What Can Bruce Lee Teach Us About BJJ?
If you asked people around the globe who the most famous martial artist of all time is, overwhelmingly the name most often uttered would be Bruce Lee. Bruce Lee's roll as an iconic martial artist, instructor, movie star and business man left an indelible mark on pop culture and he did so all before he was 32 old when he died of a cerebral adema. His death over 45 years ago has not diminished his impact on martial arts as a whole.
Bruce Lee was one of the first traditionally trained martial artists who espoused an anti-traditional approach of favoring techniques and approaches that were effective and efficient over ornate and traditional. He is sometimes referred to as the father of mixed martial arts because of his openness to incorporate techniques that were the most effective.
Though it is unlikely, Bruce Lee spent any time studying BJJ specifically since he died in 1973 and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu had not yet begun to gain worldwide attention outside of Brazil until the early 1990's, his thoughts on martial arts and training can be valuable to every jiu jitsu practitioner. By reflecting on his ideas and impact we can keep the spirit of Bruce Lee alive. Let's take a look at a few of his famous quotes and explore what they can teach us about our jiu jitsu practice.
Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.
Bruce Lee was a traditionally trained martial artist who challenged tradition his entire life. Whether as a martial artist, philosopher, entrepreneur, and movie star, Lee sought to break out of defined molds and escape cultural stereotypes. In his martial arts philosophy, he believed that only techniques that are the most effective should be practiced and taught.
BJJ at its core is about efficiency and focusing on the most useful and effective movements. Out of the thousands of moves that make up the complete BJJ universe of techniques, one's personal journey is building a library of the most useful for you. In addition, BJJ allows for a great deal of creativity and has plenty of room for people to make adjustments due to things like body style, size, age, and overall athleticism.
Having a strong background in the fundamentals of BJJ will allow a person to begin to adapt and create personal variations that work for them and may have never been seen before. Martial arts for Lee was much more open-ended than the traditionalists would have liked, but it was this open-mindedness that endeared him to the world and allowed his influence to spread.
Don't be afraid to try new things, to be open to new techniques and positions. Find the ones that work for you at your current stage of development and be willing to expand your palette as time goes on. You may not use the berimbolo today, but who knows, it could prove to be useful down the road.
If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you'll never get it done.
The road to jiu jitsu mastery ultimately leads to a point where we have trained our bodies to react without thought. Whether one actually gets to that final destination or not is debatable, but makes the quest no less important. No matter where you are on the road to that goal, the less time we spend thinking about the execution of a technique or what to do in a specific situation, the better. The longer we wait in bottom side control, the more time our opponent has to settle in and make it harder and harder to escape.
Think of any position as wet cement. The longer you stay in closed guard, the firmer and more confining the cement becomes. The goal is to act quickly and without thought to break free and begin passing the guard. If you spend too much time pondering and debating options with yourself, the more likely the opponent will keep you there and secure a submission.
Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.
BJJ study and practice is not easy. It is a long, slow road to reach one's black belt. It is commonly said that less than 5% of people who walk on the mats for their first BJJ class, walk across the mats eventually achieving their black belt. It can be extremely discouraging day in and day out to always be the nail in a room full of hammers, but if you can persevere and never stop, you will not only have that coveted piece of cloth around your waist, but without a doubt, you will be a different person.
You will be a BJJ black belt. A BJJ black belt means so much more than being proficient in a language of techniques, or being able to defend oneself or kick some ass when necessary. It means you have chosen an almost impossible path. A path that was designed to make you quit. And you didn't. You kept on. You made it. You earned something that few people will ever earn and you have become a completely different person than you might have ever become.
To hell with circumstances; I create opportunities.
During the average five minute sparring session, our training partners present us with a vast array of problems and challenges in the hopes of dominating or submitting us. Out of this blitz of circumstances, you, like Bruce Lee are tasked with creating opportunities for your own game.
If BJJ teaches you nothing else, it is that all problems and circumstances, if approached methodically can be improved over time. For every dominant position, there are opportunities for escape. In every transition, there are opportunities for submissions. It is our job to create these opportunities and not be frozen in the face of bad circumstances. This my friends is how the nail eventually learns to be a hammer.
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.
There are probably 10,000 or more techniques in the jiu jitsu universe, but the most effective approach is by becoming an expert in a relatively small number of techniques. One of the best examples of this would be Roger Gracie and his performance at the World Championships in 2009. Roger Gracie is considered one of the best representatives of Gracie jiu jitsu in competition. With a game that is very traditional and relatively simple, it is his absolute masterful execution of these techniques that secured his reputation as the best competitor of the Gracie Family. In 2009, he defeated 9 different world class opponents with the mounted collar choke, one of the first techniques most people learn in their first 3 months of jiu jitsu.
So while it's important to be open-minded and give new techniques a try in your game, don't be in a rush to add quantity to your game at the expense of quality. Being able to execute 5-6 techniques perfectly is far better than being able to execute 50 techniques without any success.
To recap, one of the best ways we can celebrate the life of Bruce Lee the martial arts icon and philosopher is to look at his ideas and apply what we can to our approach to enrich our jiu jitsu. He would want us to keep an open mind to new techniques, but to focus first and foremost in working to perfect the things that fit our game. Bruce Lee would also not want us to have an easy time earning our black belts. He knew the importance of being the nail and being the best damn nail we can be and never giving up.
One of the best places to start on the path of applying more of Bruce Lee's philosophy to our training is having a good understanding of fundamentals. No one has a better sense of the fundamentals of BJJ as Chris Haueter who was there at the beginning and is himself one of the "Dirty Dozen" which is the first group of American BJJ black belts. In his "Old School and Efficient BJJ" he will teach you all of the secrets you need to know to have a strong foundation to build on. You can get it here!