Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in Action

And The Dunning-Kruger Effect.

I spent a few hours today cleaning house. While alphabetically arranging the “Non-BJJ” DVD category, I started listening to and sorta watching Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in Action videos from 1988. Rorion’s Brazilian accent and the dull thud of Royce’s punches raining down on a triangled-and-mounted Jason DeLucia filled the living room. It occurred to me then, for the first time, that the man being punched in the face was guilty of cognitive bias – one I frequently encounter while furthering some of my other interests.

Research done at Cornell University suggests that people are not the best judge of what they might otherwise purport to know, or what they might purport to be able to do.1 That sounds counter-intuitive though, doesn’t it? But it’s true. Just ask Billy Madison.2 “Except that the puppy was a dog. But the industry my friends, that was a revolution.” – BM

More seriously, illusory superiority can, and does, thwart our very real and well-intentioned efforts to objectively appraise our own ability. I mean, wouldn’t you agree that everyone who fought against The Gracies thought that they knew how to fight? One of these fighters even claimed to have developed a ‘street lethal’ style, if you remember. But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. To start us off, and to avoid a potential (and obvious) hypocrisy, I submit the following quotation:

“…[T]he Dunning-Kruger Effect, named for the psychologist who first formally documented it…refers to the tendency for relatively inexperienced people to overestimate their proficiency in a given topic, usually to their detriment: A young driver overestimates their ability to navigate in traffic; a new pilot takes inappropriate risks in landing because they can’t accurately assess their capabilities; and a freshman college students often believes they have mastery in a field based on a single class. As experience progresses through mistake and correction, additional education, the initiate begins to understand the limits of their knowledge or experience. They become more cautious, more conservative, and more willing to adjust to new information. Part of education is to teach us how much more we have to learn.”3 – C0nc0rdance, YouTube user and scientist.

It is a demonstrable fact, in scientific literature, that people consistently fail at honest self-evaluation. But what about outside the so-called Ivory Tower of Science?4 “I know what I am and am not capable of,” a person might scoff – as undoubtedly at least one reader of this article did. More often than not, the holder of that opinion is simply wrong. In fact, everyone can, on some level, vouch to the truth of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Hasn’t everyone had a conversation with some grand old idiot, some Endless Opiner, some person ignorant of both the subject matter at hand and just how deep their ignorance actually runs? Hasn’t everyone said, at one point in their life, to someone else: “You don’t even know what you’re talking about,” or “You don’t even know what you don’t know.” And on another level, I think everyone can further vouch to having been on the other side of this coin.5

I have no doubt that all these people who accepted The Gracie Challenge legitimately thought they knew how to fight. And they were mistaken, objectively so. These days we know that being a complete fighter necessarily entails an understanding of grappling.6

So if you take away anything from this entry, let it be that we have a tendency to view ourselves through rose-tinted glasses. If you are to take a second thing, let it be that “Knibb High football rules!”


2.  The scenario in the movie may or may not be different, but the point still stands.

4.  Heavy air-quotes.

5.  If I wrote down all the times I spoke when I should have just been listening, the list would be longer than the exhaustive list of Chuck Norris jokes found on the Internet. But I’d like to imagine that the times are decreasing in frequency as I increase in age. I’d like to imagine, anyway.

6.  Amusingly enough, people of the bottom and second quartile can still be found on the Internet (surprise surprise). Peruse some of the comment battles on YouTube videos for The Gracie in Action videos to see for yourself.


4 thoughts on “Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in Action

  1. “If I wrote down all the times I spoke when I should have just been listening, the list would be longer than the exhaustive list of Chuck Norris jokes found on the Internet. But I’d like to imagine that the times are decreasing in frequency as I increase in age. I’d like to imagine, anyway.”
    – Ditto.

    Also, regarding footnote 6, I hate reading comments. It me feel a strange combination of hatred and sadness for humanity.

  2. I agree that we often view ourselves through rose tinted glasses, but I can’t help but wonder how are we to live our lives so free of bias when it’s eminent at times?

    • Being made aware of bias, in this particular case that we are not the best judge of our own abilities, is usually the first step. But you’re asking questions along the right lines. There may very well not be a way to live our lives so free of bias. It may not be possible.

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