Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ask Burien Top Team: Instructors Who Have Never Competed

Q. What do you think of instructors who have not competed in BJJ? Is it even possible to prepare a student for competition if you have never experienced competition yourself?

A. If you were ever looking for a world-record in mentions of John Danaher in a Jiu Jitsu/Grappling message board thread not titled "John Danaher", then I've got the URL for you.

My two cents is Shawn Williams' two-cents. Like Danaher, Williams is a renowned Renzo Gracie Black Belt, as well. And one of the most interesting things I heard during the Pan 2011 BJJ tournament was during Williams' live color commentary of the event with The FightWorks Podcast's Caleb when asked by the Fightworks host if he had any regrets over his long time in jiu-jitsu.

"I regret stopping competing when I did."

I find it fascinating to some degree that many of the same people who freak out about the 50/50 guard or fret over the relevance of the gi, are the same people who seem a little too eager to minimize the role that competition - at some level - plays in development of a person's skill at jiu jitsu.

Helio competed. Rickson competed. Saulo competed. Kyra competed. Kron competed. Everyone I've ever trained under - including Prof. Rodrigo and Carlos - has spent at least some time putting his or her skills to the test.

Reading through the thread that got this "Ask Burien Top Team" going, I found something almost a little disingenuous about the way some seemed to minimize competition when it comes to jiu jitsu training. That's not to say that competition is or should be mandatory. Of course not. But I can't help but find it fascinating that so much of the conversation on this topic takes place without acknowledgement that one of the main things that differentiates jiu jitsu from many other martial arts is that you are constantly engaging against a resisting opponent in order to perfect technique.

Even though I'm not wholly convinced that boxing and wrestling are martial arts, their effectiveness and virtue as combat sports is due to the fact that, at the end of the day, the effectiveness of the techniques learned in boxing and wrestling is tested against a force that is actively resistant to those techniques.

So it is with jiu jitsu - whether your focus is "sport" or "self-defense".

And like it or not, there is nothing like the force of a skilled competitor to put those skills to the test.

As someone who has lost far more competitive matches than he's won over the past two years, the truth of the matter is that the experience has been and continues to be exceptionally valuable. And my guess is that this is true whether you are competing in a local, in-school "friendly" or making a return trip to the Pan. You learn things about your jiu jitsu when you compete in a way that is far more immediate - and often enduring - than what happens over the same amount of time back at the academy.

This is a martial art, after all. It was developed to be tested. And in a world in which, thankfully, most of us don't need martial arts to defend ourselves on a regular basis, there is something that competition offers the person training in jiu itsu that may be more important than in any other martial art. It is true that competition isn't everything. But I wouldn't want a life in jiu jitsu without having stepped on the competition mat at least once.