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The Gentle Art

May 20, 2008

Today I attended my first jiu-jitsu class in over three months. During my work I had absolutely no time at all to train, and I missed it dearly. I’d have the occasional dream where I was grappling, I’d attack my co-workers with bear hugs and under-hooks, but it just wasn’t the same. So finally with my free time I decided to get back into the game. I was a little scared at first, I was worried of being shunned from class having missed so much time. Like most martial arts there are some very strict codes of conduct, and loyalty is up near the top of the list, especially in Gracie jiu-jitsu. 
But it was actually great. At first I didn’t recognize the early students, but soon some of my old friends came in. They all greeted me with smiles, and asked where I had been. Practice went about as normal, but at the end when my teacher made his announcements he called me up for a promotion. “Me?” I couldn’t believe it. After a three month hiatus I was promoted from white belt to blue belt. A huge smile grew on my face, and I couldn’t wipe it off throughout the rest of the rolling session. 
I know it’s a blue belt, only one step above the beginning level, but in Gracie jiu-jitsu it’s the second of five degrees (white, blue, purple, brown, black, and technically there is a red belt, but only the founder has that). Unlike Karate, Tae-Kwon-Do, Kenpo or a handful of other martial arts where they have up to ten belts, you have to pay to test, and promotions come more as a fundraiser for the school than a grading of your skill level.  Not to say all schools are like this, but most are very commercially driven. That is one reason why I am so proud to progress in Gracie jiu-jitsu. In the ji-jitsu school you are awarded a belt only when your teacher thinks you are ready for it. To achieve a black belt within Gracie jiu-jitsu you must be promoted by a Gracie (or so the lore goes). Basically I’m a very happy and proud boy. While I’m on the topic of martial arts I’d like to discuss a bit more why I enjoy and am fascinated by grappling martial arts.
In the martial arts world they have two schools of thought. A martial art is either considered “hard” or “soft”. Hard martial arts rely on attacking an opponent, using fists, feet, elbows and knees as weapons (Karate, Tae-Kwon-Do, Jeet-Kune-Do, Muay Thai, etc…). Soft martial arts use the opponents attacks and turns them against the attacker, usually relying on throws, joint locks, and trips (Aikido, Judo, Jiu-Jitsu, etc…). Even in my mind I’ve always been “soft” in relation to how I approach strife in life. Instead of attacking my conflicts and trying to overpower them I prefer to step-back, and respond to what is thrown at me. 
I also like that grappling has such a vast library of moves, that for each attack there is a counter, and for every counter there is another counter. When you begin to get deep into the jiu-jitsu game you realize it is more like chess than anything else. A good grappler will see your move coming from a mile away, and they already know how to counter it. Like chess you can’t just simply send your rook to attack their king, you must set up a long series of attacks in order to get your opponent to place their king into danger. This is exactly how a good jiu-jitsu game is usually played out. I like that technique can overcome size and power, which is the main strain of thought behind Gracie jiu-jitsu. 
Lastly I like that it can be gentle, in Japanese it is literally translated as “the Gentle Art.” No matter what martial art you study the main lesson every student should learn is that they master the techniques so that they never have to use them. With jiu-jitsu I believe that should you solve a conflict you can do so with minimal force. I’m definitely a lover and not a fighter, but out of the few fights I’ve been in they’ve never come to blows. I’ve been able to deflect an opponents attacks as they try to punch me, headlock someone to the ground, or even get a key-lock to stop them from fighting (granted I was sucker punched after I released him, but that was taken care of by a 315 lb friend of mine). I don’t condone unnecessary violence, and I’m not encouraging fighting; but sometimes it is a necessary evil. But as one of the principles of karate states, “There is no first strike in karate.” Knowing that you have the ability should lead you to more creative solutions to conflict. Or as Sun Tzu eloquently puts it:
“To have one-hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the height of skill.
To subdue the enemy without fighting is the height of skill.”
~Sun Tzu
Hmmm, the more I describe this the more it sounds like Bush should have done Karate as a kid. 

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