Jiu-Jitsu Letter

Sylvio Behring

I like what I’ve read about Sylvio Behring (son of red belt Flavio Behring) in Roberto Pedreira’s Jiu-Jitsu in the South Zone, 1997-20181:

Sylvio said, “Just do the warm-up you need to do. You’ve been training long enough to know what you need to do.” Alvaro nodded. I liked that. Too many teachers mistake warm-up for aerobic conditioning. They aren’t the same and serve different purposes. Spending more time on warming up than you actually need to get warm―which in Rio isn’t much―is a waste of training time. Most of the more advanced guys do not do a separate warm-up at all. They warm up by rolling, although at a much reduced level of intensity.2

“That’s smart, man. You need open guard sweeps to fight at blue belt level. Closed guard sweeps aren’t going to work on anyone with a good posture”―which of course, anyone at blue belt level should have. Alvaro showed me fourteen open guard sweeps, set-ups, sweep combinations and some drills for dialing them in. I mentioned to Sylvio that I felt I had taken a big step forward. “Yes,” he replied, “Now you know the sweeps; it’ll take another 12 months before you can actually do them.” I practiced some of them on the other guys there. Everyone passed my guard easily. Sylvio was right. Knowing how to do something and actually doing it are not the same thing (in the terminology of Noam Chomsky, it is the difference between competence and performance). Twelve months of practice seemed about right.

Sylvio has misgivings about this brand of jiu-jitsu. “I want to see what he can do when he’s 55,” referring to one tough (but excellent) fighter, Alexandre Café. Another tough fighter whose name often came up was Vitor Belfort. Sylvio’s opinion was one that many people seemed to share. “He’s a clown,” Sylvio said, apparently speaking for the other guys there at the time too, possibly referring to Vitor’s playboy lifestyle. “But we’re fans,” he quickly added.

The main thing is to relax and enjoy your training, Sylvio says. You won’t stick with it long enough to get good if training is boring or unpleasant. Don’t think of tapping as losing but as part of learning new things. You can tap any time you want for any reason. It doesn’t mean you lost or the other guy is better than you. If you don’t like your position, want to work on a different one, just tap and start over. Rolling isn’t competing, therefore you can’t “lose.” What you can do however is waste your time. If you are serious about your jiu-jitsu, wasting training time is not what you want to do.

Another important thing, Sylvio says, is to select who you roll with intelligently. You don’t have to roll with everyone every time. Don’t take it as a challenge. You can’t win and you can’t lose. You might think that you can, but if you do, you are thinking wrong. Rolling to get better and competing to win medals and trophies are two completely different things. If someone is being excessively defensive, doing nothing, just trying to survive, and not even trying to pass your guard or seriously attack you, then maybe you aren’t getting anything out of rolling with him. In a contest, he would lose the match by falta de combatividade (passivity). You are squandering valuable and limited training time on him. Roll with someone with a more productive mentality.

Sylvio believes jiu-jitsu should be part of your life, not just something you do because it’s the fad. What is the purpose of being a tough guy for a few years and then having no practical self-defense capabilities when you are no longer young and training and supplementing like a maniac?

I don’t know how much Sylvio knew about Jeet Kune Do. But in a sense, his jiu-jitsu was Jeet Kune Do in its purest form that is, as Bruce Lee intended it to be, rather than the movie version that he is better known for. I had over the past two weeks learned four or five versions of a particular sweep that everybody seemed to be doing lately. The variations were in the grip and everyone who taught it recommended a different grip. I asked Sylvio what the “correct” or “best” grip was. His answer expressed the essence of Jeet Kune Do: “You have to find what works for you.” “Find” implies exploring. You have to seek, or at least keep your eyes and mind open, before you can find. “Works” implies testing against the criterion of effectiveness. The personal pronoun “You” implies the individuality that everyone brings to any art and additionally places the primary responsibility with the student, rather than the teacher. Without intending to, Sylvio summed up the philosophy of Bruce Lee in eight words. But in another sense, Bruce Lee’s philosophy was just the same common-sense that every boxing, judo, or wrestling coach takes for granted. Jiu-jitsu is similar in that the emphasis is more on getting the job done than looking good. Looking good is great, if you can, but winning is better. If it doesn’t work, why would you want to do it?

  1. Amazon: https://amzn.to/3NZ9jNj ↩︎

  2. https://jiujitsuletter.com/posts/warmups/ ↩︎

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