there is a mandate when you start traning to learn how do breakfalls as you will be, and be expected to be thrown.

What I said was that the structure during training, aka: one that says to fight the tap as much as possible, makes it a little detrimental to fostering a traning environment where everyone gets to learn a little more wholistically.

When you give someone the tap, is it disrespecting him if he didn't earn it? How do you measure it? By the fact that he or she threw the whole kitchen sink at you and in the process of trying not to get your limb broken; you tap? How does that help you or him/her?

You've reinforced the idea that it's all about physical dominance and not a lot about 'play' or 'self development'. In play, it's okay to tap out or lose. In competition, it's not a good idea. In war, it's the worst state to be in. So, I'll put it back to you - what philosophy are you trying to push here?

I just want you to picture a scene in a class where someone sees all the senior belts get tapped out by the whites. Now you can draw two conclusions:

1) The senior belts suck or;
2) The senior belts are of a caliber or mindset where it doesn't matter whether they get tapped out or if someone sees them being done so.

It doesn't mean they give them the tap, it means that it's no big deal.

Otherwise, you might as well be honest and say that, yes, reputation counts, external validations matter and what people think of the school counts.

Of course, my beef is with certain individuals. What is a school if it is not composed of the teachers and the students. You can have the best tagline ("we roll with love for our fellow brother here") but if you have a bunch of mongo's in there; it amounts to a hill of beans.

The system either confronts the individuals perceptions of reality or validates it, and thus perpetuates or increases it as they get a payoff from it. It (the system) is not a neutral party.

Albert said...


OK, it seems to me that we've both misunderstood each other. I'll catch up with you tonight and chat. See you at class!


Charles Wong said...

I'm with Mikey here, this is an awesome post bro! I had this same feelings over the years but I thought it was just me.

It has often crossed my mind that BJJ (whether through the format it was taught or inadvertently) foster "ego boosting". Even Vince blogged about how some take privates to beat a certain person. While all these can be interpreted in a positive way vis-a-vis to improve, I felt that the psychological need to win (get a tap) is more dominant than any other factors.

Bert, I agreed with you too. My question to you is: with due respect to everyone in Jits, how many BJJers out there think like you? What BJJ does is offer absolutes (win or lose thru tapping). And to me, absolutes will always "feed" the ego, whether one realise it or not.

PS. To quote Obi-Wan Kenobi, only a Sith deals with absolutes. Hehe...

Rizan said...

Nice post Mike! Now I understand what you meant by controversy! haha

My thoughts:

This is one reason why Aikido did not incorporate sparing. It somehow feeds the ego. But having live randori do have it's pros and cons. Nothing is perfect. It's how you perceive it..

Like it or not, we all want to win, it's natural. To me I feel that BJJ is more of like a sport, combat sport if you like to call it. I play Tennis, it's a sport too and I can tell you I don't like to lose. If I'm down a point/set, I'll struggle to hit the next ball better. At the end of the match, if I lost the game, I just remind myself that it's fine, just as long as I played my best. However, in BJJ it's more personal because it involves full body contact when someone is trying to sub you! If it were on the street, it meant that he's trying to dispose me. that's why, it feels more personal. I just have to remind myself that it's better to give the tap than suffer permanent injury. Goes the saying, leave your ego at the door...

I agree that it gets messier when you are a higher belt, it gives you a sense of responsibility to upkeep the quality of your rank/belt. Maybe that's why some seniors give up training after awhile or rather not roll with hard rollers.

In a nutshell, it's how you look at it. From someone that's always on top of his game or those with heavy desire to win, it will be difficult to relate to this post. There have been countless times when I get my ass handed to me (be it by someone of higher rank or lower). I guess you have to tell yourself it's no big deal...after all, it's just a sport.

Yeah, I know...it's easier said than done huh? :-) I guess if you know that individual at a personal level, you'll better understand what BJJ means to him/her...

Rizan said...

hey Mikey baby...just notice that my post had a lot of "you", since i can't edit the post...just want you 2 know that those "you" refers to myself, me, i, rizan...i was writing it based on my thoughts of myself...hehe...don't want u to arm bar me too hard the next time we roll :-)

The bjjmissionary said...

Charles and Rizan, thanks v much for your comments. I've split my replies so I don't get confused :-)


I am not against winning and losing per se. In fact, I think by having a framwork for competition is a healthy thing. Don't get the impression that judo doesn't have competitions. Even internally, we have shiai matches where the emphasis is all about winning.

If you don't have that, you have co-operative based drills and sparring and seriously, Charles, nice philosophy aside..you know that's not the real deal; right?

The psychological need to win is derived from your survival instinct. It is not something you can detach from yourself - period. If you do..well, you die basically

The question is whether you are actually aware of this and whether you can place the two in their proper framework. If a person has a win-at-any-cost mentality in Jits and transfers this to his everyday life; he is likely going to be a pretty obnoxious, jerk

But if you don't have a desire to win, or any desires at all; you're not much of a person in any case.You're a milquetoast. It's not spiritually transcending the need to win; it's another avenue for denial of your authentic self.

