Lessons by Mars, vol. 1: “What I did wrong today at Jiu-Jitsu class”

I’d like to introduce a new series called “Lessons by Mars” (Mars being the god of war, hence the term martial arts) where I share little nuggets of martial wisdom that I happen to pick up at class, during a fight, watching an altercation, listening to a master, sparring with a friend, and so on. It’s probably not going to get technical – videos are a more appropriate method for showing technical stuff – but philosophical.


So, what did I do wrong today at Jiu-Jitsu class? I mistook the will to win for overcommitment, and so I did not commit sufficiently.

I’m new to Jiu-Jitsu: I started training when I lost my first (and only) two MMA fights, due to the fact that I lost both of them on the floor. And since any technique that is good enough to beat me once is good enough to learn myself, I decided that I must improve (read: learn anything at all) my ground game.

Fight is aggression. Fight is emotion. Fight is anger and determination. Fight is wishing to hurt someone. A martial art teaches one to fight. Any martial art that ignores the reality of fighting is missing the point of its existence. And the saying goes: “You don’t rise to the occasion, you fall to the level of your training”. Thus, we must make acquaintance with violence if we are to get better at performing violence.

I come to class. We warm up. We drill technique. We roll. At the warm up, I warm up. During technique, I am relaxed and precise, trying to do the technique correctly, getting it in my muscle memory. But, during rolling, I try to win, or at least survive.

Now, with such a fighting mindset, rolls are not technical, nice, and flowy. They are ugly and messy and I’m not trying to do new stuff, but I’m trying to choke or lock in the fastest, most efficient way. I am trying to win.

We are often told to relax, to roll more playfully, more flexible, not being stiff. This is sound advice. However, my bad tendency is to mistake relaxation and flexibility and not overcommitting with limpness, with not trying to win, with not putting up a fight. A real fight does not look like that. In a real fight, you try your very best to win. You try your very best to survive. You don’t let someone catch an armbar. You don’t let someone get on your back.

There is a a world of difference when a black belt gives up his back and when a white belt does the same thing. They are both relaxed at that moment, true. But the black belt can allow himself to make a deliberate mistake just so that he can get out of a funny spot. The white belt should be more careful and more humble.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have just positional sparring, or flowing technical sparring where the point is explicitly not to win, but to try new stuff. These are things that are valuable, but I feel that, at least for me, it is important to also do the fighting sparring; the “I want to win” sparring; the “I want to hurt you sparring”. armbar

Do not be stiff, but be fast and decisive.

Do not overcommit to something, but try your best to win.

Let go of that armbar if you know you’ll never in a thousand years be able to finish it, but don’t lose the
fighting will.

That’s what I need to do. How about you?

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