My first martial arts lesson was given to me in 1969 by a judo teacher. In 1971 I joined a tkd school. In 1993 my tkd teacher told me to start learning jiu-jitsu. In between, especially being around the eclectic master teacher Ernie Reyes, Sr., I/we engaged in Filipino arts, wu shu, boxing and kickboxing, judo, and capoeira.
The name of any given style doesn’t, for me anyway, come close to accurately representing what I’ve learned, engaged in, absorbed, forgotten, and/or practiced. Like a lot of you, I simply have to (want to) think outside of any particular style (read: brand name).
But while there are many reasons to “think outside of your style,” I’m writing about one crucial one here, as a photo I saw on Facebook recently has stuck in my mind.
The photo was of a group of “master teachers” of a particular style —of which about 90% of the masters in the photo, featuring what looked to be about 50 + teachers, were overweight —and in some of the cases, grossly overweight. In contrast to that, since I’ve been practicing BJJ —and other grappling arts, I’ve been hanging out with a group of people who lean towards the ultra-fit. When you see a group of BJJ master teachers lined up, I can’t recall a lot of men or women who don’t look like the very picture of fitness and health.
I know, from personal experience —and being a double-hip replacement guy, that I don’t want to continue to practice tkd, for example, at the level I did as a 20 and 30 something; I mean, I can still kick like a mule, but if I trained in tkd with the vigor I can now train in grappling arts, I believe I would soon be needing yet another operation —-and I’m not into that, not even a little.
In the case of this group of masters, if I were a doctor and had to give the group a prescription with which to bring them more in line with the health benefits the martial arts is, I’ve heard, supposed to offer the practitioner, I’d tell them to think outside of their style and take to the gentle arts —-add the work to their training programs —-especially if the knees, hips, and backs are complaining.
I’ve found BJJ to be therapeutic and safer (and yes, I still get the occasional injury, but it’s not BJJ’s fault, it’s my massive, Godzilla-like ego that usually makes me ache) than many of the staples of “the style” I used to embrace. Thinking outside of my style has lengthened my career, made me far more fit today than I might be otherwise, and greatly expanded my ability to scrap —if and when scrapping is required.
Whatever we call our brand name, I think we should all hear the call to make sure our work promotes a functional sort of health —as I don’t think I have to remind anyone that being overweight has been proven to be the catalyst for many -if not most of the things, that are actually kicking people’s asses in today’s world.
If you’re looking at the masters standing around you —and you see that they’re no longer fit and healthy, I think it’s a call to look at what is being practiced —and I think we would do well to bring things to the game that have our masters lean, trim, fit, and practicing, so that the benefits we attach to the practice of the martial arts include vitality, good health, and functional fitness.
For me, at 54, I fully endorse the genius and lifestyle of the grappling arts, especially those arts championed by people who also carefully watch their diets. It doesn’t make my other “styles” less-than, but serves to make them all the more useful and accessible.
If you’re not a practitioner of the grappling arts —and you’re a martial artist, I suggest you open that door. Most everyone I’ve pushed in that direction is, today, fitter, a better martial artist, and I think more competitive, as a school owner, than those who don’t embrace the wonderful world of grappling.
Martial arts is —and must be —about a level of fitness, mentally, emotionally, and physically, that stands as a statement about “what is self-defense” in today’s world. It’s not going to be the martially-skilled opponent that’s going to steal your health or your life from you, your family, and/or your students, it’s going to be that 40 extra pounds of fat surrounding your organs, clogging your arteries, and affecting your body’s ability to process what we put into our mouths. It is estimated that 1 in 3 children will now be affected by diabetes in their lifetime. Now that is a self-defense issue —and it’s one we should all be taking seriously, as master teachers. We need to lead by example —and the practice of grappling arts could, for many of you, spell the difference (along with looking deeply at diet as a component of modern self-defense).
My opinions, of course.