Saturday, February 01, 2014

So you've done Kung Fu and want to learn BJJ, huh?

I started BJJ after doing Kung Fu for about 15 years, including reaching an instructor level in Wing Chun under Rick Spain. At first, it seemed that the Wing Chun principles I had learned in my previous training were applicable to everything in BJJ. After a long time (IIRC after I got my blue belt) I found this approach of trying to see BJJ through Wing Chun coloured glasses was actually holding me back.

The temptation is there to think or hope you can shortcut the Jiu Jitsu learning process by using your other martial arts knowledge as a base.I know I'm not alone in this.

The facts are that Wing Chun is probably a poorer base to start learning Jiu Jitsu from than, say, surfing. As much as we all might want it to be otherwise. As Albert Einstein is often quoted as saying, "Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler." Assuming you can base Jiu Jitsu on Wing Chun is to make it too simple. In some ways this is intellectual arrogance. Wishful thinking.

I really had to let my old knowledge go to learn this new art properly.

In Zen and related disciplines, like, allegedly, Kung Fu, much is made of the story of the empty cup. The new disciple goes to the master, and yabbers on about how long he has studied and practiced, how much he knows about Zen, blah blah blah. The master serves him tea, and fills his cup. The cup is full, but the master keeps pouring, soon there is tea everywhere. "Master, the cup is full!" cries the disciple. "That is your problem," says the master. While your cup is full, I can serve you nothing. Empty your cup."

Cool story, bro, oft quoted by Kung Fu guys, including myself (obviously, see paragraph above). I needed to empty my cup to learn Jiu Jitsu. So I think, does everyone else in my position. The Jiu Jitsu saying is "Leave your ego at the door." Your ego isn't just about winning or losing on the mat, it's about how much you think you might know about Jiu Jitsu. So ... leave your ego (and all your preconceptions) at the door. Please!

Many martial arts saying say that the final phase of learning is integration of everything you have learned, the resolution of the contradictions, simplification, removal of the useless and redundant. But you can't possibly know what might or might not be useless and redundant at the start. Maybe after a few decades in the arts.

There is tactile sensitivity and tactile sensitivity training in good Wing Chun, but assuming it is the beez kneez is arrogance in the extreme. Sensitivity in BJJ is a whole body thing you have to learn (and in a Wing Chunster's case, RE-learn) from day one. Again, assuming that the sensitivity you learned in Wing Chun is necessarily translatable to everything or anything else is arrogance.

The highest graded guy in BJJ I know, a fourth degree black belt, goes to seminars or to train with other black belts with an empty cup.  The seminar guy says, "you know how to do this, right?" He always says "No. Please explain it to me." This approach often allows him to glean new ideas and fresh approaches, even regarding the fundamentals. If he's still doing this after a couple of decades of full time training and teaching, maybe you should consider how sensible it is to bring your preconceived notions, from Wing Chun, BJJ, or anywhere else, into a situation like this where you are there to learn.

He also told me that in his opinion there is no limit to how deeply you can analyze and work on a technique. All analysis and no training leads to analysis paralysis, of course, but there is a time for both. There is always room for improvement. In this regard maybe arts like BJJ are fractal, as much as we might want them to have limits and be simple. As unfortunate for those of us who might want to fully master Jiu Jitsu in its entirety this might be, Jiu Jitsu seems to be effectively infinite.

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