Monday, 1 February 2010
A layman's journey into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: Part 5
The gentle way...?
Anthropologists have suggested that early man, over time, has had to overcome their physical disadvantages to beast. He is weaker, smaller, slower and without the natural weaponry like fangs and claws.
For most of history man was the prey and animal the predator. However, over centuries man has used his superior intelligence and ingenuity to become the ultimate predator on earth. It seems that despite this, however, deep down, fear is still hardwired into us. The fear that we are prey and not predators, that we are weak and not strong.
All the ‘rites of passage’ we conjure up for teenage boys so that they can become ‘men’, are to enable them to overcome this fear. It is basically saying 'you are no longer the protected or the prey; you are the protector and the predator'. My friend recently gave his son a knife for his 18th birthday. I don’t think he gave it to him with the intention that his son would begin wielding it on the mean streets of London, but on some level it was symbolic of him saying to his son; you are ready to fight, to be a protector, to go out on your own.
Fighting is such a dramatic event, full of the unexpected, where you learn a lot about yourself very quickly. This is what makes it so compelling. When you fight you put everything on the line, you expose yourself and leave yourself open to failure and criticism. It’s easier to remain cynical, ironic and detached. However, there is nothing quite like the adrenaline rush of throwing yourself into the ring, of the sensation “kill or be killed”. It’s what our distant ancestors must have felt as they stood before a lion with just a spear and a net... you got to dig deep.
I found myself in a kill or be killed (ok, that's a little dramatic) situation in my second competition. I was in the second round, even more nervous than I had been in my first competition. I think one of my coaches nailed it on the head when he said you feel more nervous in your second competition than in your first because you start placing expectations upon yourself.
Well, we took grips and began fighting for the takedown. I am beginning to learn that you can quickly tell how good an opponent is going to be simply by the feel of their grips. This guy’s grips were strong and assertive. I decided to pull guard as I have begun feeling comfortable and more confident with my guard game...if it is in fact even a 'game' yet. He foiled my numerous sweep attempts and managed to stand up with me still wrapped around his waist.
I always find this a peculiar and visually comical position to be in. You find yourself suspended in mid air clinging to a grown man for dear life, pondering your options. Do I quickly drop down to my feet and try a sneaky takedown? Do I hold on and hope he tires and takes me back down to the mat? Or, do I fall to the mat and instigate my very average beginner’s open/spider guard? Oh... the options are endless.
I sense this guy is good, if I risk letting him pass my guard it is likely I will be chasing the victory for the rest of the fight. I have to kill or be killed. Is there a way I can submit him from the position I now affectionately refer to as "air guard"? Then I instinctively react like Jason Bourne, like I had been trained for this moment my whole life. I grab his right sleeve and throw my left leg over his head in one swift airborne movement. I lock in the armbar from “air-guard”, lean back and await the tap.
The guy is not tapping. The arm is 180 degrees, it's horizontal. I am applying pressure and he is not tapping. I apply a bit more pressure and listen out for sounds of pain from my opponent to indicate that my armbar is legitimate. He still doesn't tap. Then out of the concentrated silence I hear a sickening "CRUNCH!” I had done something very bad to this guys arm. He then screams "TAP! TAP! TAP!" and I instantly let go of his arm.
The guy is laying on the ground writhing in agony, tears coming down his face. I didn't know how to react. I certainly did not celebrate. I mean I was happy to have won, but I derived no pleasure from seeing this guy in such pain. It was actually quite awkward.
Do I see if he is ok? Do I leave the mat?
Seriously hurting another grown man is unchartered territory for me. I looked to my coaches for some guidance as to how to most respectfully respond. They told me to kneel on the mat and wait. My opponent was helped off the mat and led to the paramedics, I was declared the winner.
My fellow team members congratulated me and told me I was a deadly weapon, a monster, which under any other circumstances would have made me feel like the man. However, I kind of felt like a villain. I mean, I had proper mashed this guys arm up, he was a wreck. My coach told me that this was the reality of combat sports. This is not tennis, this is fighting and, even with sporting rules in place, there are always risks and casualties.
I think the vital thing here though was the guy would not tap. If you have even the smallest experience in BJJ you know that once your arm is fully extended in an armbar, it is pretty much over (unless you are the Ultimate Warrior...then it’s never over). It was basically my opponents own pride that injured him. In no way did I crank it on fast; I just put steady pressure on it, alerting him it was on.
I went up to him afterwards when the dust had settled to see how he was. His arm was tied up in a makeshift sling using his belt, and he was still in some serious discomfort. He absolved me of any blame and told me he should have tapped. He was quite a young guy and obviously hungry to do well, but he had learned the hard way.
I remember when I tapped too late to an armbar slapped on me by a ferocious blue belt in sparring, it hurt for days. I dreaded to think how this guy was going to feel over the forthcoming weeks. The reality is you enter into an unspoken contract with your opponent, and agree that you will fight each other under the agreed terms of that contract. This is what keeps you both safe.
The “tap” is one of the key terms in that contract. The “tap” not only says “my arm is about to break... please stop”, it more profoundly says “I have been outsmarted; outfought and now I honourably withdraw”. It not only humbles and educates you; it allows you to withdraw with dignity and live to fight another day (and to go to work the next morning). If you break the terms of the contract in a combat sport, you are going to find yourself in serious trouble.
“Tap or snap” is the very tasteful phrase I have heard banded around, particularly after the fight between Razak Al-Hussan and Steve CantwelI at UFC Fight Night 16. If you did not see the fight, Cantwell basically bent Al-Hussan’s arm in a very obscene and unnatural direction. The referee had to stop the match because Al-Hussan had not tapped and his arm was basically hanging off. Cantwell then proceeded to celebrate by shouting down the T.V camera “I always wanted to do that”.
I remember thinking 'what an absolute moron... both of them'. What a great job they were both doing in throwing the sport of MMA back into the dark ages.
To be fair in the heat of the moment and with adrenaline pumping, we can all say and do stupid things and I think Cantwell later apologised for his comments. And in Al-Hussan’s case an honest desire to win had driven him to ridiculous lengths, lengths that were detrimental to his health and maybe even to his career. It could be argued that Cantwell’s bloodthirst and Al-Hussans refusal to quit is what makes them real warriors. I would argue in this case it made them foolish and short-sighted.
You are not going to push your sport to the highest professional level by alienating the people that are already suspicious of it by making public meathead comments and you are not going to put food on your family’s table with a limp arm. This is probably now my love of Jiu-Jitsu speaking, but I much prefer the approach Demian Maia takes. He has publicly stated that he would like to win as many of his fights in MMA as possible, without seriously hurting any of his opponents. I think these are the words of a true and masterful warrior and they optimize the art of “the gentle way”.
Word spread of my “incident”. My wife began enthusiastically telling all our friends "how I broke some guy's arm". "I didn't break it, I dislocated it"... It didn't matter. This only served to ruin my 'nice guy' image and deepen my unconverted brethren's suspicion of my new found passion and lessen the chances of me convincing any of them to watch a UFC card with me.
When I returned to the gym after the competition I had unknowingly earned myself a new nickname. I think nicknames are great. There is one kid in my gym with loads of talent his nickname is "Rolls Gracie"... after the great prodigy himself. I mean that's cool. As for me, I walk into the changing room and someone shouts "How's it going arm-breaker!”