Sunday, November 14, 2010

Weird Observations About The Very Best


Okay. So I have a weird habit of noticing strange things in all situations. Like noticing who is a chronic handwasher. Noticing when someone has a minor speech impediment. When someone has a strange superstition about something. I also notice strange things about BJJ. This is where I put most of this attention to detail. From observing the best BJJ players in the world, I notice a pattern. Most will say, when they walked in the door, they were not very athletic. Of course there are a few exceptions but those are the outliers not the rule (Jacare, Terere, etc.).

They mention this to have you focus on how much hard work pays off in the end, to give us inspiration but to also make their accomplishment that much more heroic... Then I realized something, if all the greats are saying this, maybe not being athletic when you step into the door of BJJ is not like starting out with a disadvantage. Maybe it's a sort of ADVANTAGE!

Talking to one of my black belt instructors, he told me BJJ is not one of those sports like football or track, where based on just athleticism you can go very far. You don't need to be a good thinker to run fast in one direction or be able to jump, throw, and catch. Michael Vick before getting arrested was the top paid NFL player and he admitted he never watched tape or studied, he was just a specimen. And that's what you need in a lot of sports, great athleticism, then you just get more and more athletic and a coach tells you what to do. Of course depending on the athlete or the position there has to be ability to think fast on their feet and use skill sets they learned. But with BJJ you can be the best athlete in the world, but it will only get you so far.

In every academy a freak athlete will walk in the door, a really good wrestler or an ex-football player, or just an avid sportsman. You say to yourself, wow. With 6 months of training this guy will crush everyone! Then 6 months pass, and you are like well maybe in another 6 months. And then after a while you give up on the guy becoming one of the best. Why? Because he comes in with so many skill sets already, he doesn't have to learn a move inside and out to make it work. He doesn't have to be tight to hold someone down. A lot of times he wouldn't even know how to pretend to be weaker to try to make the move as efficient as possible. And at the beginning he is crushing a lot of the guys he starts out with. BJJ becomes a sport where he leaves feeling good about himself, he got his 12 taps in today. Ego boosted. He can leave in peace feeling like he accomplished something and this sport means something. But then that kid who was getting crushed and needing to create variations of every move to work for his strengths and his body starts to catch up and surpass the guy who never had to adapt or create his own personal style of BJJ. Someone who didn't feel he needed to drill or when he drilled he just drilled finishes because he just loved beating and tapping guys. Then that kid also due to mat time gets more athletic, works hard, has a game that people want to mimic, people want to take privates from this guy, and he becomes a World Champion. Almost every world champ gives a story like this, about how they used to get crushed then eventually they were no longer the nail and now they were the hammer. And the guy who never had to get really good, never got really good. Not being athletic when you walk in the door is like not knowing a little bit of boxing or self teaching yourself boxing before you work with a real trainer. If you know a little something, it makes learning harder as boxing trainers say, because they taught themselves so many bad habits they are at a disadvantage from a person who knows nothing who can be built from scratch.

So when a champion says he was the nonathletic chubby guy (e.g. Marcello Garcia) who walked into a BJJ academy don't let them fool you into thinking they became great in spite of that. They became great due to that, that drive to not be the worst guy and train and train and refine and refine until they were the best.


Another thing I notice was how great guys train so often without getting burned out or injured. Even if they are the best, that just seems impossible in a sport like this. I luckily have been able to train at a lot of academies. I didn't realize it until today. The key to how they are able to train daily, and even a few times a day is...they take advantage of rolling with juveniles. Never thought about that right? Neither did I but it makes total sense. With an adult, you have to go light and that usually lasts only for a few minutes before it turns into a match. Then you get burned out doing that every day, body wears out, and you break down. Not only that adults are strong, and can really do a number on your joints. Imagine rolling hard with adults twice a day 7 times a week? You sore yet?

With juveniles they are typically physically light. So they don't take a lot of strength to move around. It's like having a light day at the gym when you lift weights. Also there is no loss of ego tapping to them, because they are a kid, it will always be a teacher/student relationship. You never feel in danger of getting hurt, your ego never kicks in so you won't go hard, and if you did you would be a dick for going hard with a kid. Also it's better than trying to roll with a feeble adult who may not be strong, but also will not be coordinated, most likely clumsy, and awkward. Whereas a juvenile will be wiry, spry, fast, good cardio a lot of times, and fun to roll with. And they will be quite athletic. You will also be moving and not wasting your mat time, and those competitive guys won't say anything if you say no, I'm rolling with Little Kevin over here.

So whenever I've been at a school with juveniles, I see the best guys grab a kid and roll around with them for a long time. Most of the time I see training footage of top guys rolling with someone in practice, is when they are rolling with one of their younger students, and it is truly ego-less training. It may be the only time no matter how often they say, leave your ego at the door. It also helps the kid a lot too. They most likely do it unconsciously. But all those times they save themselves from hard rolls with rolling with a juvenile, they keep themselves sharp, loose, and do not burn out. If you look at most warrior traditions, this has always been a part of their training. The older veterans practice with the young guys, it's less competitive, it toughens the young guys up, and you risk less injury to yourself as well as having self control to not hurt the younger guy. And it then truly becomes that, just practice. Not a "match."

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