Demian Maia and complete jiujitsu

Demian Maia is, by any measure, one of the finest representatives of jiujitsu. You probably already know this, especially if you watched his most recent fight with Carlos Condit. It was a masterful performance against an accomplished opponent where, despite Condit knowing precisely what Maia wanted to do, Maia achieved a submission victory while taking virtually no damage.

One apparent lesson from this: despite what you might hear in certain circles, jiujitsu is a complete martial art. One less-readily apparent lesson, which is no less important: fundamentalism in any form is dangerous.

To explain what I mean, let’s start with self defense. True self defense means we train to protect ourselves from harm. This means avoiding bad situations, but also preparing for when dangerous situations arise. Being locked in a cage with a UFC-caliber fighter certainly qualifies as “dangerous.” This is why Royce Gracie’s performances in the early UFCs so animated martial artists: here was living proof that, during a no-time-limit fight with effectively no rules, a smaller opponent skilled in jiujitsu could defeat huge, dangerous attackers.

During Maia’s last four UFC fights, he’s absorbed 13 significant strikes — fewer than four per fight, against the best mixed martial artists in the world. That’s protecting yourself. That’s further testament that jiujitsu — original complete Gracie jiujitsu — is still effective.

Just listen to Maia himself, ever humble about his own achievements, explain why it’s the art that’s doing the vital work of protecting him:

Most of us will never fight in the cage. But there are lessons there for each of us: jiujitsu a complete art composed of striking, grappling, takedowns, and standing self-defense, along with a philosophy of self defense. Inspired by the Maia-Condit fight, the past day I’ve been re-watching Demian Maia’s DVD about stand-up techniques. It might surprise some people that Maia has an hour-long instructional of this nature, but it should only be a surprise you if you view jiujitsu through the prism of ground grappling. Original jiujitsu was designed to be a standalone martial art, and that’s the jiujitsu Maia does. As he says:

“I’ve always believed in Jiu-Jitsu as a martial art and not only a sport. That’s why I have always trained all aspects of the art. Despite being a competitor for years, I never stopped training self-defense or takedowns. I still do the same with my students today.”

This is a consistent theme in Maia’s interviews throughout the years. He’s a jiujitsu world champion, Abu Dhabi champion, and UFC title contender — but he’s never stopped training the self defense aspects of Gracie jiujitsu. He still does it all.

To me, this is an important lesson for those who are competition-focused to the exclusion of all else. Competition is fun, but — whether we’re talking about sport jiujitsu or MMA — winning awards in a setting with predictable, mutually agreed upon rules is just a part of what the art is about. It’s certainly a far cry from the early UFCs, where virtually anything went, and you had to be prepared to stand, to fight from your back, to be on top on the ground, or any other situation.

In some ways, the growth of sport jiujitsu has created incentive to specialize: one effective means to win a strategic game is to focus intently on a subset of that game, then force your opponent to play it on your terms. It’s why we see complex, ever-evolving aspects of the modern lapel guards: if you can trap someone into playing that game, and you know that game miles better than your opponent, it’s a smart way to win. This incentivizes people who are exceptional at the berimbolo, for example, to get into berimbolo-ready positions, and drill those technique to the exclusion of others. But if you’re going to do that, and only that, you’d better be able to get to that position in every situation where you might have to defend yourself.

Can you imagine a position, in grappling or fighting, where Demian Maia would be lost? I can’t. There are reasons that his jiujitsu is the subject of much study for the masterful way he moves through positions. I can’t help but think his completist approach is a reason why.

When I hear people complain about training self-defense, it’s usually because they’d rather be doing something else — like sharpening their sport tools. There’s nothing wrong with working on your favorite techniques. There is, however, something wrong with failure to develop a well-rounded skill set. There is also something wrong with failing to see self-defense techniques for what they are: techniques designed to give anyone tools to protect themselves in common situations outside of sport grappling.

It’s no secret that I love sport jiujitsu. What I dislike is fundamentalism: the attitude that what I prefer is the only pure way. It impedes learning and progress. To return to Demian Maia, he trains original, complete jiujitsu, including self defense — and finds a profound template for success there.

There’s a flip side to this, though. Many self defense purists are skeptical — or even out-and-out hostile — to sport jiujitsu. My own experience tells me that competition is one of the most powerful tools for improving one’s self defense abilities.

But this is about Demian Maia. Maia competed from white belt all the way through black belt, entering sport jiujitsu tournaments at every belt level and winning the worlds at a couple of them. Indeed, despite his status as elite fighter, he even said he’d like to take a gi jiu-jitsu competition match if the situation was right.

He’s not alone. In the upper echelons of MMA, most of the top-tier jiujitsu fighters also competed successfully in sport jiujitsu while wearing the gi. (Only Frank Mir stands out as an exception, although it’s possible I’m missing someone.)

The anti-competition argument goes that if you train sport techniques, you’ll be unprepared for a real-world confrontation. I disagree with this, both at the premise and the conclusion levels, and my reasoning could be the topic of an entirely different post. In the context of this post, though, I think both the arguments against training self defense and to competing can be answered this way: a well-rounded martial artist should at least explore both. We can learn different things from different experiences, and to reject out of hand certain experiences seems like fundamentalism.

