Friday, July 24, 2015

The ecology of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

I've recently been doing some reading about ecology and ecosystems. In his recent encyclical, Pope Francis wrote about natural ecosystems and ecology, but also about human ecology - well functioning societies where individuals flourish, and not at the expense of natural ecosystems. I've even recently read a paper that considered education as an ecosystem. So why not consider BJJ as an ecosystem. I think there are three aspects.

Firstly, techniques don't exist in isolation, but in a rich ecosystem of other techniques. One simply doesn't drill a technique again and again without reference to other techniques - variations, common reactions of training partners and so on. Of course you can't drill for every eventuality, as rolling contains a large degree of randomness, but you can learn principles and then play with a technique by experimenting with it. Techniques also exist with others in a progression, what some call a game plan; e.g. pull guard, sweep, pass, control position, submission. Having a broad knowledge doesn't meaning doing a lot of moves, but knowing how they work with other techniques, and how to get where you feel comfortable, out of where you feel less comfortable.

The second aspect of a BJJ ecosystem is other grapplers. Rolling with a range of sizes, ages, ranks and both genders is critical to being part of a good BJJ ecosystem. Different techniques will work in different situations, with different body types, etc. If you can get your favorites to work with everyone you know you are onto a winner. More than that - a good functioning ecosystem means it is not all about you (see below). Rolling with those who present little to no challenge is an opportunity to try new things, yes. But it is also a chance to share and give them an experience that will help their growth.

Finally, ecosystems are constrained by a temperature range and rainfall (actually available water) - that determines the flora and hence the fauna. A BJJ ecosystem's climate is its culture. Culture can mean a survival of the fittest gym, red in tooth and claw, or a symbiotic gym where mutual growth and flourishing is encouraged. This is the spiritual side of a gym if you like. Being symbiotic doesn't mean that there is no competition, no hard training, no pushing people to mental and physical limits - but it's all done to pull everyone up, and not just a few. For me of course, this spiritual side is based on a Christian faith and the aim of loving and serving.

Maintaining a good culture can mean culling or pruning - some people won't fit the culture or add to its flourishing. That said, jiu jitsu is big enough for all sorts of people, and some people need more watering than others in order to flourish.

So try and see your own training as part of a larger whole, and know even when your own individual experience is not as positive as you'd like, you can contribute to the larger goal and may be just growing more slowly through a rough patch.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Sorry - a National Sorry Day poem

Sorry to the dispossessed and sorry to those who have been left behind the progress that loss has paid for.

Sorry to those who’ve heard the lies of promises made, but in disguise an agenda deeply hidden, a lack of understanding, by those with eyes that cannot see.

Sorry for those prison deaths, for this whole rotten bloody mess where cells make easier solutions than teachers, classrooms and inclusion of native tongue to speak, to listen and to learn.

Sorry for a land that’s stolen, for rent not paid, for home invasion, for mother earth her guts ripped open and laid bare in service of the white man’s dollar.

Sorry for the racist rants, for insults, patronising comments of cultures misunderstood, ignored, of stories covered up and stored in the recesses of histories untold.

Sorry that it’s been said before, words, words, words and more but where is the listening to those who might have the answers, to those who don’t just want solutions, to those who want the right to decide.

Sorry that in the midst of this I play a part to keep us moving backward while my voice is silent, stuck while my mind is ignorant.

So sorry just won’t be enough unless it comes with promises where rubber hits the long hard road, where hands are joined and shoulders put against the wheel.

You can’t know where to go unless you know where we’ve all been. Let sorry be our starting point, our journey together to a better destination.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Nope - a lament of the state of Australian politics

Nope to all compassion and nope to having heart.
Nope to international law and nope to showing class.
Nope to showing leadership and nope to having vision.
Nope to planning for the future, nope to a clear mission.

Nope to fighting climate change and nope on funding science.
Nope to all but mining freebies so nope to the environment.
Nope to solar cause coal reigns, nope to those wind turbines.
Nope to saving the GBR and nope to stopping coal mines.

Nope to care for poor and needy, nope to taxing emissions.
Nope to reviewing iron ore cause nope to independence.
Nope to land rights, nope to lifestyles, nope to non-white history.
Nope to to those whose kids we stole, nope to saying sorry.

Nope to politics and free speech, nope to human rights.
Nope to those seeking asylum, nope to freedom fights.
Nope to Sri Lankans and West Papuans, nope to those who flee.
Nope to anything at all, nope to honesty.

