Will Your Martial Art Outgrow You?

You wouldn’t try to learn the piano late in life. What makes Jiu Jitsu different?

(I initially abandoned this article when I discovered that several people I trained BJJ with had taken up piano in their 30’s. BJJ training teaches you you your limitations are mostly in your mind. You’re capable of more than you can imagine, so if you’ve dismissed an idea it’s probably possible.)

BJJ academies look so futuristic nowadays.

Read on to see what kind of nonsense I was thinking a few months ago:

In my lifetime, and most of history, the arts of single combat have been limited in complexity and technically flawed. It used to be sufficient to master an unusual skill, such as jumping up and kicking someone in the face, and rely on the probability that if you ever got into a fight, the other person wouldn’t know you could do that. Even in places where martial arts were in use, most arts avoided becoming too sophisticated by relying on surprise, secrecy, and superior physical conditioning.

Lack of sophistication is good. If you’re a warrior aristocrat, you want to spend your time enjoying the privileges of your station, not working out. If three hours of exercise a week lets you scare the peasants into paying their taxes, you can spend the rest of your time abusing your power in the manner of your choice. Likewise, in our time, there’s something seductive about the idea of “learning how to defend yourself” and then moving on. In some circles this is referred to as “the blue-belt curse”.

AOJ Where the Mendez Brothers train.

Martial Arts start to strain under their own weight when you add competition. The majority of wrestling evolved from wrestlers wrestling each other. Sophisticated sword techniques exist for dueling rather than for warfare or for slaughtering peasants who are late of their taxes. My favorite example of this is the contrast between Samurai sword styles that evolved on Japan’s main island Honshu, in contrast to those from the Kyushu area. Honshu produced styles like the Shinkage Ryu, and Shinto Ryu, which look like the kind of technical sword fighting we are used to seeing in movies. Kyushu is famous for its Jigen Ryu, which emphases the ability to execute continuous downward chops while rushing forward and “shrieking like a monkey.”

Jigen Ryu!

In the 20th century people used to talk seriously about “outgrowing” their art. The idea was that a martial artist might master multiple arts throughout a lifetime and combine them into a personal style that exceeded the limitations of it’s constituent styles. At the time this sense. Why shouldn’t I be the first warrior to combine Jigen Ryu Kenjutsu with Koga Ninjitsu, and create a style which combined the virtues of sometimes “shrieking like a monkey” with the tactical advantages of stealth? To a 20th century martial artist this was next-level out of the box thinking. Today, it sounds kind of stupid.

I find it much more likely that martial arts will outgrow me, than that I’ll ever outgrow one and need to improve it. I fully expect the BJJ of 2030 to emply 720 degree rotations on a regular basis and rely on moments with take optimal athleticism and mobility to perform. Eventually, explosive technical wrestling and impenetrable Miyao-style guards will become the norm. I only hope I’ll be able to explain matches to my children for a few years before they start physically dominating me as pre-teens. Like gymnastics, football, and soccer, the higher levels of the sport will eventually become accessible only to those with a lifetime of intense specialized training. Presumably MMA will make that evolution too.

Post Millennial BJJ star children.

Now for some reason I begin negating my own argument. Effectively, I might add!:

No matter how much BJJ evolves, it will remain the case that any healthy person can learn the core techniques. A move that strains the mobility or explosiveness of the human body is unlikely to be efficient and an inefficient move won’t be effective unless it relies on surprise. BJJ can never become like ballet, it will always be open to people of all sizes and body types…

At this point I realized I was full of baloney, so I put away my keyboard and went to train. Almost as soon as I got in the door, a guy about my age mentioned he was three months into piano lessons! BJJ is making me more sophisticated almost as fast as it is improving itself. I could have learned two languages with the time I took getting my blue belt. Despite the world of delights that await me should I ever learn Spanish, I strongly believe my mat time was well spent.

It was worth Chuck Norris’s time. That’s all I need to know.




Anything related to grappling competitions, strangles, joint locks, take downs, or positional control. Vale Tudo, MMA, and 無差別格闘

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Martial Arts, Law, Science, Philosophy文武双全, body hacking, dyslexia

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