Many things are more religion than science in their practice. I’m attracted to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu because it is more the latter. Religions are dogmatic in their instruction, don’t invite questioning, require belief in most cases, and suspension of belief in others.
I am not a person of faith. I don’t think I ever was, even as a kid. I always had too many questions, and a stubborn desire for proof. I would sit in church nightly, and observe the congregation, though I never took them as such. To me, they were all individuals. Mostly neighbors with their own lives, and by that I mean problems, loves, lusts, desires, rotten kids (me included), low-wage jobs, and all equally stuck in a Spanish-speaking purgatory in a land of Anglos. This purgatory was where they derived their sense of community. My observations led me to the conclusion that they came together out of a need to hope, but religion is what they received. That is to say, if they followed a severe dogma, (super severe if you happen to pop your head in a 1980’s Puerto Rican Pentecostal church where spirits, both good and evil were actively vying for your immortal soul in a struggle that manifested itself nightly in the physical realm through possessions and exorcisms) then they would be rescued from their limbo, and the gifts of Heaven would be theirs. (Heaven always included a cornucopia of eternally ripe tropical fruits, sandy tropical beaches, and warm, salty Caribbean breezes: confirmation bias.)
Then I found science. Science didn’t care whether I found it or not. It was the first place where my questions were invited, but the answers were never promised nor delivered as absolute truths. Science contained no ancient scrolls, and no unaccredited quotes transcribed hundreds of times by the unsteady hands of elderly scribes, or by the assured minds of their intelligent apprentices. The answers were always limited to the scope of my questions. (And in this I believed.) My questions had to manifest themselves into the physical realm through experimentation. It was the experimentation that revealed the truths.
Many years later I found BJJ, a martial art birthed out of experimentation. It did not maintain that it held ancient scrolls of knowledge. Its secrets did not lie with one founder whose methods could not be questioned. Its existence was ever changing. Its evolution was the result of countless experiments in human combat. Where others proselytize that their lineages trace through hundreds of years to the Samurai of old, while practicing techniques that subscribe to recent dogma, BJJ does not. (Codified martial arts were themselves translations of the combat techniques of the Mononofu who battled throughout Nippon. These were later adopted by and adapted to the relatively more civilized society of an emerging Japan by the last vestiges of an aristocratic Samurai class.)
However, there were a few who resisted this need for posterity. They treated their practices as an evolving set of skills more so than a codified art. All were welcome to pose their questions. Can I defeat your skillset by being an expert wrestler, boxer, kickboxer, karate practitioner? Jiu Jitsu adapted with each experiment whether in triumph or defeat, by the likes of Maeda and other Japanese like him, to the Gracies and other Brazilians.
This experimentation is alive, and is encouraged on the mats today. Though every BJJ practitioner subscribes to practicing Jiu Jitsu, each individual practitioner engages in experimentation. What if I do this? What if my opponent does that? The questioning is constant, and the answers are limited in their application. (Whether they are asked in a pure grappling or sporting sense, or whether they are for MMA or self-defense purposes)
In BJJ, there are countless, basic techniques to learn, but their application and modification differs by practitioner. They often vary vastly between training partners, and even within members of the same family. Recently, I had the pleasure of running a few experiments with several members of a family, and each destroyed me in their own unique way. (Sometimes you are the solvent, and sometimes you are the solute. I am ever the solute.) When all of the experiments were complete, and the class ended, I drove home satisfied with the results. The satisfaction came from the fact that Jiu Jitsu once again showed me why I fell in love with it.
My BJJ professor, Prof. Marcio “Pe de Pano” Cruz often repeats this mantra, “You have to develop your Jiu Jitsu.” Every time he says this it makes me think of those moments before walking into a Biology, Chemistry, or Physics lab. I am full of questions and hypotheses, and I can’t wait to get to the experiments.
© J. Manuel