9.20.2010

ARTICLE: TWO SIDES OF THE SAME COIN

*note: Vince had written an article that I had posted a link to sometime last week. The article got a lot of attention and plenty of comments. This is his follow-up piece which I asked for his permission to re-post onto BJJ-ASIA. I think he has a lot of good points here. I think the greater theme that I take away after reading this is 'balance'. We may all have to experience these things for ourselves but I am grateful to get insight from someone who's been through it already, regardless if it's BJJ or any high-level competitive sport.  -Luke

ORIGINAL ARTICLE: CLICK HERE

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'TWO SIDES OF THE SAME COIN'

 

 

 

 

article by: Vince Choo

No! That's outrageous! What a joke! Unacceptable. You cannot change this. You must not change that. You're diluting the art! This is the crie de coeur that's happened recently. It seems that I have ruffled some feathers in the BJJ community with a recent article I wrote about the Monkey Jits program that is offered as part of the Crazy Monkey Defense program.

Let me elaborate to shed more light on this topic; firstly, what I offer via the Monkey Jits is the option for clients to take part in a competition or not. It is not mandatory for a client to participate in a competition in order to receive their next rank. Competing is an individual activity and has as many positive benefits as much as negative benefits. Secondly, I am not the one changing anything. If you read carefully, I'm just reporting on the words coming out from the mouths of two 8 degree BJJ Black & Red belts, and a host of other BJJ Black Belts. Thirdly, I am in no position to make any changes to BJJ. I'm just a beginner. What does Wikipedia say?

There have been few published guidelines or standards that determine when a practitioner is ready for promotion, with the criterion generally determined on an individual instructor and/or academy basis. Even the IBJJF, while maintaining an extensive graduation system that takes into account time-in-grade and membership standing, makes no mention of specific performance or skill requirements. When instructors or academies do comment on the criteria needed to achieve the next belt, the most widely accepted measures are:
  • The amount of technical and conceptual knowledge a practitioner can demonstrate, and;
  • Performance in grappling (randori) within the academy and/or competition.
Technical and conceptual knowledge is judged by the number of techniques a student can perform, and the level of skill with which they are performed in live grappling. This allows for smaller and older practitioners to be recognized for their knowledge though they may not be the strongest fighters in the school. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a distinctly individual sport, and practitioners are encouraged to adapt the techniques to make them work for their body type, strategic preferences, and level of athleticism. The ultimate criterion for promotion is the ability to execute the techniques successfully, rather than strict stylistic compliance.


Informal versus formalized testing

As noted above, the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu historically has had an informal approach to belt promotions, with one or more instructors subjectively agreeing that a given student is ready for the next rank. In recent years however, some academies have moved toward a more systematic, formalized testing approach. This is especially true for the lower ranks, where the decision to promote is arguably the least contentious.
One of the first instructors to publicly publish some of this formalized testing criterion was Roy Harris, who has formalized promotion tests, up to and including black belt.Formalized tests are generally based around the same elements as a normal promotion, that is, technical/conceptual knowledge and the ability to apply those techniques against a resisting opponent. Some tests however, take other aspects into account, such as a student's personal character or a basic knowledge regarding the history of the art.
Formalized testing may also contain conditions more familiar to traditional martial arts, such as testing fees and a required amount of pre-testing private lessons with the instructor.


Competitions

Students are generally encouraged to compete, as it can play an important and often times accelerating role in a practitioner's growth and overall speed of promotion. Competition allows an instructor to gauge a student's abilities while grappling with a fully resisting opponent, and it is not uncommon for a promotion to follow shortly after a good competition performance. In most academies it is not an essential prerequisite for promotion, but there are exceptions to this and in a minority of schools, competing is not only endorsed but required.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brazilian_Jiu-Jitsu_ranking_system

Ah, the last line reads, "in most academies it is not an essential prerequisite for promotion, but there are exceptions to this and in a minority of schools, competing is not only endorsed but required."
So why the fuss? Perhaps it exactly due to the different cultures at different BJJ academies. Some are 100% competition, the majority are 50/50 or 90/10 competition and some are non-competitive at all (meaning that they don't compete in open events). I have decided to draw a line on the beach and choose a side. I'm Mac and you're PC. Both computers nonetheless but different OS :) At least its very clear where we stand so there are no delusions, lame justifications or excuses to do what we do.

There are some schools who only award ranks based on competition wins, such as Baret Yoshida's BJJ school among many others. I believe that he awards a new belt for every 10 podium wins, however; I may be mistaken so don't quote me on that. But as Wiki points out, this is a minority. This seems a great, easy way for the instructor to gauge a student's ability by testing them in an open competition format against all other students of the same level. That is a different can of worms there which I'll touch on later.


