Questions and Answers

Aside from receiving an actual letter, there are few things I enjoy more than reading a good email from someone.1 And, for a variety of reasons, there are a fair amount of people with whom I exchange emails. Today’s entry will be about a bjj-related email I received about two months ago, excerpted here:

“Now ask yourself what kind of Jiu-Jitsu you want to learn? How useful is the Jiu-Jitsu you do know? How much faith do you have in the most basic techniques – the ones that white belts should know?”

The questions stand tall on the page. They are the sort that beg for answers; and immediately after reading them, I knew they were going to keep me awake that night. As a thoughtful sort of fellow, these questions were going to bother me, poke me, prod me until I could come to some satisfactory conclusion – or until I could make some approximate headway toward solving the matter. In the interest of making the most amount of sense, I’m going to share my answers with you, my audience, out of order. I’ll start with the answers for which I have a high level of confidence, and move downward from there.

How much faith do I have in the most basic techniques?2

I completely believe in the most basic techniques; I know they work. They are simple, efficient, and apply in a variety of situations.3 In fact, the majority (all?) of my game is based on these techniques applied to a continuous cadence. Successfully incorporating them into my jiu-jitsu, by and large, means successful Jiu-Jitsu.

“What kind of Jiu-Jitsu do I want to learn?”

To continue an earlier point, I want to learn jiu-jitsu which is not unnecessarily complicated, or needlessly so. I want to learn jiu-jitsu that is efficient, where my returns are greatest for the amount invested. I want my opponent to expend twenty calories when I expend ten, or five, or one. While escaping from two different positions, side mount and mount for example, probably requires two separate moves, I want the principles which underlie/support/ground these movements to overlap.

“How useful is the Jiu-Jitsu I do know?”

I don’t know. Sometimes I think it’s useful. And other times, after a bad day on the mats, everything I should/would/could (in that order) purport to know comes under heavy scrutiny. As of late, the moments where nothing would have given me greater pleasure than watching my faded, stripeless, tattered blue belt go up in a salty red flame have been occurring with less frequency – a fact for which I must thank my instructor.

Mild case of pyromania aside, it is still not apparent to me what useful means in this context. A can-opener is useful. Is the jiu-jitsu I know supposed to be like a can-opener?

Alright, alright, I’m not trying to be a smart ass.

To acutely wrestle with the problem, does useful mean the practitioner is generally successful in tournaments? A lot of people – particularly those who are successful in tournaments – would say ‘yes.’ Does useful mean the practitioner is generally successful in self-defense situations? My guess is an equal amount of people would posit that usefulness boils down to considerations self-defense related. And what do we say of the smaller camps of people who would equate useful with the fitness benefits, or the possibly more nebulous mental benefits? I do not know.

Those questions did bother me for some time after that. Both for those questions and this entry, I’m not really sure I came to any satisfactory conclusion. But, to speak more broadly now, I’m learning to live without coming to an answer each and every time I have a question.  Please have a nice day and thanks for reading.


1. Write to me →

2. I don’t agree with the use of the term ‘faith’ in this context, as it seems to imply belief without supporting evidence. We know basic techniques work because we have a body of evidence proving they do. Admittedly, this line of argumentation can get complicated. But I’d be happy to go there with anyone willing to deny the claim “basic techniques work.”

3. I originally wrote the three principles as “simplicity, economy of motion, and sphere of applicability.” But I talk too much.


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