My beef is that many schools just need that tapping is the goal and not the rationale behind it; or the bigger picture in terms of growth.

The bjjmissionary said...

Yo Rizzo,Dude, I can't armbar you lah..in fact, you nearly tapped me with a triangle, so what are you talking about? :DI get the tennis analogy as I used to play it all the time. And it's interesting that I was seriously a real jerk when I was doing so. Got a couple of court violations, arguments that nearly descended into fistfights..the works. And this was at tennis competitions held at churches in Australia! hahaAt first I blamed the format, that competition was bad and the need to win was causing this bad behaviour. So I stopped playing comp and just hit for fun. Result?I still turned out to be a big Jerk.It came down to the fact that I had issues and they were coming out whenever I picked up a racquet; nothing to do with the format.So, maybe the format of having the tap is not to blame. it;s the person. Not quite..As I told Charles above, I don't mind the format of competetive rolling. In fact, it's healthy..in it's correct applicationWhen done as part of other Alive drills, increasing levels of resistance and an awareness of what sparring is; it has numerous benefits. Done without that, it may serve as a crutch for already growth-crippled individualsYou see Aikido took the path it took because Ueshiba went introspectively religious and..he had no other paradigm to work from, imo.Thus, this is how he dictated the evolution of his aikijujutsu (Daito Ryu)
Kano was exposed to the western notion of sport and thus had another framework to work with. Remember that the Japanese had no concept of sport before the westerners opened the country up. Thus, his notion of jujutsu took a different path.

It's interesting but did you know that some of the most insecure and egotistical people I've met came from arts which didn't have competitive sparring?

Now that's not to say that, once you get your 'clocked-cleaned' in sparring; you're a nicer person. You can still remain a dick.

But brother, it's all about the process leading up to the tap and beyond that; that's the key.

And I don't think many schools give you that key. hence, my post

Charles Wong said...

I'm aware it's all in the mindset, no questions bout that. Mikey bro you illustrated it accurately when you compared the routes Ueshiba and Kano took (think I'm inclined towards Ueshiba route nowadays).

Methinks your comment aren't bout mindsets per se, but rather what training format will encourage/attract/groom what kinda win-at-all-cost mindsets. So I was merely echoing your view (the way I understood it), that I too sensed BJJ training MIGHT create "unhealthy" attitudes. Why I say so, because generally people like to win, or be with winners. And by having a clear cut definition of "winning" (by the tap), it will create "ego", elitism, mightier than thou, etc kinda attitudes, whether one admit it or not, realise it or not.

Even you dun set tapping as the final/ultimate goal, people are going to go for it anyway, since it's a big part of Jits. Those who can't stand losing, or like to dominate people will end up feeding this negative side even more... Now ain't that a bummer.

Justin said...

Mikey maaaate,

Insightful post! I like to think Aikido and BJJ are on oppsite ends of the spectrum, with Judo somewhere in between. And like Rizan, moving from one end of the spectrum to the other has among other things become quite a culture shock! Within a year training here, I can see a side of me I never expected. I competed at my first comps and got my a** handed to me in the first round. Well not quite, I went the full 5 minutes and lost on points. I was ahead and if only I just stalled for another 20 seconds, I would have won. But ego fueled me and I went for the tap, made a mistake and gave the opponent a chance to hop on my back. The loss didn't bother me, but it was more of how I've changed. I notice that rolling these days, I fight harder to resist the submissions, rather than just 'giving in' the Aikido way. There is a thin line however between just 'giving in' without a decent effort in fighting and escaping, and that of fighting all the way to the risk of injury rather than learning and accepting that maybe you shouldn't have been caught in that futile position in the first place. And some days that line moves depending on my mental and physical state. The part where I cross the line and resist tapping because of ego is the one that disturbs me.

In Aikido, the cooperative training is interesting e.g the more I help you improve to flow and take a breakfall, the faster I can execute the technique. And vice versa. This may be a generalization but I find in BJJ however, not many individuals will openly share to help you improve. Maybe after crushing you a 100 times or after perceiving you have earned it, they may throw in a hint like "if you put your hand there, it negates all bloody hope i have of using that sub". And they do that mainly because they were crushed a 100 times before someone told then that. Its a vicious cycle and a hard way of learning, but that's the BJJ I know. And it does have its benefits, and I can tap on the positive side of that. Life doesn't always hand me things on a platter. IMHO, BJJ is on the end of the spectrum that will lack spirituality and depth that I feel you are probably searching for (unless you can count Helio's "I only have sex to procreate" quote of spiritual relevance) :)

In the end, as much as we all train and grow together, the journey is very much an individual one. And sometimes thinking too much (as a great Japanese master used to tell me!) is counter productive. So when my analytical mind kicks in and I can't fathom why, I just hop on my bike and ride the trails or just whip out the guitar and solo my blues away. What I'm trying to say is that holistically in our lives, there will be other areas whereby you can find the balance to keep us sane and make us better people. I pray you will find the balance you are looking for.