Before I continue, let's rewind the clock to the 1980's, more accurately in the late 80's to early 90's when I was competing in the USA on the A.A.U. Karate circuit. Representing the state of Hawaii at the time, I competed against some of the region's top competitors, national squad members included. If you don't know anything about sport karate, they have been trying to get it approved as an Olympic event since the 1950's, and still trying.

They have unified rules, standardized competition formats, scoring formats, approved clothing guidelines, etcetera all in accordance to Olympic event requirements. A typical AAU competition will see anything from 300 competitors up to 900 (at least that's the largest I've participated in) in a single day. There are so many divisions for every age, weight, belt category. There are so many officials and spectators and it's really a show! These would be the larger competitions that are sanctioned and will forge a path towards representing the national team and from there to compete against other nations in karate competitions. Then there are also the smaller events held almost every weekend where you can expect a minimum of 30 competitors in your division so there would be around 200 people at minimum.

You can participate in the individual sparring event (kumite), team sparring, individual forms (kata), team forms and rack up wins and a reputation. From there the stage is set for larger events until you are ready for the State, then Regional and finally the Nationals. You can see there are a lot of competitors in these events, some of whom are superb athletes, while others, you wonder if they wandered into the wrong event and everyone one in between.


Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

The competition team at my former dojo consisted of 6 or so guys who took part for fun and it was. The camaraderie, the travelling, the excitement, the special training sessions, the preparations, and all the events leading up to each tournament was loads of fun. The 6 guys represented only 2 or 3% of my former club membership. The rest were retirees, adults, military, law enforcement officers, college kids, high school kids who didn't participate at this level of competition but they were not ostracized, segregated, but belonged with the whole group and the part of the "team" even though they didn't attend our championships or cheered for us from the bleachers.

During training, despite our competition prowess and experience, there were a number of members in the club who should have been competing alongside as they were so good at what they did and more. They had the time and luxury to develop a more well-rounded game, different angles and combination set ups to trounce us easily and we learned from these individuals as much as from our main coach. These were the "unofficial" coaches who never competed, simply because their martial art meant something else to them at a very deep, personal level. They did not want to express that in an arena of 300 people. Some were military, some were working professionals (architects, businessmen and such) and I would hate to bump into them in a dark alleyway and be on their wrong sides. There was a simple elegance and refinement to their technique that was not present in most of the competitors'. The sense of timing and distance was spot on, but their skills was not lacking in any sense.

Back on the competition floor, I've witnessed poor sportsmanship more often than great sportsmanship. I've seen fathers publicly scold and beat their kids for losing a match and start fist fights with the referees over decisions. I've seen the crowds react and heckle questionable win decisions and have also been on the receiving end of the same due to favouritism and "pressure". Whether the event is in the USA or in Malaysia, the same traits emerge again and again. In the end, the negatives outweighed the positives. Even when you win legitimately, someone out there who is a sore loser will leave you with a scathing, sarcastic remark to darken your otherwise bright day. There are great, friendly competitors and there are lousy, insecure champions and everyone in between. Don't fool yourself with the romantic notion that all champions are pure, innocent and fight for freedom, justice and the truth. As we will see later on, there are plenty of former champions whose true colours are revealed after the public relations machines and managers have been withdrawn and they are left to their own devices.

In addition to karate, I've also competed in judo, fencing, and swimming. Over the years I feel that I've competed enough and I've enjoyed the run and now to pass on the experiences to the next generation.

Back to the present day.

But karate is NOT BJJ I hear you say. 100% correct. I was drawing the similarities of sport and competition training. Competitions all share the same or similar format, whether its judo, boxing, wrestling, ping pong, lawn bowls or darts, there are stages and rules, and all competitors will experience the rush and play by the rules as much as they can. But BJJ competition is not the same as a karate competition. That's right too. They are not the same but you think someone playing in a golf championship for a million bucks is going to feel any less stressed than someone going for the gold medal in synchronized swimming? You think a golfer trains any less than a someone going for 100 meter race in the nationals? Please grow up, competition is competition.

I've lost count of the number of competitions I've participated in, sanctioned, in house, regionals, state level, within the association, within the style, etc. Maybe 90, maybe more. I've competed in the UK, USA and in Malaysia. I don't remember them all but would it make any difference whether the event was a poker game competition or boxing match? Someone is going to lose and experience hurt (physical, emotional, financial, egoistical, confidence, etc.) and someone else will win. One day it's you and another day it'll be another person. That's the game. We will all win and lose on different levels. Some wins are great and definitive while others leave a bad taste in your mouth. Some losses are educational while others make you angry or regretful for taking part.

