The Physics of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu
In many of the classes here at Ronin Athletics, you will often hear terms like lever, structure and angle thrown around. It can seem weird to discuss something as obviously physical by using such cerebral concepts. But at the same time, we’re applying the science of physics and its principles on the mat every day. By noticing and thinking about that, we can better wrap our heads around BJJ.
BJJ schools in NYC and across the world often have differences in the way that they talk about Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, with different names for techniques and movements. Here at Ronin, you might hear Coach Vinh tell someone to put their knee in the hip pocket or to Homer Simpson walk, phrases that don’t make sense out of the specific context of the gym. At other schools, the terminology can be so different sometimes that you might think they were speaking in a completely foreign dialect of English. The science of physics gives us a readymade language that is easily intelligible. It allows us to discuss and explore how all the moves that we use work. On one hand, an armbar can be simply described as a way of hurting an opponent’s arm. But someone who has taken some physics in high school or college, when presented with the armbar as the usage of a lever and a fulcrum, can understand and appreciate the technique on a much deeper level.
We really believe that the physics of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is more than just a collection of moves. So while we are teaching techniques in classes, we’re also getting our students to understand the concepts that underlie those techniques and allow them to work. The individual moves aren’t what matters. The important thing to learn, and what we try to emphasize, is an understanding of the movements and the structures that they create / break down. By seeing the mechanics behind the movements, it becomes easier to get the individual techniques. Let me use closed guard as an example. When the person on top is in guard, they want to establish posture. Why is that? It’s because posture (elbows in, head up, elbows turned inward, back rounded and weight set back) is a very strong structure that helps prevent the guy on bottom from attacking effectively. If the person on bottom understands how that structure works, they are better prepared to undermine that structure, breaking their opponent’s posture and making them open to attacks. They’ll know that attacking straight-on is inefficient, that they need to cut an angle to launch their techniques and what the best angles are from which to launch those attacks.
Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is improvisational; it’s a martial art that’s practiced in an alive, resistant manner. Very rarely when we roll will we hit the picture perfect armbar or the picture perfect sweep that we learned and drilled in class. Our opponent has their own goals. If we’re rolling, they aren’t going to meekly cooperate and give the exact pressure we need. Furthermore, everyone’s body is different, so a move that might work for one person, might need to be changed in some detail to work for someone who has different physical attributes. If we understand the mechanics behind the movements, we can improvise and adjust much more easily. We know what needs to happen for a technique to work and so we can make those adjustments on the fly, changing the way our hips are aligned or our hands are positioned, making our games that much more effective. Instead of wasting energy trying to force something that just isn’t there, by really understanding BJJ, we can identify the most efficient path and are better able to deal with any twists our opponent might throw at us.
BJJ is often compared to chess, and like chess, it’s much more than just learning what the pieces do. If someone wants to be a really great chess player, they need to understand the strategies and theories that underlie the game. It’s the same thing in BJJ, by using physics to delve deeper into how BJJ works, we get a fuller and more enriching experience. We want every one of our students to be great Jiu-jitsu practitioners so we’ll keep emphasizing the principles that underlie BJJ.
See you on the mats.