Sadly it’s true…

Back in the day, when I first started to learn more about Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, a a couple of ubiquitous comments remained in my memory banks, those being, “by the time you’re a purple belt, you know everything a black belt knows,” and by extension, what then makes the difference between a black belt and purple belt? and the second observation, “don’t use strength, use leverage. Be technical” fine if you are naturally or (artificially) strong that you can somehow flip the “off” switch that you are used in an isolated and curious situation where strength ‘IS’ a major factor in the outcome of a physically demanding struggle but it is close to impossible to “not use any strength” without resorting to becoming a beached whale during the sparring bout.

So, after years of keeping these thoughts on the back burner and listening, watching, observing how other seasoned teachers and practitioners express their craft, it boils down to this, timing.

late clock

When you are new to the art of jiu jitsu you are and will be “late”. You will be late in recognizing that you will soon be unbalanced and taken off your feet. After an ungraceful landing, you will be struggling to regain any semblance of control using your hands and legs. If your partner is kind and allows you continue playing and ends up in your open/closed guard (believe me when I say it’s not a given that as a complete beginner you end up here if the fight was intentional) you will be late in recognizing the grips that will rapidly allow your partner to get past your legs and pin you with some form of control, which ultimately resulting in a choice submission hold causing you to tap out, all the while wondering when you should try that “scissors sweep” thing you learnt last week.

If you are tuned in to the process you will reveal many layers of the sparring game and some parts are indeed battles leading to the final outcome: you win by submission, they win by submission or you escape and the match is reset (these are the current parameters of a submission grappling match and striking not kicking is permitted).

As you move about the purposeful and economic use of energy, employment of solid posture and ranges of engagement, dynamically changing them according to your position is a must. When you do it (the timing factor) is used to either lead directly into a successful offensive technique or as a misdirection to cause your partner to adopt the wrong maneuver that is favorable to you.

Timing when to move, grip or releasing a grip, when to move a leg or hip rotation is tantamount leading to a successful escape or submission. It, however, very difficult to teach and hard to learn. Primarily because there is no universal, standardized way to describe these experiences. E.g. in applying the aforementioned scissors sweep, as a newbie it will be highly improbable that you will be able to successfully use it against a seasoned blue or purple belt. Not only will the coloured belt recognize the (5) set up grips, (4) the lateral hip shift and (3) leg placement but also the (2) upper body effort in trying to pull you off your seated position before (1) executing the sweep. I numbered the basic steps to illustrate the timing list and opportunities to defend, counter or remove yourself from the conclusion of the countdown. Typically then a more experienced beginner will then arrive to the conclusion that these five elements should be applied in a tighter cadence, or almost simultaneously or, better yet, when one or more of the above conditions have already been met, i.e. when your partner is in already somewhat unbalanced posture to the direction you can sweep. All are battles leading to winning the war.

An expert of this art will be able to, with regularity, make you do most of the work to unbalance or position yourself unfavorably or be stuck in a position where you have essentially check-mated yourself and unable to escape before applying the technique of their choice. In doing so by strategic grip placement, angling of the body and leverage is considered a more elegant and refined expression of the art of jiu jitsu while Hulk-smashing through to achieve the same, doesn’t diminish the effectiveness in one bit (in my humble opinion) it’s just that in trying to transfer that particular aspect to a regularly sized person below 59kg will prove to be impossible when faced off against someone over 90kg. So observations like this I find tend to address the dilemma of how to teach the “Hulk-smash” pass to a smaller and weaker individual without resorting to artificial performance enhancers.

Of late, in recognizing this revelation in my personal jiu jitsu journey, I have begun trying to help my clients be mindful, be present, observe and recognize certain ‘conditions’ before applying a technique and when they do, the clock starts ticking. Don’t be late! It’s timing and not strength that is used if you are a smaller person but as a larger stronger person you can override certain elements of timing with your strength too but that also requires you to know when!

In servitude,
Vince Choo