The Cataclysm Sentence for Jiu Jitsu

If COVID19 creates a zombie apocalypse, what single sentence can transfer all knowledge of jiu jitsu?

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Photo by Chris Hall on Unsplash

Radiolab recently released an episode that started with Richard Feynman’s first lecture in his Introduction to Physics 101 class at CalTech. He starts the lecture by posing a question then answering it:

If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generations of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the atomic hypothesis (or the atomic fact, or whatever you wish to call it) that all things are made of atoms — little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another. In that one sentence, you will see, there is an enormous amount of information about the world, if just a little imagination and thinking are applied.

Richard Feynman, The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Volume I, Chapter 1, Section 2

He gives a brilliant synopsis for rebuilding physics through the atomic hypothesis — that all things are made of atoms. Society would rebuild iPhones, the internet, and the atomic bomb. But how much longer would it take to rebuild a physical art like jiu jitsu?

Long before humans could utilize technologies, we were protecting and providing for our tribes. Sometimes providing meant fighting and defending. If you have ever watched TheWalkingDead_AMC, you know it’s mostly about fighting for resources and protecting those resources.

In the case of COVID19 causing a zombie apocalypse, a more useful cataclysm sentence would be focused on self-defense. So, if in some cataclysm, all martial arts knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence could be passed on to the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words?

*Insert * John Danaher

Jiu jitsu dates back hundreds of years to Japan, where it was a form of self-defense for monks. It was a martial art to fight without fighting, known as “jujutsu” or “gentle art”. Jiu jitsu made its way to the west through the Gracie family of Brazil. First Carlos Gracie learned from Mitsuyo Maeda as a teenager, then he taught his brother Hélio.

The Gracie family was relatively small as first generation jiu jitsu practitioners, but exponentially increased as the family grew. The second generation guy is Rickson (“Hickson”) Gracie. Legend has it that Rickson has fought over 400 professional fights without a loss. You may recognize the name from his brother Royce (“Hoyce”) Gracie competing in UFC-1. The family made a decision to showcase the power of their newly evolved and practical techniques by selecting the smaller and less dominate member Royce to fight against the world’s elite fighters. Royce dominated everyone and made a statement with the power of Brazilian Jiu jitsu.

Renzo (“Henzo”) Gracie, cousin to Royce and Rickson, spent many years fighting at the highest levels before opening his own school in New York. Along the way, a young Columbia University philosophy student came into his doors and never left. This fella would go on to fundamentally change the sport. First he introduced leg locks, which were considered taboo tactic — a sign of losing and last resorts — a failure in your techniques. Then he brought systems based methodologies to the sport. Not that they were anything new to him. Rather, the philosophy of systems level thinking in a realtime dynamic problem solving sport such as jiu jitsu just wasn’t common knowledge until the leg lock system of John Danaher was showcased at ADCC in 2017.

ADCC or “Abu Dhabi Combat Club" is the submission wrestling championship. It’s jiu jitsu’s olympics. They are hosted every two years in Abu Dhabi and are generally populated by the most senior practitioners of the sport, at least until Danaher brought his Death Squad onto the scene.

Breakdown of the match Gordon “The King” Ryan vs Roberto “Cyborg” Abreu starts around 40 mins mark [LINK TO TIMESTAMP]

Danaher appeared on The Joe Rogan Experience (JRE) podcast shortly after the conclusion of the 2017 ADCC matches, where Danaher’s protege Gordon “The King” Ryan displayed senior-level dominance over a lifetime student of the game Roberto “Cyborg” Abreu. In their match, which lasted a full 3 minutes, Ryan employed Danaher’s leg-lock system. To the novice spectator, Ryan performed voodoo on Cyborg, like the mystical art forms that Royce showed were powerless against BJJ. During this JRE podcast appearance Danaher explains in detail the system Ryan used to dismantle Cyborg.

With Danaher’s teachings, Ryan has been able to dominate the jiu jitsu scene for more than 4 years and holds the most impressive submission rate of any no-gi grappler. But this wasn’t enough for Danaher.

Not long after the 2017 ADCC Ryan brought a newcomer to the Blue Basement of the Renzo Gracie Academy. This guy was a D3 wrestler with no jiu jitsu experience, which was perfect for Danaher. This newbie became Danaher’s new project. His name is Nick “NickyRod” Rodriguez.

At the 2019 ADCC Ryan took double gold, winning gold in his weight division and the “absolute” division— a feat the few have achieved before — but nothing unexpected for the BJJ community. However, NickyRod, with roughly 18 months of training with Danaher’s systems took Silver in his division — a historically unrivaled achievement since the inception of ADCC.

