Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Amateur Martial Artists

I first found the post below via The Tai Chi Notebook blog. I enjoy that blog very much and I think that you would too. Please pay a visit.

As much as many of us enjoy our martial arts practice, as much as we find that it enriches our lives, there are very few of us that can be full time, professional martial artists. It's just not in the cards.

Below is an excerpt from an essay by a hobbyist BJJ Black Belt. The full post may be read here

It’s interesting that much of what we see and hear from Jiu Jitsu black belts comes from well known guys and world champions. We form much of our understanding of what it means to be a black belt from these guys. It’s certainly a worthwhile goal to aspire to the achievements of the greats. There is much to be learned from listening to Rickson, Saulo, Marcello,  or any of the big name black belts. Their experience and knowledge of the game is invaluable. They are experts in what it takes to get to the highest levels of the art.

What is often missing is the voice of the hobbyist. The student who has a full time job, maybe a family or other demands and chooses to not dedicate the bulk of their life to the art. This is where the vast majority of people who study Jiu Jitsu live. Either by choice, circumstance, or necessity we are part time grapplers. We enjoy the art as much as anyone and aspire to be the best grapplers that we can be but we are realistic that we don’t choose to train in a way that will make us the next world champion. This is the realm of the hobbyist.

It’s okay to be a hobbyist. There is no shame in it and it doesn’t make you any less of a Jiu Jitsu student. Everyone has their own role to play in the art. A good thriving school has many hobbyists in its ranks. We need people who are successful parents, professionals, educators, tradesmen, students, doctors etc. These people give the school a wonderful diversity and richness that it wouldn’t have if everyone was full time athlete. A healthy school has people of all ages, races, incomes, men and women, hobbyists and dedicated athletes. Each has an important role to play in creating a rich tribe that nurtures everyone’s aspirations and respects everyone’s path through Jiu Jitsu. With that said here’s the voice of a part time hobbyist black belt:

Confessions of a hobbyist black belt

We have a hard time with all levels of student. In a roll I can have a very tough time with even white belts. There are times when I try my best and can’t get a sweep, or submission that I want. I can find myself unable to execute basic techniques. I can be flustered and stymied by something that a white belt does naturally. Yesterday I rolled with two different white belts that I could not submit from guard bottom. I tried my best for triangle chokes, armbars, uma platas, and couldn’t pull them off. Their posture was too good and I couldn’t break it. What I’m trying to say is that black belt doesn’t always mean that you dominate the other guy. I’m not likely to get tapped out by a white belt but I can be frustrated by them pretty consistently. Much of the time Jiu Jitsu is still a struggle regardless of who I’m rolling with. From the outside it may look like I’m having an effortless time in a roll but I can assure you it’s almost never that way.

There is a lot about Jiu Jitsu that we don’t know. I remember when I first got my black belt thinking how different it felt than what I had imagined. I thought I’d have a real mastery and understanding of Jiu Jitsu at black belt. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve been a black belt for several years now and there are so many things I don’t understand. I still can’t manage a collar choke from guard bottom. I can’t do an effective hip bump sweep in a live roll. I have no idea how to execute a berimbolo sweep. Honestly, I’m still perplexed by guard passing. Most times I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. I get guard passes all the time but it feels mostly like luck or that I’m finding them somehow in the midst of a struggle. It rarely feels like a well planned and coordinated attack.

We constantly struggle with training/life balance. There are many times that I’d like to go to the gym but make other choices. I see many younger guys at the gym 5 or 6 days a week. I’m lucky if I make 3. Usually it’s 2. I always want to be at the gym and would be happy to be there 5 nights a week but the stuff I’d have to give up to make that happen are too important. Many nights I have to weigh spending time with my family or spending time at the gym. It’s a hard sell to leave my family responsibilities for an entire evening. As much as I love going to the gym I have to make different decisions many times. I don’t want to look back 10 years from now and think that I got really good at Jiu Jitsu and was a mediocre family man. I’ll be honest though it’s a constant struggle. I see the younger guy’s games improving rapidly and feel a bit stagnant at times because I’m not training as much. It can be a bit of an ego buster if I’m not careful. Even at black belt I can tell myself that I’m not good enough, or dedicated enough, or not a good asset to the gym because I don’t prioritize it in the way some people do.

We have to train and roll different. I don’t have the time in training to constantly explore and find new techniques. I do experiment and look for new solutions but much of my training time is spent refining what I already know. In fact I’m constantly trying to make my game smaller so there is less to maintain. I probably have about 3 submissions. Maybe 3 guard passes. Most things I can do effectively on only one side. Making my game smaller makes it easier to maintain and grow on even 2 days a week.

When I roll I can’t go fast and hard. If I do I’ll gas after one or two rolls. Instead I roll at about 50 to 60% most times. This allows me to roll as long as I want. I can roll for hours at this pace. It also allows me to build a game that is not based on conditioning, or speed, or strength. It’s a game I can keep as I age and it doesn’t take a ton of conditioning and strength work. This means though that the young athletic purple belt will catch me in stuff. They’ll get the guard pass sometimes. They’ll get submissions. I could match them if I wanted to. I have about one or two rounds in me at young guy athleticism and speed. If I needed an ego boost I could burn up my tank in a pissing contest.

I choose not to though. I’ve come to learn that the younger guys respect me for my experience and knowledge and not because I can dominate them at will. I have value to the gym in that. I have found my place. My place is to get people’s game better as efficiently as possible regardless of strength, size, speed, conditioning, and frequency of gym attendance. I can do this because it’s how I chose to build my game. It’s an advantage I have over Rickson and other full time instructors who have a great luxury of time. Mine can’t be wasted because I choose to dedicate only a small amount of it to Jiu Jitsu. I think this is good Jiu Jitsu though because to me Jiu Jitsu is about getting the most benefit from the least amount of effort. In that hobbyist black belts can truly shine.

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