Nope, nope, nope unless you share in our demented plan,
to make this world a world of nope, except for rich white man.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Old man Jiujitsu - on getting a blackbelt in your 40s

Well, after nearly 30 years training in the martial arts, reaching brown belt (or equivalent) in two stand up arts, I finally received my black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu after 13 years in the sport. As I said to a class last night - my skills in wall walking, levitation and walking on water have not improved. Despite the fact that I now have the coveted faixa preta, as I believe Royce Gracie said, your belt covers an inch of your ass, you have to cover the rest. So what does it feel like to be a black belt in BJJ? Well what is it meant to feel like? And at 45? Is age an excuse or a limitation to be recognised?

As I've pushed toward black belt, it's been a real struggle when I look at younger, fitter, stronger guys. plenty of people are more talented and technical than I. Plenty of people should be black belts ahead of me. But some realisations have helped the journey.

Firstly, age is a factor. Rener Gracie talks about Boyd belts, the fact that age and size can function as belt levels, especially for the over 40s. A strong, young blue belt should be keeping me on my toes (and many do).

Secondly, there are older, domestic competitor black belts, and young black belts who compete internationally. Staying on lower belts younger to win the worlds is a worthy task, and I know one guy I'm hoping can finally make this dream come true.

Thirdly, one can be technical but lack cardio and speed to be able to execute, and rolling different ways at times to keep the technique sharp is ok.

Fourthly, age is not an excuse for being lazy. A lot of the cardio battle is mental. I did my hour long grading fairly well, but can pressure myself and gas in a few minutes. BJJ has taught me to be mentally tough, and I'm most disappointed in myself when I break mentally, not physically.

Fifthly, it's about the journey. This journey begins again at every belt level. It's kept enjoyable by exploring, learning and innovating. It's also refreshed by teaching, sharing, and by the awesome people you meet along the way. Too many to name, but my coaches, fellow senior ranks, students, people from clubs far and wide. I've been blessed in that way. Life is too full of amazing people in my team (the club RenegadeMMA as part of Australian Elite Team) to worry about doubters, haters and knockers.

Lastly, being an old man black belt is encouragement to other older men and women who get into the sport. I was able to encourage a 41 year old white belt to keep going last night. Worth its weight in gold.

So the journey goes on, the belt is heavier, the responsibilities larger, the people continue to be awesome. This is what it feels like for me to be a black belt. What you feel or will feel, will be different but no less awesome.

Monday, March 02, 2015

What's your on button?

We all know what it is like to grind through our days, working on automatic pilot. Perhaps we are bored, frustrated or unengaged. Unmotivated to improve, adapt or explore. Sometimes we fear failure and our inner monologue is our own worst enemy. We need an on switch.

As I approach the prospect of a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, a number of these thoughts cross my mind. To be in the moment is the need to be switched on, attentive and deliberate. It is to have goals of trying new techniques, of mastering favorites, of rolling without mistake or losing points. Whatever the goal, one has to believe, to be committed, to not give in to the inner demons.

And so it requires an on switch. Following the hand shake and fist bump, I now slap the mats once with my hands. This is my on switch, this means go for me. It doesn't mean a fight to the death, or the unswerving belief that I can never be defeated. It means that tapping is not losing, tapping is learning. It means that I will not let my partner or myself down with second best. It means being on.

Whatever you do in whatever field you do it in, be there. Be switched on. Have an on button that says this is now, this is my time, now I am here and I believe that I should be here.

What is your on button?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Responsible autonomy - freedom, work, the apple & serpent

I was reflecting recently on what it is I like about my job, which started me thinking about the whole idea of freedom and how it is exercised. It struck me that personal autonomy is important to me, yet complete freedom rarely happens in life. Possibly it's even undesirable. Let me explain.

In my job I have to teach content to guidelines - local and international standards for what is covered skill sets to address and so on. And yet the depth to which some things are taught is not dictated. Whether or not it is a lecture, tutorial, prac, assignment or whatever is not dictated. The figures I use are not dictated. In other words, I have a good deal of personal autonomy, but I'm not without accountability in terms of standards or results (if students pass, their feedback, etc).

When I think about growing up, saying that I'm now independent of my surviving parent is inaccurate. I have responsibilities. I have autonomy in the decisions I make, but this does not make me free without bounds.