By allowing the individual's prerogative to compete, is the best option. By penalizing someone for not competing, I think is unfair. What if the person cannot compete (for whatever reason- personal, medical, financial, emotional, psychological, physical, etc.) and cannot be graded is a sure fire way to kill the art.


There are professional gamblers. They go about different casinos around the world and some casinos don't let them play or only let them play (compete) at very high stakes. If we apply the same principle, only competitive, high stakes gamblers should play poker. I don't think many people would agree. Poker is a fun game whether or not you gamble for money or clothes or gamble at all. Poker is played worldwide. Some do it professionally because that's their lives. They are good at it and make a living from it. Is it for me? No, I don't like it that much and more importantly I don't have the talent for poker. Doesn't mean I can't play it for fun and I wouldn't call myself a professional poker player. On a side note, there are lots of websites and magazines promoting poker as a sport and profession. Yeah, I was surprised too.

In Brazil, there are young, competitive blue and purple belts who submit black belts all the time. Do these black belts go and commit suicide after that or give their training partners a hug and thanks for a good roll and sharing a great technique. I think not! There are hundreds of black belts who don't compete but who regularly give champions a hard time on the mats. Where do you think BJJ competitors get constant training partners from? Only via competition or via their home gyms where it's ok to make a mistake and have someone correct you in a safe training environment?

Competition can come in many forms. It can be your best training buddy on the mats or facing the unknown in a tournament. It can manifest as an internal challenge to master a technique but above all, the fundamental reason for competition is to allow one to grow. This often doesn't end up this way though as we all have skeletons in the closet that sabotage our efforts to a greater or lesser degree.

Individuals who are centered and have been properly coached, both physically and psychologically to enter a competition arena with a positive attitude and leave with the same. How many do so? Unfortunately, not a lot. Most trainers understand the physical aspects of training but are clueless when it comes to the mental preparation, pre-competition, during the competition and post-competition de-briefing. That's one of the reasons why you often read about former sports superstars using drugsBJJ stars using drugsresorting to violence or involved in financial scams (motivated by greed) in bouts of depression (because they don't get the same "high" from being in front of thousands of fans so they do something else abusive to themselves or their spouses as a substitute).  Are these the role models you want to have? Would you invite them to your home and trust them with your family, girlfriend, wife or kids?

My reason for this is because everyone trains in a martial art for personal reasons. If your desire is to become the next BJJ superstar competitor then absolutely, you will have to compete to showcase your skills. If you are training to enhance your skills as an undercover law enforcement or VIP protection detail, then staying out of the public eye is a great decision. I've had one of the European Royal family personal body guard come to train with us and in addition to a military career and responsibility as the Prince's personal bodyguard, he has his own family to look after.

Different motivations for different people; I hope you can appreciate how different people whose job may be to protect the lives of others or the casual hobbyist to learn some cool moves to impress their school friends or a girl down the street may want different things from learning martial arts. You cannot have a blanket policy for all. After all, the belt only means something to its wearer. It is a personal symbol of progression, advancement and growth. Some grow at a faster rate than others and not all are equal. Such is the law of Life. For example, it's not fair that someone like BJ Penn can achieve his black belt in 4.5 years while I was still stuck at blue belt in the same amount of time. No, it's not fair that BJ Penn can train 24/7, everyday with top level instructors as his lifestyle and circumstances affords him that lifestyle while I have to work and deal with business. However BJ Penn has the talent and athleticism and he has achieved what millions cannot. This is what makes him special but what of the non-BJ Penns in the world?

The can of worms
Many BJJ academies agree that a great way to evaluate a student is via competition. This becomes a double edged sword. On one hand an unscrupulous instructor can use competition as a bait to keep the students chasing the belt. He can deliberately "hold back" a student in white belt, for example and keep the individual competing there for many years to "test" them. Others call this sandbagging. It's like a Olympic Judo black belt competing as a BJJ white belt and keeps throwing everyone for the win. On the other hand, the student realises that his or her evaluation is based on the outcome of the tournament will resort to their main technique again and again until they specialise in only that singular technique but as we all know BJJ is beautiful because of the depth and breadth of the techniques. As an instructor, do you only want a student who is one-dimensional.

Some, not all, BJJ competitors only have an "on-off" switch. They are highly competitive and have an attitude about it. They strut when they win, but storm off, often yelling in frustration if they lose, even if its a friendly, in-house training roll. Every roll is as if it's life or death, even against total beginners or smaller, lighter people or the few women in the class. What gives? What's there to prove or are they using the roll as a vent for their problems at work or home?

