Zen and the Art of Jiu-Jitsu Dominance

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Zen and the Art of Jiu-Jitsu Dominance

by Meaty

Every opportunity to teach is an opportunity to learn. This past year a few of us were given the opportunity by Mike Prudencio and Michael Javier to teach classes at Jiu-Jitsu 101. Teaching gives you a different perspective and forces you to focus more closely on the details. You are compelled to break down and explain something that may have come naturally to you or never even thought about… a foot here, a hook there, hip movement here, and a grip there. Feedback from your students, how they are performing the techniques you teach them, their questions and concerns, will let you know how successful you are at communicating those techniques and if you need to either focus more on the details or change them completely. When you see that your students are struggling with a technique, you figure out why and you make adjustments. Often times you’ll find mistakes in the techniques you are teaching, the way you are teaching it, and/or find ways to make them even better and more efficient.

What teaching has done for me is that it has helped me fine-tune my own game. I feel like my Jiu-Jitsu is better because of it. So thank you Mike P and Mike J for the opportunity. I really appreciate it.

If you ever have the opportunity to teach Jiu-Jitsu to someone, even if it’s to just one other person, do it.

This brings me to what this article is really about – Jiu-Jitsu and Motorcycles. So what does Jiu-Jitsu have to do with motorcycles other than both things being cool and badass?

Instructing has made me realize that you can’t teach the student everything. In attempting to express this idea, my experience in learning to ride motorcycles came to mind. Though you can teach all the concepts required to ride a motorcycle to someone, riding the actual motorcycle requires a different way of learning – actually getting on the motorcycle and riding. It’s the same with Jiu-Jitsu, you can read all the books and watch all the videos you want, but the only way to really learn it is to get on the mat and roll.

Balance = Base

How do you teach someone to balance on a motorcycle? Straddle the bike and hit the gas. It’s easier if the bike is moving. Sounds simple enough right? Yeah, until you have to worry about other vehicles, pedestrians, U-turns, and stop lights. Watch your base, keep your hips down, and your butt low. Sounds simple enough right? Yeah, until the guy you’ve mounted is bucking like a rodeo bull high on PCP. Holding mount or side control, pinning your opponent, defending guard (all of them), and preventing sweeps all require a good base. While learning the concept is simple, the actual application (and the “feel” for it) is learned and developed from years of experience on the mat.

Shifting = Timing

Release the gas with your right hand, engage the clutch with your left hand, shift the gear with your left foot, disengage the clutch, and then hit the gas or brakes (BOTH brakes with the right hand and right foot), all while keeping your eyes on the road (and the motorcycle upright). In the beginning you will struggle to mentally keep track of these things but the will come naturally and require less effort with more experience. Grip your opponent’s right sleeve with your right hand, grip his right ankle with your left hand, hook underneath his left leg with your right foot, plant your left foot on his right hip, and then pull with your arms and right foot, and kick with your left foot. I’m not even sure if I wrote that properly. The point is that everyone can learn such techniques but getting them to work for you will require patience and lots of practice in order to find and feel the proper timing. Motorcycle operation and Jiu-Jitsu techniques: If you don’t get the timing down right, then you will stall.

Counter-Steering = Technique

If you want to go left, then push with the left. If you want to go right, then push with the right. Sounds simple enough right? That’s how it was explained to me. You can Google counter-steering if you don’t know what I’m talking about. I learned and understood the concept but it took me a while to get the hang of it. There were more than a few scary moments in the beginning where I crossed the paint into oncoming traffic or fought the handle bars until they shook. The inability to properly steer the motorcycle limited my speed and limited the types of roads I was able to ride on (it also jeopardized my safety). The more time I spent riding, the smoother the rides became. The same with Jiu-Jitsu, improper application of technique will limit your options (and jeopardize your safety and the safety of your training partner). Inability to obtain the proper positions with poor technique will also hinder your success in submitting your opponent. The more you roll, the smoother your roll will become.

Speed/Breaking/Gas = Control & Situational Awareness

How fast can you go? How quickly can you stop? How much gas is left in your tank? Know your limits. On the road, your actions are determined by the amount of traffic, the weather, the condition of the road, visibility, etc. On the mat, your actions are determined by your opponent’s size, strength, speed, stamina, flexibility, and level of experience. You will need to make adjustments on the fly and your coach will not always be there to scream instructions to you. You need to learn how to react when the situation changes, know when to defend and when to attack, when to pick up the pace and when to slow it down. And again these are things that can only be learned by spending a lot of time on the mat.

Lane-Splitting = Strategy

Think ahead or you are S.O.L. Engaging an opponent without a strategy is like getting on the 880 Freeway on a Vespa and lane-splitting at 65 mph (can they even go that fast) while blind folded, naked, and holding a rubber chicken in your hand. It’s just plain foolish. At a Paul Schreiner seminar years ago, he shared with us his strategy (at the time) with every opponent: pass, mount, & choke. He said those were his goals and he just reacted to what his opponent was doing the rest of the time, and then going back to his strategy when the opportunity presented itself. Your strategy does not have to be complicated. It could be as simple as: don’t get choked. It’s amazing how your body will react to a simple thought in your head. You need a plan of attack and/or defense. Strategy improves your reaction time to changing situations and can change the outcome of a match in your favor (all things being equal and sometimes even when they are not). In the gym, rolling with some of the same guys for years, you get a feel for what their “game” is like. You have the small guys who are fast, the big guys who smash, and everything in between. You can pretty much figure out what their strengths and weaknesses are and you should adjust your strategy accordingly. It’s not a guarantee that you will win a match but you’ll have a better chance at doing so. If you use the same strategy with the small fast guys as you do with the big smash guys and still come out on top, then I would like you to give me a private lesson and teach me how. Seriously, that would be awesome.

“Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.” – Sun Tzu

No one knows your game better than yourself and nothing will teach you more about yourself than being on the mat.


Your instructor can’t teach you everything. Some things you’re going to have to figure out on your own. The more miles under your tires the better you’ll become at riding. The more mat time under your belt, the better you’ll become at rolling. Become one with the motorcycle. Become one with Jiu-Jitsu.

Let’s ride. Let’s roll.


Photo courtesy of Thomas Gaughan Photography

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