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.


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