Many competition based schools have a lot of students with bandaged elbows, knees, and neck injuries. Back injuries are common place too. Injuries costs and causes family members and spouses to worry, often the catalyst for arguments leading to other greater problems in "the real world". With every injury, I fail to see how that makes you a better competitor. It either meant that your partner did not respect the tap, the referee did not enforce the rules, or you failed to submit in time because you either did not recognize the submission was in completion or you were too proud to admit defeat.

I've injured people accidentally. I still feel bad about it and this was almost 4 years ago. I really felt that it could have been avoided but at the moment the individual did the wrong thing and the term was "spazzed out". Although it wasn't my fault, I still feel responsible. This is how injuries happen. It makes people feel bad even when you weren't the one who was injured. Some people laugh it off as if it is a hard-core, macho thing to do. Those are the ones I don't want to train with.

Some competitors are really bad teachers. Some people don't know how to communicate and have a real time expressing themselves verbally. They don't know how to show, lack the patience and vocabulary to teach someone to do what they do and I'm not the only one who thinks so. BJJ Black belt Stephen Kesting also advocates that top competitors do not necessarily make the best teachers. Can we agree that a few competitors are excellent teachers but most are not? It's no coincidence that the best teachers are the ones who have stopped competing. They have focused their energy into becoming better teachers.

So why do people compete if not for the shallow desire to "prove something" or to chase the next belt?

Competing is not the cheapest activity. For many in the South East Asian region, there is a lot of flights, hotels, and the risk of injury is high. Injuries may cost you time off work and no work means no pay in some cases.

Surely there must be more. Testing your technique? Facing your fears? We have to question what motivates us to compete. You have the answer inside yourself. You just have to face it.

So there are people who enjoy practicing and playing the martial arts for fun. It's something that appeals to their warrior archetype personality. It doesn't mean that you have to be rated in the top 10 BJJ players in the world to enjoy what BJJ has to offer. It simply means that this is person who enjoys this martial art. This person may not necessarily have to compete in the martial art to enjoy what the art has to offer. As an example, many people have heard of Chuck NorrisDan Inosanto and Ed O'Niell (and a whole bunch of other celebrities). I believe they are also BJJ Black belts and I don't think they have any competition records.

For those who enjoy competitions, you can also have in-house competitions like these guys:


I don't think the larger white belt was having an easy time and the smaller blue belt definitely is fighting hard. This is a fun way to train and probably a lot more realistic for the smaller guy to train against a larger opponent in a fun, safe environment. You could say the smaller guy definitely is a blue belt or you could say the white belt was holding back his 100% strength and weight. Whatever, but they enjoyed the roll and no one got hurt. Everyone went home to talk about this event over dinner. Fun!

When we started BJJ in KL back in 2003, the only competitions were the ones we organized ourselves. People in the local BJJ scene are still far and few and remain scarce. Malaysians are just not used to nor accept the grappling scene. Most are uncomfortable with the close contact, the sweat and "roughness" but to me that's the currency you pay for developing skills on the ground. To date, I still don't think there are enough local participants to justify a competition although there are now close to 20 blue belts in the country. Maybe...?

More on competitiveness, I avoid this type of competition/competitor:


As the sport matures and becomes more accessible worldwide, naturally there will be a growth and different people will specialise in different areas of the sport. For example, in Judo there are specialists like Kashiwazaki who is known for his Judo Newaza while others like Russian Shota Khabarelli who uses a unique pickup throw and are known for them. Some judoka never practice the grappling or newaza aspect while others specialize in them and are all regarded part of the same family. There are probably a lot more judoka who do not compete because they recognise that they do not have the necessary skills, talent, or mindset for it.

I'd like to end this by sharing some links to other discussions and circular debates on a related subject of BJJ belt ranks as more food for thought:
  • http://www.thejiujitsufighter.com/2009/01/thoughts-on-jiu-jitsu-belt-progression.html
  • http://www.onthemat.com/articles/Progression_in_Brazilian_JiuJitsu_10_13_2005.html
  • http://thefightworkspodcast.com/2010/04/10/bjj-poll-should-the-ibjjf-mandate-belt-promotions-after-set-timeframes/
  • http://www.goodyearbjj.com/bjjblog/?p=13
I'm not trying to change anyone's minds about what I've said about Monkey Jits. It is what it is. I'm not trying to start anything new. I'm merely following what my teacher and his teacher are doing. We can all do our own thing.


Never look down on anybody unless you're helping him up. 

Jesse Jackson

20 comments:

Benjamin Liu said...

Vince make prefect sense of this, i gotta to agree with him a 100% on it.

http://www.grapplearts.com/Blog/2010/05/teaching-vs-fighting-ability/

Anonymous said...

