Monday, June 20, 2011

Who Is BJJ For?

Sometimes I wonder who BJJ is for? I know who it was originally for, but who is it for now? When it was created, anyone could walk in, be in any kind of shape and do the moves, feel good, and defend themselves. Now BJJ seems about being, bigger, better, stronger. Now it doesn't feel like its for the Average Joe, but for an athlete to become a better athlete. An uber athlete. I've seen people walk in and see a class and be intimidated or feel like they need to get in shape before they can do this. Its the difference between a martial art or a sport. To be great at a sport, you need to be a great athlete. Athletes do sports. Where as normal people, peasants, the downtrodden did martial arts. With BJJ becoming more and more of a sport, it disenfranchises the guy who is out of shape, can only train 2-3 times a week. There seems to be no place for them with the peer pressure to train more often or constantly feeling left behind by everyone else who trains all the time, who are younger, faster, bigger, and stronger.

Sometimes a guy who has been training a long time but not very athletic will roll with someone who is the opposite of him, hasn't trained long but very athletic. There are two ways to overcome someone, overpower them or out maneuver them. With all this technique and maneuvers, chances are there will be a lot of times that it won't be enough to overcome the power difference. Then they get discouraged...

There is a certain elitism that happens with all martial arts, and I think it's actually what leads it to become watered down over time. It becomes too much about strength because anyone can get stronger, its very easy. Getting more technical is very difficult. Too much about competition or winning. Too much about living the life. Then you gotta train according to specific rules. Learn specific techniques to beat competitors. Learning how to not get submitted as opposed to learning how to control your opponents limbs so they can't hit you. How to be up on points in a short period of time as opposed to taking your time to completely finishing your opponent. Athletes learn to play according to the rules of the game and according to the habits of their competitors. Whereas a martial arts was about having no rules, so you can learn core concepts and principles and use your creativity and ability to improvise to adapt it to all situations. You don't need to be an athlete to do that because a lot of those bad situations, an athlete would be too quick and likely never end up in them.

What if you don't want to compete, live the life, you just enjoy martial arts and want to participate? You just want to participate in something, be a part of something greater than yourself. Is it better to have a school with super elite guys who can dominate anyone that walks in the door? Or a place that is more like the real world with a lot of normal people and no one feels intimidated to try it out and feel welcomed?

Just from training BJJ you will be in a good shape compared to most people. But now the expectation is ridiculously high. You can't be just an athlete like I said, you need to be uber athletic. That you can spar 2 hours twice a day, do a million pull ups, 100 burpees, and do it all over again the next day. When did the baseline athleticism for BJJ become so unrealistic or sustainable for the average student?  How does looking like a Greek God translate to being a better martial artist I wonder. An athlete can play pick up basketball, for BJJ you need to be an uber athlete.

It's ultimately best to be in a good shape, healthy, and a martial artist. But just because you are not in good shape doesn't mean you can't be a martial artist either. I know you will tell me, what about those fat traditional martial artist guys? How can they teach or be a martial artist? I can flip it and say what about those fat boxing coaches or wrestling coaches? How can they be an effective teacher, boxer, wrestler? Yet somehow they are.


  1. Great writeup! I feel that I've been on a plateau or even has digressed for the 1 1/2 years since I've been a blue belt. I didn't grow doing contact sports like wrestling or football in school so I don't have that mental drive to go through the guy like he's a brick wall nor do I have the athleticism. Add to it all, I started BJJ when I was 36 two and a half years ago. I have a family, a full time job, and a responsibility to help my stay at home wife and give her a break and play with children in the evening. She often reminds me that she doesn't get to leave the office as I do ;). I really enjoy the health and social benefits of jiu-jitsu. I'm the same weight I was in high school and have lots of new friends. It's just frustrating when I don't feel like I grasp the concepts as quickly as others nor do well with takedowns, scrambles, or king of the mountain (tournament style) matches. That being said, I go to 5 major BJJ competitions a year (3 AZ state, PanAms, and Worlds). I feel that I learn from each one of them and even though I don't do very feel all, the experience and friendships I've made there have been awesome.

    Tournaments are a win-win situation for me. If I do win, well that's gravy. If I don't, then I know exactly what to work on next. It's a win to reacquaint with old friends and meet new ones. It's a win when I ring coordinate and get to be down in the action on the floor. In so doing it's a win to practice my Portuguese as I work with Brazilian competitors. It's a win to see some great matches especially at the black level. All in all It's win to even challenge myself in the occasion. Even as Theodore Roosevelt said in his "Man in the Arena" speech: "....if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

    I read a book awhile back from a sports psychologist who said that during the match, the moment you forget about who's winning or losing is the moment that you start focusing on the technique applied in that exact moment.

    Again thank you for your viewpoints in your blog and especially for this post.

  2. Those fat coaches USED to be athletes, that is what you are forgetting. They never would have been able to reach the point of being able to coach if they had not first been somewhat of an athlete in their respective sport/martial art.



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