Longevity in Jiu Jitsu (Surface Dwellers, Part 3)

We should all take an honest look at what we want from Jiu Jitsu. Why are we training?The reasons will vary from person to person.  Is one motivation for training better than another? Maybe.

For everyone that has stepped onto the mats there has been some pull or spark of interest in the art. For those who have stayed any length of time there has been something much more. Call it obsession, fascination, passion or love for the art.  There is some reason people stay.  If this is true, shouldn’t people want to stay for the long haul?

It is hard to imagine someone dedicating a significant amount of time and energy to develop themselves through Jiu Jitsu then suddenly stop.  Yes, it happens. someone might find a new passion or Way. So be it. But I think a significant amount of people that quit Jiu Jitsu after being so dedicated and passionate do so for other reasons.

Not progressing

Every practitioner goes through periods of plateaus. Times where they feel their improvement in the art has stopped. They feel stagnant.  This is a crappy feeling but it is completely normal.  We should accept this, if not like it. From my experience, Plateuas signify a “growth spurt” soon to come.  Plateaus, while they don’t feel good, signfy (to me at least) that conscious technique is in the process of digesting into subconcious instinct. (ie, developing muscle memory).  This process takes time.  Students are encouraged to wait it out.  This “Plateau Cycle” happens to all of us.

However, sometimes people stop progressing for other reasons. They are training with wrong motivations.  They are willfully being a Surface Dweller. They only want the  thrill of “victory” over another instead of a deeper understanding of Jiu Jitsu.  Surface Dwellers don’t have any interest in SELF DEVELOPMENT that can be gained through the Way of Jiu Jitsu. They’d really just rather have the “tap.”

To the Surface Dweller, a “tap is a tap.”  Everything is a means to that end. This method of training has its limits. Eventually, the practitioner hits a pretty big wall in their training.  Their technique has not evolved.  They can’t get away with forcing the submission any longer. Their training partners, who were not Surface Dwellers, have progressed and are more savvy now.  This frustrates the Surface Dweller.  Training then usually stops.  This wrong motivation or mindset, while perhaps yielding initial success, has fizzled out.

A few Surface Dwellers will stick around at this point however. Though they typically only seek out new practitioners whom they can easily dominate and crush.  This behavior is deplorable and must be checked!  It sets a toxic example.


Typically, the new practitioner is at more risk of injury than a seasoned veteran. The newbie’s lack of proper technique is overcompensated with physical attributes. Thus, they force.  And by forcing technique against resisting opponents / training partners injuries happen. The new practitioner is at the surface by no fault of his own.  Proper instruction is vital to the survival of the White Belt.  An environment that encourages efficiency and smooth technique helps develop the White Belt and points the way below the surface.

“Grinders,” who may or may not be full fledged Surface Dwellers, usually sustain significant injuries as well. The grinding, smashing and brute force method (in lieu of efficient technique) can get someone a lot of “taps.”  When you are athletic, young, quick, strong or super-flexible you may indeed see success against your opponents or training partners. At least in the short term. But, there is a cost to such grinding (ie, forcing technique or submissions). Injuries happen frequently in this mode. Or, if not significant injury, general wear and tear of the body.  Knee and shoulder surgeries at some point are common amongst the Grinders.  I have witnessed very athletic and youthful practitioners wear out there bodies after a few years.

Cost vs. Benefit

We must weigh everything we do in Jiu Jitsu by its cost.  We have to decide if want to sacrifice our energy and our bodies for a short-term shallow “success.”  Is it worth it?  The default Surface Dweller mindset, a “tap” is worth a high cost.  Depleting your energy to exhaustion or straining your body to the point of fatigue or injury to get a submission is completely short-sighted. This method leads one to burn out, making overall progression in the art stop.

A question I pose to my students frequently is this:  Would you rather get an armbar “tap” from a worthy opponent, or receive a fuller, deeper understanding of the armbar itself?  The former wants the one-time reward, the latter wants the everlasting principle.  I will take knowledge over a little “tap” any day.

The journey and the Big Picture, not the quick fix and worthless “taps.”

When we think about longevity and efficiency, Jiu Jitsu then becomes an art.  A very sophisticated Martial Art.  It becomes a matter of what we want from our training and what we are willing to pay for it.


Surface Dwellers, Part 2

What I call “Surface Dwellers” are those people who are hyper-focused on Submissions and over use their physical attributes (strength, speed, flexibility) in lieu of proper technique to achieve them. What I call “proper technique,” is a combination of correct mechanical movements and correct timing. The how and the when.

What I have found is that Surface Dwellers will minimally learn the mechanics (how), and almost always neglect timing (when).  Physical attributes, like strength and flexibility, are then used as substitutes for this lack of timing. This forcing makes the technique choppy, ugly and inefficient. This is not at all proper Jiu Jitsu, even though it can resemble it.

Now what exactly is Timing?  Timing as we have established is the when to use a move or technique. As I see it, timing then requires a certain combination of sensitivity and awareness.   We are taught to identify Cues, some visual and some by feel. These are indicators of when a mechanical technique can be utilized. These Cues are the “green light” for a movement or technique.  Cue awareness and recognition are usually gained through experience, or “mat time.” The more you train, the more you naturally gain this sensitivity and awareness.