Vince your article is a bit misleading. Regarding your teachers, prior to you becoming a brown belt, your teacher was Sam wasn't it? He's still a Machado lineage teacher, but credit where credit is due...


Rigan Machado - John Will - Samuel Wee - Vince Choo

to...

Rigan Machado - Rodney King - Vince Choo


Secondly, what you're saying isn't exactly revolutionary. Even 'competition sport jiu jitsu' clubs like the one I attend have a whole range of people that come to class.

Those that want to compete do. Those that don't don't. There's no pressure and promotion is such a personal journey. For some, competition will play an important part. For others not so much.

You're not doing anything particularly special. Looks like a case of Emperor's new clothes to me...

Albert said...

He's never claimed to be revolutionary in his approach. How could he be, he cites Rigan, Rickson and Rodney King as influences.

All he's saying that I can see is that he prefers not to base promotions strictly on competitions.

It's all good that you're in a sport BJJ club and you're not pressured to compete. Just the same, I've met people (not in Malaysia) who've told me their coach won't promote them until they *win* a competition. The simple act of competing isn't enough, they have to win to be promoted.

That's the mentality Vince is against, because it brings out the worst in people. Witness: the Dave Camarillo video he posted. I've met people like that, and if you've trained for any real length of time, you probably have too.

So again, if you're in the kind of club you say you're in, great. I'm sure I'm taking the words right from Vince's mouth when I say more power to you. But at no point does he try to sell himself as a Jiu-Jitsu revolutionary etc.

Anonymous said...

Albert, regarding the Camarillo video, yes, competition brings out the worst in a very small minority of people. And when similar things have happened, those people, in my experience, have been banned from competition at the very least. So, whilst the video is a good example of appalling behaviour, it is not representative of competition or true competitive behaviour. The video, as a representation of BJJ competition, is truly misleading.

You're a highly respected competitor yourself. And i'm sure you give it 110% when you do compete. You wouldn't have won as much as you have done if you haven't ;) But I bet with absolutely certainty, that you're an absolute gentleman on and off the mat in competition and otherwise. Or are you saying that when you compete, you act like an ass like the chap in the video? Of course not...

So your point doesn't make sense. Competition generally brings out the best in people, not the worst. And I KNOW that you have trained for a 'real length of time' so you'll know that what i'm saying is also true.

The clubs that only promote on the basis of winning competitions are a self-selecting group on the whole. And contrary to what the article and you are suggesting, there aren't that many of them. And they'll do their thing, whilst the rest of us do ours.

When I say Emperor's new clothes, I mean it. The article is redressing something that most of us have already known for years.

However, what isn't clear however, is why within the academy, their appears to be a clear distinction and move towards Rodney King and Monkey jits. I'm sure that's not how it started. And i'm pretty sure that wasn't the jiu jitsu that Vince was originally taught.

It would seem that by citing Rodney King and Rigan Machado and CMD and non-competition, that in someway, this is different to other clubs? But i'm pretty sure, that's what KDTA have always taught. Compete if you want and if you don't want to, don't. Am I wrong?

Charles Wong said...

IMHO, Vince is just saying putting too much emphasis on competitions or winning might be more harmful than beneficial, esp to a regular guy who trains for fun. It's definitely NOT something new or revolutionary. It's just his articulation on the views of his coaches.

I think it's important to be mindful of our intention when we train, spar or compete. Why do we train? Why must we compete or win (if required)? To me, a "hypercompetitive mind" might foster more bad blood than good sportmanship. Again, this is NOT to say competition is bad. We just need to ask ourselves whether we are competing because we want to, or because we are forced/required to...

Think about it: what kind of environment encourage a person to join a competition to win at all costs? Just my 2c.

Vince Choo said...

Hi Benjamin, Anonymous & Albert,

I don't understand which part I misled the readers?

I didn't deny or refute my blue belt from Sam. John Will graded me to purple and Rodney King graded me to brown. Yes, ultimately my lineage (whichever way) leads me back to Rigan Machado. If I did mislead anyone then I apologize. My belt lineage is not the focus of my article however.

As a side note, most people would probably name the instructor who awarded them their highest rank, and most likely not the instructor who gave them their white belt stripes. Sam started to teach me when he was still a blue belt. I am somewhat flattered that you know so much about me while I know nothing about you, not even your name :)

Thank you for pointing out that what I'm saying is NOT revolutionary. I am NOT doing anything special. I wasn't trying to achieve either but you sound a little disappointed that I didn't "rock the boat". The article was not intended to upset the status quo, more so as a declaration.

