I am constantly thinking of ways to describe Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to people who ask me about it. The good old “Jiu-jitsu is a grappling art that emphasized leverage and technique to employ arm locks, leg locks and chokes to neutralize an opponent.” doesn’t always do it justice in my opinion. There is so much more to the art than just the physical act of submitting our opponent. The near-infinite nature of sparring with another trained practitioner, the mental focus & discipline required to develop, adapt and execute a strategy during sparring… The range that Jiu-jitsu- and indeed the larger realm of grappling- seems to stretch away endlessly. It’s almost as if it were a language. This is another way in which I like to explain Jiu-jitsu; as a language and, more specifically, like a conversation.
Jiu-jitsu is like a language in many ways; it has its own vocabulary, conventions and sequences. The more of the language we understand, the more proficient we become in using it. Just like any language, it can be used to communicate with others. Sparring is like a conversation with another person; we can practice and test our understanding of the language of Jiu-jitsu against another’s.
Like any conversation, the extent and depth of topics covered is entirely dictated by both participants’ understanding of the language being spoken. With Jiu-jitsu, the same is true; the level of understanding of both participants will result in far more technical, extensive and dynamic sparring.
One practitioner will attempt to apply a technique; the equivalent of making a statement in a conversation. The opponent- with the right understanding- may attempt to counter this by applying a technique of their own; this is the equivalent of the counter statement in a debate or conversation where a participant disagrees with the previous statement. A roll (a sparring session) or conversation could continue in this fashion almost infinitely if both participants are evenly matched. Where participants are not evenly matched however, the conversation will be cut short, as one person’s knowledge of the language is superior that of the other. This is typical of Jiu-jitsu; a sparring session will flow to a natural end- the submission- when one practitioner no longer has any techniques left to apply or has made errors in their ‘argument’ if we were to continue the analogy.
So how can I take this analogy a step further and apply it back to my own approach to the art? I feel like I am at a stage where, despite having a broad knowledge of the language theoretically, I still need to develop my ability to apply the language effectively against an opponent. I am developing short sentences that may work at times, however I need to continue developing my skills until I can answer more complex questions or counterpoints that my opponents present.
I suppose this is exactly like learning any language; to become fluent in it we must completely immerse ourselves in it and constantly speak it until we are proficient. The language of Jiu-jitsu is a complex one and I am constantly- no, endlessly- fascinated by its breadth and depth. The masters of our language are truly poetic with the art; black belts who display a near-perfect understanding of every word, sequence and concept within the art of Jiu-jitsu. Their execution of the art can be likened to a perfect piece of prose, a beautiful poem, sonnet or song.
I suppose it wouldn’t be inappropriate to call mastery within Jiu-jitsu “Poetry in motion.” As we walk the paths to mastery, I think it is crucial that we meditate on analogies in an attempt to better understand the art forms we engross ourselves in.