People are not puppets on strings. Whatever the precise nature of our cognition and consciousness, we make decisions. Everyone is bounded by finitude, family history and ideology. I think it is a myth than the non-religious are the only freethinkers, they just have different boundaries (which excludes the possible truth of religion).

Which draws me to the story in Genesis 3 of a serpent, a piece of fruit (not an apple but hey we're stuck with it) and the idea of personal autonomy and responsibility. Adam and Eve are put in charge of a royal, walled garden and given responsibility to tend it. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil isn't forbidden because they are not to make moral decisions for themselves, but precisely because they should. And yet the boundary was not to reject God and try to become like him by grasping after it. It was a declaration of independence, which in the story is literally suicide. For many today of course, if God is there then they want to cash their ticket in (as Dostoyevsky wrote in The Brothers Kamarazov).

The point is however, that if we spend our lives declaring independence then we work only for destruction. Unhappy is the employee that does not share their employers goals and culture. Unhappy is the marriage where partners just do their own thing. Now the opposites are also unhappy, jobs without freedom or creativity and marriages where one person dominates. And yet, autonomy is not to be used for utter independence, but like Z (played by Woody Allen) in the movie Ants, sometimes we are happiest in situations where we might have less autonomy that we could otherwise have if we have chosen them.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

A theology of foreign aid?

Social media is a little like Chinese whispers, but I recently heard of a discussion going on somewhere that can be summarised as: Israel were given resources to develop their economy, that's the way economies should work and foreign aid doesn't work. It's an international version of the argument that welfare is a bad idea because it encourages people not to work, and often tacitly they are suffering because they deserve it and aren't working hard enough.

Now I'm one to promote hard work, using what you have to hand, etc, but I think this is an empty argument on two levels. Firstly, I think it's theologically poor, and secondly, aid and development do work. For the second problem, see Barb Deutschmann's article here.

Israel was given the promised land with plenty of resources to develop a healthy economy, but can we use it precisely as a case study for geopolitics?
  1. Israel dispossessed the original inhabitants and were given resources they didn't work for (see Deuteronomy 6:10-12). Without going into the mire that is the "Holy War" and displacement of the nations, this is not a model for us. This narrative has been used to perpetrate great injustices, murder and dispossession (e.g. North America) and it is profoundly unChristian to take such an example and apply it this side of Christ, and in our post-colonial age.
  2. Israel had an economy unlike ours; the idea of Sabbath and Jubilee was about reliance on God and re-distribution, including debt forgiveness. Hence, many Christians pushed for debt relief. To be sure, loans were wasted by corruption in developing nations, but the lenders were no less irresponsible. Surely a Christian understanding of global economics should include debt forgiveness, especially where it cases great suffering.
  3. Israel exhausted the land in greed - in not following the Sabbath laws or Jubilee laws. They are not a good model for human rights or land management (see for example Jeremiah 5 on destruction of the land).
  4. Israel didn't rely upon its own resources alone - no nation can. Think of its cedar imports for the temple.
  5. Israel was meant to be a blessing to the nations (Genesis 12:1-3). This should be our model - where blessing can include financial help).
  6. There is no Christian nation - so straight application of a promised land teaching needs to be done carefully.
Now helping a nation in a time of need with aid in an exercise in neighbour love, just as Jesus commands us to do in the parable of the Good Samaritan - love those in need.When Sri Lanka was overwhelmed by a tsunami, should we have told them it was God's punishment (the story of the blind man in John's Gospel should tell us no), or that they had their own resources to draw on? Of should Christians proclaim neighbour love and give personally as well as ask the government to do so?

And what of development funds? The article here examines a number of causes, including corruption. However, the legacy of western colonialism and ongoing exploitation by the west of the developing world tell us there is an historical and ongoing burden of debt on us to do justly (Micah 6:8). Our lives are more comfortable because the system is designed to burden others so we might live well. America prospered because of slavery, Australia by dispossession of the first Australians, etc, etc. As noted in Barb's article, well thought out aid and development allows the proper use of resources by evening things out. As the saying goes, if the system rewarded hard work, African women would be millionaires.

Finally, climate change is set to swamp everything we've achieved in aid and development. The comfortable lifestyles of the west will impact the lives of those in the developing world, and for Christians to be blind to the moral urgency of aid just shows the Babylonian Captivity of the church afresh.

Aid and development is a way of showing love to our neighbours. Anything else is baptism of greed after the fact.