As Albert pointed out. Some schools only award ranks based on competition achievements. Perhaps you are fortunate not to be in such a hyper competitive academy. Some thrive in those environments for whatever reasons while most crumble and quit. See this example:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MTX9STkMl6U

I don't think many "Western" educated folks will accept this type of teacher but somewhere deep down I'm sure he wants only the best for his paying clients and his gym's reputation.

In fact, what I am just stating that what we do (now) is more in line with the Emperor's OLD clothes.

Best training to you :)

Anonymous said...

to compete or not to compete? to each his own.

i have always enjoy training with weights and have been doing so for close to 20 yrs...come rain or shine, i will be training hard in the gym. i am even a qualified PT myself with many international certifications!

but i have NEVER competed in any bodybuilding competitions. does that mean my body sucks? does that mean my clients will not come to me for training and advice? does that mean i am incapable of training others?

i have heaps of clients and i dare say my body is lean and tone and beach ready anytime.

i think i agree with Vince in that, training in a sport does not necessary mean you have to compete to prove yourself. its the process, the journey, things that you enjoy doing and that is important.

for those in a BJJ school that is highly competitive and feel pressurise to compete in order to move up in rank, i suggest you move to another school that allows you to grow and to enjoy the martial art.

Anonymous said...

My gosh...i can't understand how is it that any 'anonymous' writer here can be so one-dimensional when interpreting a BJJ article. The fact that Vince actually wrote such a lengthy and comprehensive article, is most ovious he KNOWS the concept he uses in his class in not revolutionary.

And the camarillo clip..>COME ON, he's just using it as an example. You would quote or use some/certain BJJ champs who are higly regarded on and off the mats right??? Same thing as such. I'm pretty sure no BJJ club owner, in their sane mind, would post one clip and claims that THAT represents the ONLY thing about BJJ. Right fellas??

BJJ Dude

LUKE said...

Hi Guys,

Ultimately I think it comes down to what kind of experience does the student want. Each academy's vibe/atmosphere is set by its leader and over time the students mentality and approach towards training will reflect this. Those in opposition to usually don't last long or choose to train elsewhere.

I noted earlier that what I took away from reading the article is 'balance' and I'd like to elaborate on that word. I believe most anything in its most extreme form is not healthy. Granted, I have an addictive personality and tend to do everything at 110% but its part of the process and exercise to discipline myself through training. So whatever path you choose, implement balance so that you are able to do this for the long haul. Don't burn yourself out by being one-dimensional in any aspect of your life. Perhaps you'll have your competition years and those are behind you now but there's an experience, a sense of timing and instinct that can be further honed when brought back to the academy/dojo and done so as an art.

In one of my favorite interviews with Saulo Ribieiro, he states that he feels he's far better at jiu-jitsu now than he was 10 years ago when at his competition peak. Not to say that he wasn't a total bad ass then but there's larger avenues to BJJ to explore and I'm sure he's living those now as an instructor and competitor secondary.

My other note is to the students who are at different mindsets and training levels. Yes we have belts but there are all variety of belt levels. I would not compare an average-joe blue-belt to a competition blue-belt or to someone who's an MMA fighter but is a white or blue-belt in BJJ. You have to be conscious of these differences on an individual basis and not by blanket-ranking system. Do not take for granted that because you can easily beat or be beaten cause of what color belt the guy is wearing.

I see this every now and then in training with some of the more athletic guys with strong judo or wrestling that they are taken lightly due to their belt color being white. BIG MISTAKE! At the same time, you spazzy white-belts do not have the license to go ape-s$@t on the higher belts cause they've got a bigger target on their back. Be respectful of each persons individual capabilities. What do I have to gain by going ape on a 45-year old purple-belt who comes to train every once in a while?

I do not see how Vince's views nor the views of his instructors imposes any call for change or revolution to what everyone else is already doing. I think if anything, it's one view an reflection on competition from veterans of competitive sports and martial arts.

-Luke

Sinclair said...

I think forcing ppl to compete to get their belts is a bit weak. While Baret Yoshida has his system, I'm not sure that he applies it to everyone who he teaches.

I personally fall into another kind of category. I'm not that competitive anymore. I used to compete at a high level in Muay Thai, but whatever was driving me to do that is now driving me to focus on career and financial battles. BJJ to me a great hobby -like some ppl enjoy fishing - you don't need to enter a competition to catch fish.

I have a desire to roll often, but I'm not really interested in competition despite reluctantly entering quite a few.

Having said that, I wouldn't want to be given a purple belt without at least demonstrating purple belt level BJJ in competition - I would even go so far as I expect to be able to submit my way to a gold to be given a purple.