In The New Yorker article John Danaher, the Jujitsu Master Turning an Ancient Art Into a Modern Science, The New Yorker, Danaher breaks down jiu jitsu.

“Classical jujitsu, it’s pretty simple, O.K.? It’s basically a four-step program,” Danaher told the Columbia students. “You put your opponent down on the ground, you get past his legs, you work your way through a hierarchy of pins, and you look for a submission. It’s a great system, and it works very, very well at beginner levels. At higher levels of the sport, you’ve got to go further than that. If you run into expert resistance, you’ve got to have ways of overcoming expert resistance. And the way to do that is to build subsystems within systems, so that there’s a knowledge asymmetry. You have so much more knowledge about a given position than your opponent does that, inevitably, over time, you’re going to break through.”

A beautiful synopsis with little utility for deriving first principles of this martial art. However, Danaher and his squad have released hundreds of hours of instructionals where they teach their systems in great detail. As you can see if you follow the instructionals link — it ain’t cheap, and each instructional is one small piece of the larger decision tree. But if anyone can provide the cataclysm sentence for jiu jitsu it is without a doubt John Danaher.

*Insert* BERT

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Unfortunately Danaher was unavailable for my calls, so I improvised. I asked BERT.

Who is BERT?

BERT is Google’s new “natural language processing” algorithm, often referred to as NLP. NLP is a sub-branch of machine learning, and machine learning is a field of science focused on teaching computers how to recognize patterns. So NLP is a subfield of machine learning focused on understanding words, sentences, and phrases. In other words, BERT is a new advancement in Google’s search engine that is designed to make sense of your non-sensical google searches.

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Why do we care about BERT?

This new algorithm can now better understand context. For example, imagine Google searching for “how to catch a cow fishing”. In the past you would have gotten something like this.

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Image Source

When you really meant this kind of cow — the big cow striped bass.

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Big Cow Striped Bass Fishing

With this kind of contextual understanding Google searches can better understand what you’re looking for. Google actually gives some great examples. See below.

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This new NLP can also work in reverse, meaning: BERT can analysis text to understand the person writing the text. But can BERT understand the mind of John Danaher?

The cataclysm sentence of jiu jitsu

Danaher’s instagram has more than 1500 posts, many if not most are focused on sharing his principles. The goal is to feed Danaher’s posts to BERT — actually a modified version called PreSumm — to see how well it can distill his teachings into one sentence.

Take, for example, this text from one of Danaher’s post.

The quality of your connection will be the criteria by which the worth of your submission holds will be judged: Most of the time whilst grappling its a good idea to keep a soft and pliable body that you dont exhaust yourself and so that you can move efficiently and not give away your intentions to an opponent. That changes however, when you lock yourself into a submission hold. Now you want a tight body with strong isometric tension that will lock your body to your opponents and stay in place long enough to get the win. Look how Garry Tonon locks himself to his opponents hip with a tight figure four lock that will not be shaken loose easily. This will enable him to stay in place despite the most acrobatic defensive maneuvers, hip to hip, where he should be for a good heel hook finish. Learn to distinguish between your need for pliability when moving for position and your need for tension when preventing movement and aiming for submission — only then will you be able to make position and submission skills work in harmony rather than against each other.

PreSumm summarizes this text as

The quality of your connection will be the criteria by which the worth of your submission holds will be judged

Not a bad summary. It’s also ironically the first sentence in the post, and we really want the lesson in the post which sounds more like:

Have a solid connection to your opponent so you can impose your will on them, but be careful to not connect too tightly and subsequently waste energy.

To fix this I experimented with how I fed PreSumm information. I’ll save that for another post.

The cataclysm sentence from BERT is . . .

Jiu jitsu is the study of exploiting the vulnerability of the human body.

which is basically what Danaher said on March 29, 2020

You can make the strongest arm weak if you put it behind an opponents back: A huge part of Jiu Jitsu is the study of exploiting the inherent weaknesses of the human body.

If you really want to apply this then look no further than his post on Oct 5, 2019 where he shares the philosophy he employed with NickyRod.

…start with a cast iron defense, then build an offense around your unique talents/skills that really works for you. Then go out there and ignore all the preconceptions people have about how long it takes to be competitive among the best — your skill level, not your years of training- determines the outcome.

But now we have another wormhole. . . What is the cataclysm sentence for defense or for an offense that is unique to you?

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