On the Gentle Art #10

bjj evolve

Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do and die, is the usual turn of phrase for Tennyson’s popularized poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”. But of course, that’s crap. I have always maintained that the most important question is the why. Many times however, we all get stuck in the how. This applies to all things in life whether at your job, in school, and especially on the Jiujitsu mats. We’ve all been there; at a job that we couldn’t wait to land because of our idealized sense of it, only to find ourselves buried in mundane tasks that after a while make us lose our sense of what attracted us in the first place. At times, this happens to me on the Jiujitsu mats, and I suspect that it happens to many of you also. Last night’s class was one of those occasions.

Prof. Cruz was teaching a half-guard sweep where instead of coming up over the top of your opponent and taking his/her back, you position your hips tightly against their hips, and rotate under them to complete the sweep. This has the advantage of using very little energy and maximum leverage to disturb your opponent’s equilibrium. The result is a fairly uncomplicated yet effective sweep that allows you to end up in side-control. (It’s a dominant position where you pin your opponent to the ground.)

This is all well and good when you see it demonstrated, but it is something altogether different when you try to attempt it. Now the devil is in the details. Though I’ve become aware of paying attention to the details, for some reason I was not able to pull off the technique correctly even though we’ve been working on it all week. This is where I blundered. I kept trying to break down the steps, as I normally do, but nothing. I found myself pulling my partner, and trying to use my momentum to swing under him to force the issue. (Wrong, wrong, aaand wrong!) Thankfully my partner, we’ll call him “The Magician”, said some words to me that made me remember the why. He said, to paraphrase, “Remember to think about the concept of the technique.”

That’s when it clicked. The concept of the technique is to isolate my opponent’s hips so that I can tie them to mine. Once his hips are joined to mine, they are in essence an extension of my hips. If I move my hips, then his hips have no choice but to move. To bring a little physics to the table, think about the second hand of a clock. The hand is attached at the center to a very small gear. As the gear turns, the second hand turns. The gear and the hand are attached, duh. However, there is something really cool, and unseen at play, and that’s where the magic (physics) happens. For every small turn of the gear, the second hand covers a lot more distance at the tip than the part that is attached to the gear. It is also moving faster, because it has to cover that greater distance at the same time as the part that is attached to the gear. Why is this important for clockmakers, and jiujitsu practitioners? Well, because of something called, Angular Momentum, where an object’s motion is determined by its position and the forces acting on it. To change its momentum you have to add an external force (torque) to it. The hip is the gear or axis of rotation (the point where the movement happens) in the technique. When I attach my hips to my opponent’s, his hips become the second hand, and I’ve effectively become the gear. As I turn (adding torque to my hips) he turns. The magic is that as I turn a little, he turns a lot. His body reacts to my motion by covering a lot more distance (in this case through the air) than I do on the ground. His body also reacts by covering that distance faster. His Angular Velocity increases. (There are some pretty in depth equations out there to measure this, but I want to maintain readers. Plus I’m not nerd enough to do them correctly, so no.) Let’s just say the end result is that if you do the technique correctly then you exert relatively little energy for some pretty dramatic results. (Namely your opponent slamming to the mat pinned in a bad position wondering what the hell happened.)

And this is where I return to “The Magician’s” wise words, “Remember the concept.” The concept isn’t just getting a sweep to end up in a dominant position. The concept is Jiujitsu: the Gentle Art. It is about using physics to your advantage, not just brute force. It is about applying as little force as necessary to render your opponent helpless while protecting yourself. Conserving energy where you are able to by exploiting your opponent’s weaknesses. Why, you ask? Because the entire point of Jiujitsu is so that a person (“with a small gear”- sounds bad) like me can survive for as long as necessary to escape an attack by a larger, more powerful opponent, that’s why.

Remember to always ask why, otherwise you might find yourself making your own “Charge of the Light Brigade” into your opponent’s overwhelming force, and you might not make it back.

© J. Manuel

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