This is a demand I have placed upon myself - my school and teacher don't demand this at all. We have blue's that never competed - or at least never really won when they did, but they are legit.

I've made it clear that I don't want to be promoted in that way. And I'm aware that it is contractictory that I am not driven to compete in BJJ, yet it's a personal prerequisite to promotion and I'm not really sure why I feel this way. Nevertheless, I decided last year that I won't be seen in competition again until I am prepared to make a run for the purple.

While I feel that promotions, grading and all that are impotant talking points, for me the bigger issue is here is competition focussed teachers and schools who teaching the art in a way that is only really applicable to competition. I have always maintained that the guy who walks into your school from the street isn't coming to learn that sneaky half guard advantage or that dubious 50/50 'sweep'.

LUKE said...

Which academies in SEA require you to compete or take gold in competition in order to be promoted to the next belt?

Vince Choo said...

Hi Anonymous,

"regarding the Camarillo video, yes, competition brings out the worst in a very small minority of people. And when similar things have happened, those people, in my experience, have been banned from competition at the very least. So, whilst the video is a good example of appalling behaviour, it is not representative of competition or true competitive behaviour. The video, as a representation of BJJ competition, is truly misleading."

So by your admission that you know that competition brings out the worst in some people but you still consider that misleading?

To someone who is looking to start BJJ and stumbles onto this video, do you think they are going to say, "oh, yeah! THAT'S what I want to do".

I don't think either competitor in the Camarillo video has been banned from competition either as far as I know.

And for what it's worth bad sportsmen are in ALL sports, not just BJJ. Look at soccer and even figure skating you get a sense that competition makes people do weird and sometimes bad things.

There are enough highlight videos on YouTube on bad behaviour in all sports in all countries at all levels to make my point and there are also exemplary, amazing, talented individuals whom we all aspire to also (yes, even at my advanced age) who become inspirational.

Again, I'm not trying to mislead anyone and by having this article posted on a BJJ blog, I'm already preaching to the choir about this topic.

I'm thinking folks who read up here are mature enough to make up their own minds and decisions on where they want to spend their hard earned money.

At the end of the day, BJJ/martial arts practice will only form a small percentage of our lives. I hope that everyone will get to put this into perspective and have some balance in their training because there will ALWAYS be someone on the mats fasters, stronger, younger, more aggressive and can take more physical punishment. That is a constant. One day its you the next day it's someone else.

To each their own and more power to you!

Sinclair said...

I don't know of any.

I remember hearing that Gracie Barra Philippines having such demands imposed on them by Kazeka, but this might well be wrong.

Vince Choo said...

We had a visiting blue belt from Japan saying that his club had that rule. No podium win no belt. I don't remember which club as it was a few years ago.

LUKE said...

I've heard similar things from JP academies but not all.

From the US, winning at tournaments definitely helped get you the promotion faster but was never a requirement. If so it was an unspoken rule but there were still senior students that got promoted with little to no competition experience.

Ben W. said...

Props to Vince for writing out that article.

However, I don't fully agree with the mindset.

To me, TESTING YOURSELF is an integral part of growing as a BJJ player (or fighter). We have the luxury to train against a fully resisting opponent, due to the 'safe' techniques we use (i.e.: no striking).

Learing to apply what we learn in such a non-cooperative environment is the essence of learning jiu jitsu.
Can this be achieved just through sparring in the gym, without having to compete?
Yes, however everyones tends to pick and chose who they roll with, thus limiting their exposure to other styles.

There is to me a real danger that in some schools (not saying yours, Vince), stating "We don't compete" is a very large step into the direction of non-reality based traditional martial arts. What is next? You don't have to spar at all if you don't want to?

Of course this doesn't have to happen, but I see a real danger there.

Why not treat everyone the same and let them decide? If they want to compete, support them with everything. If they are unsure, encourage them to try it at least once. If they are positive they don't want to, well don't force them. BTW, schools that force their students to compete are very, very rare.

ESPECIALLY overcoming the fear of competing against an unknown opponent, focusing one's training ahead of a competition, and just dealing with the mental aspect of competition is invaluable to learn about oneself and one's jiu jitsu.

Is there reall anyone who competes, comes back (win or lose) and says: "Oh Man, I wish I hadn't done that!"??

I feel competition (approached with the right mindset) is a PHENOMENAL tool to improve anyone's progress in jiu jitsu.

Ben

Vince Choo said...

Hi Ben,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and what you described was how I started with my BJJ training, compete if you want to, don't if not.

I think BJJ will not be BJJ if you don't have a sparring element. It will definitely end up like some of the traditional mystical arts and I wouldn't enjoy it anymore. I'm not saying that at all. It's just making competition optional and not a requirement.