When you're next in Melbourne, holler and we'll go have some good beers. Or we can go play tennis at the local church, whichever helps you unwind. : )

The bjjmissionary said...

Hey Charles,

Not a problem. I do understand where you stand on this

As I told Rizan in a conversation, you will always have the guys with the chip on the shoulders in a gym; Always.

But you can change that by reflecting a kind of training that doesn't take winning or tapping away from Jits, because seriously, then it would become really pathetic; but place it in it's proper place.

You are arguing in absolutes. Tapping = winning = feeds ego = bad. I am not saying that.

I am stating: awareness of the bigger picture = good teaching = proper perspective on tapping and winning = good.

Answer me this simple question: Do you think it is wrong to win?

Because I will argue then that even in supposed co-operative arts like aikido or push hands tai-chi; there is an element of egotism involved.It's just more subtle - but it's there.

The bjjmissionary said...

Hiya Just!

Man, don't you guys write short posts? haha..just kidding

I heard about your comp from uuh, man, I can't remember his name now. :-). But well done...excellent stuff. I'm honest about that because I only lasted 35 seconds in my first competition.

Yes, going to a comp can change you depending on the outcome. I think that's a good thing because life isn't always meant to be static. Sometimes, i get a tad cynical when I hear someone tell me that they are above competition. I tend to think that it's the fear that their ego might take a pounding rather than any high spiritually minded reason.

I read with interest your thoughts on the parallel comparison with aikido. This is exactly why I wrote the initial article. I loved the whole initial culture of BJJ in the first place, it was so similar to Kano's Jito Kyoei (mutual welfare). But somehow, it got left behind

So you're exactly right, some people don't teach you unless they have already stamped their seal of authority over you and then can afford to be magnanimous by feeding you a few crumbs of techniques.

Imo, this is way wrong. But I am idealistic and I disagree that you can't find spirituality in BJJ. Heck! I can find it when I hit a tennis ball against a wall..call me the Henri Nouwen of the clay courts! Everytime you fight the tap a tad longer than you should have (and you will know it!) - there's a spiritual lesson. And when you fight for the tap a lot more than you should have (and you will know this too) - it's a spiritual lesson.

It's all there, bro.

I think the problem here is similar to how people misquote scripture in Timothy when they say "Money is the root of all evil". The verse, as you well know, says: "The LOVE of money is the root of all evil".

You can tap someone. And both of you win. He can tap - and he wins. It's possible

Here's a paradox to wrap your mind around: when I love to win, I will lose. When I love, I win. I never lose.

Charles Wong said...

Beaaaauuutiful... Mikey. Your last post was absolutely beautiful! Esp the end where you said: "Here's a paradox to wrap your mind around: When I love to win, I will lose. When I love, I win. I never lose." This is similar to Buddhist (sorry for this, I dun mean to preach or anything) teaching of non-attachment and eliminating the "self".

Just to clarify, I'm not talking in "absolutes". All I'm saying is, in life, we need to be mindful of things that create craving, attachment, selfishness, ego etc.

Nope, winning is not bad at all. How you win can be good or bad. What makes you want to win so bad that you are willing to risk seriously injuring yourself and your opponent is definitely bad. Does BJJ do that, I dun think so.
Does BJJ + hosts of variables do that (create bad players), possible. The trick is finding all the wholesome things in BJJ while reducing the negative elements.

Think about it fellas: sports that determine victory by inflicting pain on the opponents to submit/surrender are MORE likely to foster "negative" emotions or mentality than the regular ones (and Rodney had to ask why there are so many jerks in MA). Sorry for my ramblings, I'm conflicted.

PS. Mikey bro, u really succeeded in opening a can of yaksoup. ;D

The bjjmissionary said...

Yo Charles, I pretty much agree with you on those points there, my friend. (haha..that's got to be an occasion to buy a lottery ticket! :-) )

You actually nailed it when you talked about the point about the extent to which someone will risk personal injury or be driven to injuring someone

What drives them to do so? That's the question. You, as a Buddhist and me as a Christian have different views but art least we are asking the question

And if that is opening a can of yaksoup, then I rather do that then some drone who trains without mindfulness and the larger impact

Justin said...

Ahh 1 Timothy 6:10! And I am blessed cause the Lord never lets me win Tattslotto....so I will never become evil. Erm... that doesn't sound right?! hahaha.

Interesting thoughts on BJJ spirituality. I must say the only time I've found it is when I see the light....at the brink of getting choked out. haha. But I'm still a baby in this art and there is much more to learn. I didn't get much depth into my Aikido until about the 7-8th year. And whilst I'm still learning and aware of my BJJ, I can only see that as being positive thing!

Pan Pacs, here I come!!

When the heck you visiting again?! I've been making sure the Plume kitchen stays open by eating there regularly. hahaha.