Our academy is hitting a new and very noteworthy milestone. Recently we graduated three new Blue Belts: Akash, Pasha, and Adriana. Promotions are not new for us, but they are spaced out fairly well. You don’t see belt promotions often just yet, and I believe that in a new school that should be the case. Maintaining and advancing the standard of Jiu Jitsu is something that should be done first in a school, the promotions follow.
What is unique about these three promotions is that these students started with us and as their game grew, the way we organize the curriculum has changed. Despite what the schedule may have said three years ago we essentially had two groups of students, those new to Jiu Jitsu and those with a bit of experience. The three recent promotions have actively participated in the different levels of the academy taking shape and filling out. As the academy has grow the standard of a Praxis blue belt has become more established, and we now have a variety of class levels to accommodate individuals whether they are just starting Jiu Jitsu, an active hobbyist, or an active competitor.
A common theme in coaching circles is the idea of “you never know”. A coach can take ten brand new students on day one and do his or her best to guess who is going to develop appreciable skill easily and who will struggle in that endeavor. Coach's can guess, but you never know. One of the joys of coaching is being surprised by students. A coach cannot look at students on day one and reliably predict who is going to surprise you and who isn’t. This means that a coach has to try and present the material judiciously and help students discover new tools as it best aids their growth.
While we cannot reliably predict future skill we can look back in hindsight, after the students progress, and look for common themes among those who excelled quickly. This allows us to better mold the curriculum and class structure to optimize for skills that help students progress in general. Looking back at these promotions I noticed a few things that tie these students together. I would like to share that so that we can all check and see how we approach these traits in our own training.
One of the first things that you might notice about the three is that on the spectrum of physical size they all are on the smaller end of the scale. This means that when they started training the option of overpowering their partner generally didn’t exist. Some people fake themselves out and think they are learning Jiu Jitsu when in reality they are learning how to better throw their weight around and overpower people. I think that is what the first 5-6 years of my training was. I wasn’t so much trying to learn Jiu Jitsu as I was trying to learn how to beat people. There is a big difference.
To see the second thing that ties them together you need to get to know them a bit. All three are very empathetic people. Talk with any of them and you will feel like they are really listening to what you say and are actively engaged in the conversation. They are paying attention and not just listening, but trying to understand where the other person is coming from. This is very different from passively listening until the other person says something that allows you to assign them to a box defined by your preconceived notions of what type of people are out there. It is listening with a sense of inquiry and trying to understand where the other person is coming from.
What does that have to do with learning Jiu Jitsu? Well, everything actually.
When I was trying to overpower everyone in the early days of my training I did not care what the other person was trying to do. I wanted to win and that was most important to me. In my eyes any energy my partner gave me was an obstacle I had to overcome and defeat. Akash, Pasha, and Adriana did not have that opportunity, they started by trying to survive.
That dynamic alone, (different learning challenges in bigger vs slighter students), is nothing new and you see it in most Jiu Jitsu schools. What is different though is that the three new blue belts are paying attention better than the average bear when they are on the mat. The phrase “who you are in life is who you are on the mat” isn’t just some clever inspirational phrase that belongs on the back of packet of herbal tea, it is a very well documented phenomena. It makes sense, who you are as a person is revealed more plainly when you are placed under pressure.
Jiu Jitsu is often described as a conversation between two people. If you have seen Nick and Drake train you can tell they are having a very active and productive conversation. When one of them moves, the other moves at the same time trying to turn the position or transitional change into something going their own way. You can never tell who is going to come out ahead of their transitions because they are in the moment and focused 100% on the conversation at hand. Their mind is in the game and there is no room for thoughts of ego or anything outside of the training occuring right then. They are not trying to overpower each other, they are reading what their partner is doing and trying to find the leverage advantage in the moment.
What happens when a beginner who is forced to work on defense is also someone who’s natural tendencies are to pay exceedingly close attention to the energy of the other person? You get a student who quickly develops an uncommonly acute sense of what their partner is currently doing and is about to do. Imagine possessing that skill, the ability to know what your partner is going to do before they do it. Would that benefit your training or not?
Let's look at this a different way. Have you ever misspoke? Have you ever blurted something out before you thought it through? I don’t know about you, but I know that when I wake up in the morning one of my big goals is to make it all the way to dinner before I say something without thinking about it, or considering my audience…… or consider that the words I am speaking may not mean to me what they mean to the person I am saying them to. Without looking too hard at the life lesson there, ask yourself this; “if my mind allows me to speak without thinking, is it possible that I also move my body without giving it much thought?”
This is where you can reflect back on times you tried to open your front door with your car alarm, left the refrigerator door open, or set out to run errands and realized that you had no plan or goal but that you just started moving mindlessly in that direction. We are all just people and as such we are all vulnerable to the lack of mindfulness that often comes with that.
In the conversation of Jiu Jitsu the energy used between you and your partner are the words. Remember what I said on your first day of class, when you partner pushes into you there are no moves that go into that push, move lateral. If your partner pulls there are no moves that occur by pulling back. You have to go with it and redirect. Then we start to learn about posture, structure, and positioning. Often times when we try to put those elements together our underlying tendencies as a person come in and try to back seat drive for us. However a person whose natural tendency is to pay close attention to the energy of others is going to have a long term advantage over the person just trying to speak louder than everyone else to ensure that they are heard.
Jiu Jitsu is about a weaker person overcoming a stronger person. Think about it, I am not going to walk up to a gorilla and try to match him strength for strength. I am going to seek an advantage of positioning and leverage. The goal in training isn’t to make everybody tap. The goal is to understand how leverage, timing, pressure, and space are all tied together and learn how to master that conversation. That road to mastery is filled with a whole lot of taping and whole lot of learning what doesn’t work.
Everyone of us is one that road. Sometimes we can train as often as we wish, sometimes not. The important thing is that if you want to develop skill you have to stay on the road and consciously work towards that end. When I left Denver I left a whole family of friends and training partners. While that had some sadness, I knew that there was an academy waiting to show itself here. I was eager to meet those students and get to work. Seeing all of you progress and advance your skill is a joy for me and I appreciate all of the work you put in.
While these three have definitely added a great deal of character and charisma to the academy, there are also many of you out there working hard towards a goal that seems closer some days and further on others. Know that your day is coming and you are working hard at a worthy and coveted goal. Anything worth having is worth working for. If you wanted instant gratification you would have chosen to get really good at playing angry birds. You would have also been rewarded with a super lame hobby that you would not want brought up in public. Instead you get to entertain the question, “oh, you train Jiu Jitsu? Cool, what’s that like?"
A big congratulations to Akash, Pasha, and Adrianna! Thank you for keeping the training fun and challenging at the same time.
See everyone in class!