William Nickelson, a recent lightweight NAGA Blue Belt champion, was riding an all-time high Saturday night. It took several hard-fought matches to win that NAGA belt hanging over his shoulder, but the most exhausted muscles in his body were in his pinky and thumbs from throwing up the “shaka” hand sign all night.
A Starry-eyed blue belt’s perception of jiu-jitsu is, at best, a false binary. They will say there are only competitors and hobbyists– with no room for anything in between. But, as you spend more time on the mat, you find that this idea isn’t accurate.
Jiu-jitsu is different from other sports in many ways; when you think of athletic events, the biggest, strongest competitors are often looked at most favorably. Look at the four major sports in America. They all feature a popularity bias toward the biggest and strongest of their athletes. I couldn’t make it a day without being bothered by my school’s athletic director to join the football team. Indeed, size matters in sports.
Jiu-jitsu is supposed to be the great equalizer, the thing that allows small, wiry people to fight larger, stronger opponents. In a way, that’s true. If someone of a more modest physique learns jiu-jitsu, their chances of emerging victorious against an untrained or lesser skilled opponent of greater stature do go up dramatically. Indeed, we’ve seen this on display in viral YouTube videos, as well as personal testimonies from the art’s practitioners.
You’re an aspiring martial artist, and you hop onto Google to see what gyms are in your area. You’ll likely find that the market for martial arts is, well, oversaturated. Indeed, gone are the days of the massive monolithic karate dojos of the 80s and early 90s. However, martial arts schools are still as prevalent as ever– even if they might be renting space from a yoga studio or corporate weightlifting gym these days. But, the most important thing is the quality of instruction, not whether the owner of a school can afford to have a massive painting of a venomous snake on the wall (looking at you, John Kreese).
It can happen at any time, and more often than not, it happens at the worst possible time, when you’re about to compete, breaking plateaus, or any other similar groove. Yes, there’s no good time to get injured, but ligaments, tendons, and bones tend to snap at rather inopportune moments despite your goals– resulting in you having to pull out of tournaments and put a pause on your training.
You walked into a jiu-jitsu gym for the first time. Congratulations!
They say it’s never too late to start jiu-jitsu, and that’s true. Great competitors have started in their early to mid-twenties, and perennial practitioners have started even later than that. There’s never really an ideal time.
Something’s happening in jiu-jitsu. A few years ago, you’d see highly specialized lapel guard players dominating the sport. And yes, those athletes are still around for sure. It’s not like we’ve teleported back to the seventies when a Gracie ran every academy, and bellows of “position over submission” were heard on repeat (that is still good advice, though).
One of the best aspects of jiu-jitsu is the crossroads of cultures you’ll find any given day on the mats. Indeed, memes are often thrown around social media joking about how jiu-jitsu is one of the few activities that both police officers and cannabis enthusiasts can mutually enjoy. But, without one party being suspicious of the other, a true intersection of just about any subculture you can think of, as well as some you probably can’t, can exist in harmony. However, while jiu-jitsu might unite the various subcultures of society, there’s one thing that divides them, and that’s their choice of music.
Seminars in jiu-jitsu are the ultimate meeting of the minds– events where teacher and student alike can congregate and learn from some of the sport’s greatest luminaries. These events are great for expanding your game, getting different perspectives that maybe your gym’s coach doesn’t have, and realizing just how far the sport can take you if you really choose to dedicate yourself to it.
And I haven’t been to one since I was a blue belt.
But this post isn’t meant to make you feel wrong about going to seminars, or, if you’re someone who makes a living off jiu-jitsu, to get you not to do them. They can have lots of benefits, to the person teaching and all the people who attend.
That said, if you are going to go to one, you should probably know what you’re getting yourself into. If you have a reliable drilling partner that will practice the techniques with you after the seminar has concluded, and not just once but for an extended period, you should be in a better spot than most attending.