Jiu-Jitsu Letter

Just Keep Going

One of the fascinating things about jiu-jitsu or submission wrestling—or catch wrestling (for Josh Barnett, a modern MMA fighter who maintains that his submission wrestling is “catch-as-catch-can” dating back to Burns and Gotch)—is that it is almost wholly about knowledge. It is one of the few pure arts where a more knowledgable small man can destroy bigger, stronger, faster men, as Royce Gracie has shown.


What I’ve realized since then is that jiu-jitsu differs from chess in major ways. There is a huge physical component, where strength and speed and conditioning matter, but muscle memory (not a part of chess) plays a titanic role. Moving through positions happens too fast to think. Your body has to have learned what to do, how to protect your arms, how to shift weight to avoid a sweep. In order to be good, you need to log in the mat time, thousands and thousands of hours of just getting beat on by better guys. As Pat Miletich says, “You gotta take a lot of beatings.”


Sean Williams, a Renzo Gracie black belt (you see the lineage qualifier? He’s not just a black belt, he’s a Renzo Gracie black belt; he trained extensively with the great man) who teaches in Hollywood, California, once told me of how when he was a purple belt he’d broken his jaw. It had forced him to the sidelines for two months. “As I was recovering I watched a lot of tape, and when I came back the other purple belts who’d been giving me problems were suddenly easy for me.” It seems to be the consensus—if you keep at it, one day you make a breakthrough.

Later (Eddie Bravo):

“Everybody has ego. I have it, too. But you have to be the black belt and the ego has to be the blue belt—you have to be controlling it. I don’t like tapping. I’m teaching my students how to beat me and they are dying to do it, even though they respect me. But I’ll roll with everybody, and I get tapped by my students. I got some vicious dogs in here. But you can’t be one of those instructors who thinks it’s bad business to show weakness so they stop rolling. I’m selling evolution. You grow or you die.”

Later (Marcelo Garcia):

“Why do I beat a lot of people? Because I love it so much, that’s why. Everything about jiu-jitsu, I love it—the school, the mat, the ring. I always believe that. Maybe I am not better than my opponent, but I know for sure I love my training more.”

From The Fighter’s Mind, which I’ve been revisiting since first reading it several years ago. It’s interesting to read with a new perspective after training for so long. These were a few highlights from the chapter, “The King of Scrambles”, about jiu-jitsu and Marcelo, naturally.

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