Sunday, March 09, 2008

The first Saturday morning class is usually populated mostly by teenage students. Typically, these kids have the overly optimistic view that they know it all. I say that with all due sympathy, for I do remember the confidence of youth. I enjoy observing these kids and training with them because it provides a glimpse into the health of the student body. If they are making mistakes, it is a good gauge that most of the school is making the same mistake and should be corrected. And when they are getting things right… That’s a good sign.

So I note something they got pleasantly correct yesterday morning.

We’ve been incorporating more and more grappling in the Black Belt level classes for just over a year now. It’s been fed at home by watching the various MMA fights. Often you can find the youngsters stretching out on the mat before or after class talking about the fights, and the various BJJ or grappling techniques they’ve seen. Judging from the discussions and what I’ve seen them doing in class, they’ve been very observant. Some of them might even turn into real threats when they finally understand that positioning is more important than the cool chokes and submissions.

Yesterday, two of the young men were talking about arm-locks, and I heard this gem:
“I really like the Kimura and the Americana. You know: they are really the same thing, just in opposite directions.”

Ah-ha! It’s good to see the Black Belt students making these connections on their own. It would be even better to hear them say: “You know -- Onikudaki is just a variation of the Americana…”

The comment also made me think of some reading I’d done last week in the introduction to Ultimate Fighting Techniques Volume 2: Fighting from the Bottom.

“Royce was not only able to protect himself from Severn’s attempted strikes, but he was also able to submit Severn with the then unknown ‘Triangle Choke.’ From that moment on everyone realized the immense power that Gracie Jiu Jitsu offered a regular human being.”

Advancing in the martial arts means learning to draw connections and see how all the pieces fit together. Often these connections are drawn on the mat, but sometimes you draw them from study in the library. The quote from UFT Vol.2 is most likely from co-author Kid Peligro, a Gracie BJJ Black Belt and spokesperson. It was so overblown in its enthusiasm I had to do a little double-checking and reached for my copy of Kodokan Judo, the standard reference work on Judo technique and practice.

Sure enough, on page 124, I found Sankaku-jime, translation: “Triangular choke.” The photo clearly shows a Judo yudansha with his legs wrapped around an opponent and applying choking pressure to the neck.

I further looked to The Canon of Judo, written by the legendary “God of Judo” Kyuzo Mifune, the last Judo 10th Dan. This was first published in the early 1950’s. On page 154 is Sankaku-Gatame-Ude-Hishigi, or the “Triangular Armlock.” Although the terminology is a little different, the technique looks substantially the same. Except here, not only are you applying pressure to the neck, you are hyperextending the elbow simultaneously. Mifune introduces the technique by saying, “I developed this technique myself, and it always proves effective.”

There is really nothing new under the sun. If you want further proof of that, while you’re checking out Sankaku-Jime in your own copy of Kodokan Judo (you do have a copy, don’t you?), glance over at page 125. You’ll find the Judo armlock called Ude Garami. One named technique, but two different directions you’ll clearly recognize as the Americana and the Kimura…

I don’t really believe Kyuzo Mifune invented the triangle choke anymore than I believe Royce Gracie used it for the first time against Dan Severn in 1995. I suspect it was already ancient when some forgotten Pankratiast snapped his opponent’s elbow and choked him unconscious in the Greek dust to the cheers of his countrymen.

So what lessons are we to draw here? For starters, we need to be looking for these commonalities. It helps us develop and understand our own skills and techniques. It also gives us an appreciation for the efforts of others that we’ve noted in previous postings is sadly lacking. It also saves us some effort by building on work already performed by someone else. Why should we reinvent the wheel?

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