Sparring/rolling is one of the definitive and most appealing features of the training and you do raise some really good questions.

Do I have to roll with a stranger to know how good my jiu jitsu skills are?

In a conversation many years back with an American BJJ competitive black belt he said that somedays you are on form, other times your opponent is on form. Somedays you don't want to train but get the best training while other days you are pumped up but training sucks and you "lose" every roll.

That's just the way it is and there's nothing wrong with that.

What if you had a really bad day, competed anyway and lost? I'm sure no one wants to be judged on a singular performance knowing that you were not representing the most of your ability.

What if you won at every other competition but not at the one you were to be evaluated for your belt?

More than not competitors will apply their favorite technique from the get -go, and many competitors are known for their one or two high level technique.

BJJ is a lot more than the one or two techniques. Would it be fair to be evaluated on just these two techniques? So one dimensional?

Now, I'm not saying those are the only examples but some of MANY other possible scenarios that would be unfair for both competitor and instructor, meaning if the competitor lost but the instructor promoted him/her anyway, people who only had that singular exposure to that event would make assumptions that they were undeserving of that rank because they "lost" that day but the instructor knows better. It's just an example for discussion.

I think the relationship developed between the student and teacher over the years should carry more weight than a single competition exposure.

While a picture tells a thousand words, a movie is even more complete. I would want to know the person and in this regard I share Prof. Adam Kayoom's principle that he doesn't grade anyone who doesn't train with him. People who show up for seminars just to belt-chase, or photo-op grabbing are easy to pick out, I'm sure we don't appreciate them in our sport.

Thanks for continuing the discussion and sharing your opinion.

Tim said...

My instructor has ever mentioned that competition is just a small part of the entire BJJ journey.

To him, attendance in class is more important. It shows him your committment to training, its shows him how you perform and execute the techniques being taught (note that some skilled BJJ practitioners stumble during competitions due to nervousness, nursing an injury, etc), your attitude towards the instructor and fellow trainees, etc.

By awarding a belt based on competition is not a fair judgement. I agree with Vince...those in competitions usually only exectue one or two of their favourite techniques and do not really show their true understanding of BJJ and the applications of other techniques as a whole.

Anyhow, there are many important things in life than just BJJ and competing. My instructor always tells us that family and friends take priority...

Anonymous said...

Tim, well said from your instructor.

Well, perhaps, an instructor should support or encourage his/her students to compete when possible. However, let it not be a pre-requisite for promotion.

If a school does have competitors, then perhaps one of the ways to promote a non-competing student is to have em roll against those who are competing, but bearing in mind for the competing student that his/her role there is to facilitate the instructors' judgment in determining whether the non-competing student should be promoted or not.

Just my 2 cents worth fellas.

BJJ dude

Ben W. said...

Hi Ben,

Do I have to roll with a stranger to know how good my jiu jitsu skills are?

In my opinion, yes, it is important to roll with strangers and also important to roll with strikes from time to time, to keep oneself in touch with the outside world an reality.


In a conversation many years back with an American BJJ competitive black belt he said that somedays you are on form, other times your opponent is on form. Somedays you don't want to train but get the best training while other days you are pumped up but training sucks and you "lose" every roll.

That's just the way it is and there's nothing wrong with that.

Of course that is normal, it only becomes a problem, if you attach more meaning to a tap than seeing it as a learning experience.


What if you had a really bad day, competed anyway and lost? I'm sure no one wants to be judged on a singular performance knowing that you were not representing the most of your ability.


I honestly don't see the problem there. Who is judging me but myself? I know if I underperformed and if I have the right team, they will help me figure out the mistakes. This is what is so great about competition, you always learn!


What if you won at every other competition but not at the one you were to be evaluated for your belt?

How many schools really grade based solely on competition results? Can you name any in SEA?
I would think that these few schools would attract the type of student that thrives under this pressure.

... BJJ is a lot more than the one or two techniques. Would it be fair to be evaluated on just these two techniques? So one dimensional?

Now, I'm not saying those are the only examples but some of MANY other possible scenarios that would be unfair for both competitor and instructor, meaning if the competitor lost but the instructor promoted him/her anyway, people who only had that singular exposure to that event would make assumptions that they were undeserving of that rank because they "lost" that day but the instructor knows better. It's just an example for discussion.

I think the relationship developed between the student and teacher over the years should carry more weight than a single competition exposure.


This is what I meant by the right attitude when it comes to competition. A win at the lower belts doesn't mean much and a competition game is not all there is to technical proficiency. Approach competition as a learning tool along the way of lifelong jiu jitsu.


... Thanks for continuing the discussion and sharing your opinion.

Most welcome.