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The Art of Learning Jiu Jitsu And Bruce Lee - Part 1

The Art of Learning Jiu Jitsu And Bruce Lee - Part 1

Lessons from the chess master and Jiu Jitsu black belt...

Bruce Lee is famously quoted saying, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” Previously, we explored this quote in light of the book The Talent Code. We explored how concepts from The Talent Code, getting the whole picture, chunking, slowing it down, repetitions and feedback might be applied to make our learning more efficient. Another way we can explore this quote is in relation to The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin. Certainly, practice is an integral component of learning any skill. The Art of Learning can provide some insights on the best way to practice and learn a skill.

If you have ever heard of the movie or book, Searching for Bobby Fisher, you have heard of Josh. It is based on Josh’s life and written by his father.  Josh is world renown for his skills in chess. He retired from professional chess and has applied his theory of learning to Tai Chi and Jiu Jitsu. It is notable that he was the first to receive his black belt from perhaps the greatest of all time, Marcelo Garcia.

One component of how Josh learned chess is he would start at the end of the game. He would have a pawn and a king against his opponent’s king. In doing this he learned the principles behind a strategy or move. He applied this strategy to the unique attributes of every chess piece. He was then able to apply the micro to the macro by incorporating these principals to his game as a whole. This approach is in stark contrast to how chess is traditionally taught. Usually players learn to play from a complete board. They simply memorize a set series of moves.

So what is the application to Jiu Jitsu? One could start an education with just a submission. Instead of the instruction being these are the set 12 steps or whatever of the submission to work, it could focus on what are the principles of the submissions to work. You would in essence be taking all the other pieces off the board and just focusing on the principles necessary to execute the submission.

An example of understanding a submission based on principles is done by John Danaher. He stated, “The four mechanical pillars upon which my approach to jiu jitsu is Based: A huge part of my approach to jiu jitsu is based around what I believe are the four most important mechanical underpinnings of the sport. These are 1 – The principle of LEVER AND FULCRUM, 2 – The principle of the WEDGE (inclined plane). 3 – The principle of DIRECTIONALITY OF FORCE, 4 – The principle of KUZUSHI (off balancing). Through the lens of these four mechanical principles I see most of the sport of jiu jitsu. Everything I teach, every question I ask, and every answer I offer, will make reference to at least one of these principles. Lever and fulcrum are widely talked about. They are force multipliers that can make the weakest man strong. Wedges are used to immobilize and inhibit or direct movement (among other things) – think of a humble little door stop that can hold any door open even in a hurricane. With regards your own force, a fundamental measure of its efficiency and effect will be the degree to which you apply the force in the appropriate direction. So often we apply large amounts of force in the wrong directions, when a much smaller force in the right direction would have garnered much better results. Kuzushi (off balancing) refers to our capacity to move an objects center of gravity beyond its base of support and destabilize it to create openings for attack. Kano wisely saw the value of this in standing positions. One of my biggest goals is to extend its use into bottom position ground grappling where it can play a tremendous role in advancing our bottom game. I teach jiu jitsu as a primarily mechanical enterprise, backed up by biomechanical and tactical elements. In the future I will talk more about these critical notions. Show me any move in the sport and I will show you how at least three of these four concepts are involved in its operation. Once you learn to observe the sport through these concepts you will see a very different sport indeed. Three of these four mechanical underpinnings have been widely discussed for generations – but the principle of the WEDGE has never been emphasized in jiu jitsu. One of my primary goals as a teacher is to change this."

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Teaching Jiu Jitsu by beginning with a submission and exploring the principles and nuances behind it working also seems to be in line to a certain extent with what Ben Askren advocates. Ben stated on JRE MMA Show podcast, “We know, without a shadow of a doubt (that) just saying ‘go for five minutes’ is not the most effective way to train someone,” “If I’m coaching at my academy, and we were drilling the front headlock, we don’t just say ‘OK, now go five-minute goes’ because how many tries are they gonna get at going at the front headlock position?” Askren said. “Maybe one, maybe two, but essentially most people, if you say ‘go for five minutes’, they’re not disciplined enough to make themselves do new skills. They revert to whatever they do best. And then they just do it over and over and over again. If I want a kid to be good at a front headlock – which if you’re gonna wrestle at a high level, you need a good front headlock – I’m gonna put him in there 50 times in that practice,” he added. “He’s gonna get it over and over and over, and maybe the next day, its single-legs, and maybe the next day its double-legs. And maybe some days, you say ‘hey, go for ten minutes, go wrestle. But saying ‘go for five minutes’ every single day is very much not the most effective way to do it, and it’s so insanely frustrating for me to have that happen at almost every jiu-jitsu school in the planet.”

Jiu Jitsu, like chess, has an infinite number of possible moves. Both are evolving daily. Both are traditionally taught by starting at the beginning; In Jiu Jitsu, it is guard passes and in chess it is a full board. Even if Jiu Jitsu is not taught from the guard passes, the focus for a beginner is rarely on exploring the nuances of a submission. Danaher espouses the value of understanding principles, “Once you learn to observe the sport through these concepts you will see a very different sport indeed.” Askren does equate a high number of repetitions in positional drilling as the best way to learn the nuances of a position.  Even Bruce Lee in the quote that we started with advocates a deep dive into a single move. These ideas seem to be the natural application of the approach advocated in The Art of Learning.

In the next article we will look at the Josh’s approach to problem solving and make applications to Jiu Jitsu.

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