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.



  1. right on Jeff! And would you agree that we instructors are in the constant balancing of guiding these grinding surface dwellers to the gentle way while protecting the inexperienced from the grinders dangerous learning curve? Another great article, keep em coming!

    1. Sensei, absolutely! “Constant balancing” is a great way to say it. We’ll guide them to the gentle way like leading a horse to water…but we can’t make them drink. Also, maybe paradoxically, we want our Jiu Jitsu to withstand the grinders and not wilt under the pressure. So, in that sense, a balancing act of protecting the students from being completely obliterated by Surface Dwellers while also showing them how to flow around them is essential. We don’t want the new students to remain primitive, but at the same time, they must be exposed to Primates in order to transcend that stage.

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