It’s not my usual tendency to tell people what to do without being asked. We all have different goals, and success should be defined according to those goals. For those of us who want to have complete jiujitsu, though, we have to remember that the art is rooted in self defense. And for those of us that want to have the most effective self defense possible, we should consider that competition can help — not hinder — our progress toward that goal.

Demian Maia, a truly complete jiujitsu fighter, is an example of this. We could all do worse than to emulate him.


The Woman God must be killed

I don’t know if you heard, but Ronda Rousey lost.

If you did hear, then you must have also heard from all the people who knew she would lose, who say she was overrated the whole time, and who believe that her lack of humility led to her fall from grace (as opposed to a well-prepared opponent who created matchup problems).

This shouldn’t surprise me as much as it does. It’s the way humans think. The fact is, though, it did surprise me to see the narrative snap back so fast from “Ronda will just armbar her, obviously” to “I knew Ronda was overrated, and she got a big head from becoming a big star, and her moral failings led to her doom.”

There is a pithy modern reaction to this, which is: haters have a job, and that job is to hate.

There is also a deeper, less modern reaction, one that I think about often.

Continue reading

A Case Study In Fudoshin

In martial arts and in Zen Buddhism, we talk about fudoshin. Roughly translated as “immovable mind,” fudoshin can be described as a state of emotional balance. This type of composure is of particular value in times of crisis, which is one reason it was a virtue prized by the samurai.

This can be a struggle for all of us. Fortunately, we have some good examples to follow.

Murilo Bustamante is one of the best and most well-respected jiu-jitsu fighters ever. We were fortunate enough to bring him in for a seminar last year. Wherever I visit to train, no matter what the school’s affiliation or focus, I find deep respect for Bustamante.

He even choked me, and how many people can say that? ... OK, a lot of people.

He even choked me, and how many people can say that? … OK, a lot of people.

I was stuck home sick all day today, and I decided to spend some time watching several of the dozen or so Bustamante fights available on UFC Fight Pass, After watching some of his later bouts — and by the way, the next time I’m tempted to make excuses based on my age, I’m going to remember watching a 39-year-old Bustamante in Pride — I moved on to a fight I’d seen before.

That famous fight is his UFC 37 clash with Matt Lindland.

I first learned about this fight from Royce Gracie black belt Jake Whitfield. When I first watched the fight, I considered it part of my education in jiu-jitsu history. Since then, I’ve watched it several times, and taken something new from it with each watching.

This time, I took this from it: this fight is an object lesson in fudoshin.

You can pretty much feel safe if any one of these guys is with you, nevermind five of them.

You can pretty much feel safe if any one of these guys is with you, never mind five of them.

To understand why, you have to understand the context. Bustamante was the UFC’s middleweight champion, having taken the belt from Dave Menne.

Despite being the defending champ, though, he was the betting underdog. Oddsmakers and observers of MMA favored Lindland, who had earned an Olympic silver medal in wrestling. He was also younger and undefeated in seven fights. That is to say, despite Bustamante’s achievements, most people were expecting Lindland to win.

It didn’t go that way. Using fundamental jiu-jitsu, Bustamante took down the Olympic wrestler with just over a minute gone in the first round. Two minutes later, Bustamante secured a tight armbar and Lindland was tapping.

But Lindland claimed he hadn’t tapped, and in what he would later call his biggest mistake, referee John McCarthy informed the combatants that he would let the fight continue.

Commentator Jeff Osborne said immediately after the first tap was disallowed: “That may have cost Murilo this fight.”

Imagine that: you’re the champion. People expect you to lose, which you have to see as a slight. Then you execute perfectly, surprise the critics by taking down a Greco-Roman wrestling expert, get the submission, the referee stops the match …

… and then tells you you have to do it all over again? Now that the opponent has seen what you want to do? How would you react? To say that this would throw most people off would be an understatement of epic proportions.

Would you be able to shake that off and perform immediately? Would you be able to calmly go about your business and secure another submission?

Because that’s exactly what Murilo Bustamante did, hurting Lindland with punches in the third round and securing a fight-ending guillotine.

It’s not just responding with grace under pressure and continuing to fight well that impressed me. Frank Mir, another commentator on the broadcast, pointed out that if you deny tapping the first time, you might not get a chance to tap the second time. More than one black belt I’ve talked to about the fight has said the same.

Not Bustamante. He briefly protested the mistaken decision to re-start the fight, but shortly thereafter put his mouthpiece in and went to work. He used his technique to dominate and finish the match. And when McCarthy stopped the fight a second time, he let go and celebrated with an admirable level of restraint, respect and dignity.

Ignoring the understandable frustration — even anger — that Bustamante must have felt at the time takes incredible emotional control. That’s fudoshin.

Murilo Bustamante should be universally acknowledged as one of the greatest representatives of jiu-jitsu. When you remember his fighting skills, don’t forget his immovable mind.