However, this development can be hindered.  How?  By wanting. By childish insistence. By wanting instant gratification. By being way too fixated on Submissions. This willfulness causes blindness in regards to Cue Recognition.  And, as we have discussed, without proper Cue Recognition there is no timing.  And without timing, we force (ie, over use our physical attributes).

White Belts:  You are naturally at the surface.  You have yet to learn fundamental Jiu Jitsu mechanics and Cue Recognition. Thus, you will no doubt  over use your physical attributes.  This is normal.  However, as you progress, you should, little by little, subsitute this with proper technique.  With this progression in the art, you will see that achieving Submissions the right way is far easier (physically speaking) than forcing them.  But in order to get Submissions the right way we may have to be patient and wait for it to present itself (Gifts not thefts, remember?). This is something Surface Dwellers are not good at. So, white belts, dive deep and work to leave the surface behind.

If you expect to go deep in the art I suggest you let go. If you are a Blue Belt (or above), stop clinging to the surface because of a fearful need to appear powerful (or at least not weak.)  When we let go and drift downward into the unknown, we evolve.

To me, Jiu Jitsu is far more beautiful, sophisticated and effective when its is done is an equanimous manner.  This only happens at the deeper levels. When timing, mechanical movements and awareness are smooth and in sync.

NOTE:  You may substitute “Submissions” for “Sweeps” or “Guard Passes.” Although these are a more sophisticated form of Surface Dweller.




Surface Dwellers and Wall Flies

Everyone comes into Jiu Jitsu with different motivations, aspirations and personalities. That’s obvious and understandable and I can accept almost all types of people. I try very hard not to be judgemental, and mostly I succeed. However, there are two types of Jiu Jitsu practitioners that I don’t care for. More accurately, I don’t care for the way in which they train.  Because these types are my antithesis. They don’t follow my way. I simply call them The Surface Dweller and the Wall Fly. I’ll explain.

The Surface Dweller

The first aspect anyone sees in Jiu Jitsu are submissions. They are the most obvious and identifiable parts of Jiu Jitsu. It is natural and expected then that the new practitioner would be focused on submissions. But we soon realize that there is so much more to Jiu Jitsu than that. For there to be any chance of submission, more must be learned. So, we develop technique. Layer upon layer of technique.  Proper technique is based on leverage, angles, timing (which includes cue recognition , awareness and distraction), and weak vs. strong muscle groups (physiology). Even the submission-focused practitioner goes deeper into Jiu Jitsu out of necessity. They learn proper technique  because they know they need it to gain submissions on skilled opponents. These submission-hunters aren’t Surface Dwellers per se, more like predators.  They use proper technique when they have to. They have gone under the surface as a means to an end…the submission. 

True Surface Dwellers are a different matter.  They are still fixated on submissions, but they don’t care to learn proper technique. Instead they substitute their size, strength, speed, flexibility or any physical attribute they may possess to accomplish the goal.  We can see this when a bigger, stronger person plows over a smaller weaker person. The submission may be gained in spite of good technique not because of it! Surface Dwellers don’t care. They won. They are primitive cavemen. Evolution and sophistication is not their goal. They force the submission. HULK SMASH!  This is not the art of Jiu Jitsu, it only resembles it. 

“How we get the submission is more important than the submission itself.”

The additional problem with the Surface Dwellers is they tend to avoid training partners that they can’t physically dominate. They then become Wall Flies as well.  

The Wall Fly

The Wall Fly is someone who frequently sits on the side lines of the mats instead of being on the mats.  Maybe they observe, rest, or critique others. Mostly they are goofing off or talking about random stuff unrelated to Jiu Jitsu. I am not referring to those that are truly resting a round, have an injury, or are new and waiting to gain the courage to roll. I am talking about the time-wasters.  That’s ultimately what a Wall Fly is. Someone who squanders opportunities to train and improve out of sheer laziness. They are the folks who have to be 100% fresh in order to roll, so they sit out every other round. 

“Nothing in Jiu Jitsu (or Life) is free.”

In order to do anything, we sacrifice something. Time is the most obvious example.  We go to work, give our time, and receive a paycheck. We choose one activity, we sacrifice the ability to do another one.  Time is a limited commodity and is precious. When we commit to Jiu Jitsu we give up a lot of things. If time equals money, then being a Wall Fly is like throwing money out of the window.  

The more annoying Wall Fly is the one that struts around like a peacock on the mat but not actually doing anything. They are the ones resting on their laurels while the workers work and improve.  The Wall Fly lacks work ethic. 

In conclusion

The art of Jiu Jitu has an enormous amount of depth to it. That is, it has
layer upon layer of complex and intricate details. Some people refer to this as “hidden or invisible Jiu Jitsu.” I see it as multi-layered and simply
refer to the art as having “depth.” At the advanced levels it isn’t
invisible, just very complex and subtle. It takes sensitivity and awareness developed
through years of training to discover and then, eventually, master.  I will never understand why anyone would choose to stay on the surface of the art.  Why not see how far down it goes and enjoy discovering the unknown?  Why waste time loafing around when you could be exploring the art?