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From A Fighter's Perspective: Invisible Jiu-Jitsu

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The piece below was written by local professional fighter Jake Whitfield (3-1)

Jiu-Jitsu is a very complex martial art. Yet somehow, virtually all students end up following a very similar learning progression. When a student first begins jiu-jitsu, its a struggle simply to learn the strategy of the art. It is an often confusing time. In the first few months, it is not at all uncommon to hear this exchange:

"Why did I get arm barred?"
"Because you tried to choke me."
"But we learned that choke in class on Monday."
"Yes, but you were inside my guard."

For most students, it is a challenge early on just to learn each of the major positions and then to understand what they should and should not do in each of these major positions.

Once these major positions and rules are learned, students move on to learning the individual attacks and escapes from these major positions. As they continue to progress in their training, students will inevitably think that the answer to their problems in training is to learn more techniques. By having a larger variety of techniques, they are often able to surprise other beginner and intermediate level students. In their head, progress is measured in terms of the number of moves learned. Yet the advanced students continue to tap them over and over using the cross choke, the arm bar, the triangle, and the kimura.

So why does this occur?

More after the jump:

How is it that the most advanced black belts in the world cannot stop Roger Gracie from mounting them and finishing them with the basic collar choke?

Not an exact quote, but when Roger Gracie was questioned on why he has not released an instructional DVD, he replied "Because I use the same techniques that everyone knows."
This solidifies the question: if Roger does, in fact, use the same techniques that everyone knows, why can't anyone stop them? The answer is invisible.

Invisible Jiu-Jitsu

"The most interesting aspect of jiu-jitsu, of course the techniques are great, but the most interesting aspect is the sensibility of the opponent, the sense of touch, the weight, the movement, the transition from one movement to another, that's the amazing thing about it. You must allow yourself to be like on automatic pilot, so you don't know exactly where you're going until the movement happens. You cannot anticipate what's going to happen. You must allow yourself to be in a zero point, a neutral point and be relaxed and connected with the variations. So you pretty much, flow with the go. This is a point beyond the knowledge. Years and years of playing around give you this kind of sensibility."
- Rickson Gracie

This quote came from the documentary "Choke" which chronicled Rickson's training for and participation in the Japan Vale Tudo 1995 tournament. Ten years later, it would be Rickson that coined the term Invisible Jiu-Jitsu.

Stated simply, Invisible Jiu-Jitsu are the aspects of Jiu-Jitsu that cannot be seen. Every beginner learns the same steps to execute choke that Roger uses but what cannot be taught is the feel of doing the technique correctly. Correct weight distribution and timing are also unteachable variables in the success of a technique. These details are Invisible Jiu-Jitsu. Feel, timing, weight distribution, and momentum are all aspects of a technique that cannot be seen, thus they are Invisible.

At this point, I think it is necessary that I interject a disclaimer. In my opinion, Invisible Jiu-Jitsu is the absolute highest level of jiu-jitsu. I did not even begin to grasp this level until after receiving my brown belt and I am in no way an authority on the subject. Everything that I write in this article is based on my own extremely limited experience in this area. And in the grand scheme of things, I am still a beginner when compared to Rickson or Roger.

So how does one begin to develop Invisible Jiu-Jitsu?

Step number one is that you must engrain all of your basic techniques through tireless drilling. DEAD REPETITIONS OF A TECHNIQUE WILL NOT HELP YOU DEVELOP INVISIBLE JIU-JITSU, however these repetitions are necessary to build the muscle memory to perform the steps of a given technique without having to think. If you are having to walk yourself through the individual steps of a technique, you will most likely miss your chance to use the technique on an opponent of your own skill level. By performing your arm bar for two minutes at the beginning of every class, you will need less conscious thought to perform the movement during live rolling.

Step number two in developing Invisible Jiu-Jitsu is to roll with Aliveness. Invisible Jiu-Jitsu is a very Alive concept. Once you have engrained the basic movements to a point beyond conscious thought, you must roll. You must roll with all different body types and skill levels. Do not limit yourself.

I must clarify that this type of training is not intended for beginners. During your early years of training, you should be very picky about who you train with. A wild opponent that hurts you will not help you improve, he will only cause you to take time off to heal.

However, once you have reached a purple belt level (five to six years for those that train no gi), it is important that you go outside of your comfort zone. Roll with the All American wrestler. Roll with the judo black belt. Roll with the quick roosterweight and roll with the strong ultra heavyweight.

Beyond choosing different training partners, you must learn to go beyond fatigue. Experiment with different time limits. Go beyond the normal five minute rounds. You must learn what it feels like to go beyond exhaustion and still function. If every time you train, you use five minute rounds, your body will become conditioned to performing at a high intensity followed by a rest. But in a round of ten, twenty, or thirty minutes, you cannot maintain that same intensity. This is the point where you develop Invisible Jiu-Jitsu. When you can no longer rely on strength or speed to execute a technique, you must learn to rely on timing and momentum and the other aspects of the technique that are Invisible.

Fabio Santos, a 7th Degree Red and Black Belt under Rickson Gracie, was featured in Grappling Magazine about ten years ago. In his interview, he stated that the highest level of Jiu-Jitsu was the ability to "cook" an opponent. "Cooking" an opponent is the art of making them get tired so that you can finish them. When I was on a lower level, I thought that "Cooking" meant being in better shape so that my opponent would get tired before I did. Now I understand that "Cooking" is in fact Invisible. Cooking an opponent is not a matter of being in better shape. Cooking is about making your opponent spend energy when you do not. By not forcing a technique but rather flowing with the go, you spend less energy.

I like to use the analogy of a car. Everyone has heard "You can have the fastest car in the world, but if it doesn't have gas, it won't go anywhere." This is absolutely true. Yet there is not a single car company in the world saying "How can we get a bigger gas tank on our cars?" What are the car companies working for? Fuel efficiency. The answer isn't to put a bigger gas tank on the car; the answer is to make the car use less gas. This should be your goal when drilling and rolling. Anyone can get in shape, but your goal should be to use less energy to execute your techniques.

One great drill to help improve your Invisible Jiu-Jitsu is literally to make your opponent invisible. Not like a ninja fighting off the evil samurai, but rather, roll with your eyes closed. (This drill is best to save for a less crowded class.) You will be surprised how much you rely on your eyes while training. Without being able to see your opponent, you will learn to feel your opponent and become more sensitive to his shifts in weight.

Jiu-Jitsu is a very complex martial art, however improving in Jiu-Jitsu is simple. Spend time drilling the basic positions until the movements do not require thought, then spend time rolling with as many different partners as possible. Invisible Jiu-Jitsu is the highest level of the art, but there is no way to truely speed the process along or skip steps. Renzo Gracie said "The better you get, the more simple jiu-jitsu becomes." That is why Roger Gracie's choke from the mount is unstoppable: it is a simple move... But his details are Invisible.