Our essential humanity

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I had dinner on Saturday night with someone who trains Jiu-Jitsu very seriously at another school in this area. Or rather, he said he had been training.

I asked, “Why aren’t you training now?” And he said “I can’t – I tore my A.C.L.”

In class, I asked?

“No,” he said, “not in class.”

KatSlootsky_M46A2142 copyHe continued.”I was out at a bar and some guy was making his rounds, trying to pick a fight with as many people as he could. He got to me and we got into a scuffle and I took him down.

“I mounted him and then when the bouncers were pulling me away, he grabbed my leg and put me in a heelhook.”

He said that the guy tore his A.C.L. right off the bone. In a bar fight!

So as we continued to talk, I brought up to him a recent episode of “Real Sports” on HBO. One of the Gracies was talking about how a lot of schools now, a lot of gyms, they’re teaching people who are really just thugs, and they’re releasing them out into into the world.

It’s imperative that the martial arts remind people of their essential humanity, not their lack of it.

There’s not a code of conduct, not a lot of things to support the higher level of responsibility that the higher level technique requires. The interviewee said that it was just inconceivable that things in Jiu-Jitsu had diverged so much from their original purpose.

It comes back to the student creed. When we first introduced it, the Jiu-Jitsu community really balked…but with hindsight being 20-20, we can all see the folly of ignoring it. The truth is that the Jiu-Jitsu community has blown it. They went for a gym mentality and this “tough guy” thing, rather than the dojo mentality and a “humble guy” thing. And what we’ve done is we’ve created monsters with no recourse to rational thought anymore.

So two questions…

The first is whether instructors know that this is happening – that, through negligence or omission, they’re fostering their students’ worst instincts. Are they teaching responsibility at all? Is it part of the discussion? Are they being naïve, thinking it’s not part of what they do?

In an era when we experience national and global violence in epidemic proportions – shootings and beheadings and torture and all the rest – it’s imperative that the martial arts remind people of their essential humanity, not their lack of it.

The second question is also very important to ask: what’s everybody going to do about it? Some people prefer things as they are, so aren’t bothering to answer it. Most of you already know our answer, which has been to commence this alternate line of education for the student.

It’s also been to re-educate ourselves as instructors in order to provide the right model. In many cases, we learned the right thing by accident throughout the years. The technique was on purpose but everything else was left to chance. And because no one was asking this question, the larger project of developing the individual as a whole fell by the wayside.

And as we’ve said before, now it is the instructors’ responsibility to raise the student to a level higher than where we ourselves are. We have to do the heavy lifting to get them to our shoulders so they can see farther. Even if a teacher doesn’t agree with anything else we talk about, they’ve got to concede this notion that the student needs to surpass the instructor in more than only technique, just in order to guarantee the ongoing evolution of Jiu-Jitsu and the martial arts.


For more about the larger project of cooperative Jiu-Jitsu and martial arts training, visit the Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (Brooklyn BJJ) website here.

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