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Monday, December 15, 2008

The Sister Arts of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu

From our friend Roy Dean:

Originally published in Gracie Magazine, Issue #138.

My name is Roy Dean. I am a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu under Professor Roy Harris.  Before training in BJJ, I studied several Japanese martial arts systems, receiving my black belt in both Kodokan Judo and Aikikai Aikido.  Early on in my study of BJJ I realized that there were many overlapping areas with the arts I’d been exposed to, with surprising similarities in their movements and the avoidance of force on force.  I would like to briefly explore some of those areas of common ground, and where the arts may compliment each other.

Each art operates in a separate range of combat, and are all unique flavors of jujutsu.  Aikido focuses on the moment your opponent is grabbing you, pulling as they push, while turning and redirecting their attack.  Judo takes place in the clinch range, scooping your partner off balance and obstructing their movement to tip them to the ground.  Off course, BJJ is the premier groundfighting art, controlling the space and your partners movement options until your steer them into a joint lock or choke.

The yielding techniques of each system rely on distraction, angles, and leverage to work.  As your timing and sensitivity improve in each discipline, so does your efficiency in affecting the techniques.  They are all arts of pushing and pulling.  Ultimately, awareness, timing, and sensitivity are the attributes that will take you the farthest in acquiring deep skills, and conserve the most energy when facing larger opponents. 

Jigoro Kano’s Judo is a selective synthesis of many older jujutsu systems, and was the seed of Brazil’s own flowering of the art. Judo’s focus has been narrowed towards competition strategies since it’s inclusion in the Olympics, and this emphasis on tachi-waza, or standing techniques, has had positive and negative consequences.  Grip fighting has been elevated, while submission oriented newaza has declined. Many Brazilian Jiu Jitsu champions have trained extensively in Judo, and the results of that combination are already proven. 

But BJJ practitioners could also take notes from the art of Aikido, particularly their ukemi, or methods of falling, when receiving the dynamic wristlocks and throws characteristic of the style.  Learning to fall is perhaps the most practical of all martial art skills, and the circularity of Aikido’s blending movements translate well from the vertical plane to the horizontal.  BJJ and Judo players could also expand their self defense awareness by using Aikido’s elegant footwork to get off the line of attack against strikes, weapons, and multiple attackers.

Of course, benefits go both ways. I have found the effectiveness of my Aikido greatly enhanced after studying BJJ.  Ground fighting not only gives you a back up plan if your initial techniques fail, but also a deeper sense of confidence in your martial abilities, expanding your options wherever the fight may go.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu’s openness and wide technical palette adds not only to the sophistication of the art, but also to it’s effectiveness against other styles.  What gives BJJ the edge in effectiveness is Kano’s genius of randori, or full resistance sparring, combined with the aim of finishing the fight.  Throwing your opponent or pinning them may end an altercation, but BJJ picks up from that point, cutting off the avenues of escape in smooth and clever ways.  

Ways that work over and over again, against different bodies, strategies, and skill levels.  Rolling keeps the art alive, with the its teeth sharp, so a player can take on an opponent’s best effort and redirect it into a submission.  With sparring, each player can re-invent effectiveness for themselves, using techniques that fit their body type and disposition.

A descendant of Daito Ryu Aiki-jujutsu, Aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba used his interpretation of the art to stress non-violence and non-resistance.  While Aikido is philosophically rich, competition and practicing at full resistance are generally discouraged.  This is a reflection of the religious orientation of the founder, and makes Aikido accessible to all ages and abilities.  

The idea of a compassionate martial art has resonated with millions of people worldwide, and launched a philosophical movement that takes the principles off the mat and into daily life.  BJJ is beginning to head in this direction, going beyond the idea of winning and losing, and creating more inclusive environments that stress brotherhood and camaraderie.

Personally, I feel Aikido could benefit from full resistance training.  Working with non-resistant opponents can lead to a false sense of security, setting a student up for disappointment when their skills are needed most.  Sparring clearly illustrates that the first attempt at a technique does not always work, and the secret to repeatable effectiveness is found in the transitions between one technique and the next.  

Ironically, Ueshiba’s vision may be well served, and even enhanced, by incorporating the training methods of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  Even if trained as a separate art, the lessons learned in one discipline can be transferred to another, enriching understanding.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is far more than a sport, and even more than an art.  BJJ is a modern budo.  A warriors way.  Preserved tools of the samurai class, used to bring people together into a lifestyle, and allowing them to discover who they are and uncover their potential.  

Players from each discipline should not view the other styles as separate, but rather as sister arts, where even occasional cross training can expand awareness.  The future is not about separation, but rather integration with these other styles of jujutsu, fueling the evolution of each art.

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