Finding the right school: a white belt perspective

Deep within an ancient forest grows thick and sturdy trees old as civilisation itself; the roots of these trees sink deep in the earth and draw upon its nutrients, which through time allowed them to branch off towards the sun. As the trees begun to bear fruit, monkeys were drawn to the forest; the monkeys scampered and swung across the branches of the ancient trees, looking to sedate their ferocious hunger for the trees fruit. However, some monkeys were lazy and only swung on lower, weaker branches that promised easier to reach fruit; as they gorged on this easy, less nutritious fruit they became fat and idle, until eventually their weight broke the weak branch, dropping the poor monkey to the forest floor. Lacking in physical and mental prowess, the idle monkeys were unable to defend themselves from predators. Meanwhile, the other monkeys were reaching newer heights and eating higher quality fruit, learning new techniques and fuelling their bodies; however, some of these greater apes thought they were better than the others and were no longer content with their own fruit. These monkeys begun to squabble with those on other branches and different trees, leading to conflict, bitter intent and isolation. Then the Martial Ape emerged, strong and subtle with its technique and fuelled by the richest fruit, it was content with its way and sought only self-fulfilment. The Martial Ape trained hard to master his technique, and looked to other monkeys to learn from their skill. This monkey flourished in its body and spirit.

In my inaugural blog post I discussed how I now find myself, once again, a ‘Jiu-Jitsu’ white belt, today I would like to take that discussion a little further and explain why I find myself at the beginning of an exciting journey. If you open a new tab on your web browser and google either Jiu-Jitsu, Ju-Jitsu, Jujutsu, or any other alternative spelling, you will likely find a selection of local schools and classes offering martial arts tuition. Awesome, lots of choice is great for consumers and ‘variety is the spice of life’; the trouble a new budding Jiu Jitsuka may find is knowing where to go. There are plenty of resources available for a deeper view on the evolution of this Martial Art; however, my perspective is that Martial Arts is a forest, and Jiu Jitsu has grown in to a strong tree with its roots firmly planted in Japanese history and culture; the tree has since branched out in different directions, all fighting for their spot in the sunlight. as the tree aged some branches grew stronger and closer to the sun than others, producing more nutritious fruit. In my analogy, the new white belt is a monkey, looking for the strongest branch to swing on and the ripest of fruit to feast.

As the new Jiu Jitsuka begins their journey up the tree they’ll find a breadth of clubs/branches; some specialise in teaching a ‘traditional’ perspective of Jiu Jitsu; other clubs take a competition focus, and some their aim is to teach ‘self-defence’. If you’re lucky, in my opinion, you may find a club which aims to successfully embody ‘the complete art’. It is reasonable and respectable to pursue tuition at any of these schools; that said, the branch grabbed by the new white belt will depend much on the individuals influences that inspired their journey, their intentions for why they wish to learn, and their goals for what they wish to obtain. Knowing your influence, intentions and goals will help you to focus your training on the correct school and help manage expectations. You are unlikely to become an MMA Superstar by spending hours learning to wield a bo staff in a traditional school.

That said, your influences, intentions and goals are not static and if you lack the patience and the ability to self-reflect you may find yourself like me, taking a while to find your feet. I started my journey as a fantasist, training at a school that taught a ‘traditional style’; I mentioned in my previous post that my introduction to the Martial Arts was TMNT, the Matrix… and come to think of it ‘Rush Hour 1 & 2’ (great films). It was because of these influences that I was sucked in to the exotic mysticism of the old ancient powers of kicking arse in Japanese! After studying Jiu Jitsu for a while I discovered MMA through the UFC, it was here I was absorbed by new influences and ‘woke up’ from the fantasy and to this day I hold a lot of respect for athletes who engage in competition Jiu-Jitsu/Judo and MMA, perhaps one day I’ll join them. Note: I would like to explicitly state that I take no issue with fantasists, it’s a valid hobby just like dressing up as a wizard and playing D&D! Something I didn’t explain in my inaugural post was that between my self-imposed exile from Martial Arts and entering ‘The Cave’, I worked in the Criminal Justice Sector; it was this work that strongly influenced my new path in wanting to learn to defend myself ‘properly’. Although I did not seek out self-defence through Jiu Jitsu, I whole heartedly believe that this is a valid pursuit, evidenced by the fact Police Services, Armed Forces and Security Personnel across the globe utilising techniques that are influenced, if not taken directly from, Jiu Jitsu. With all that said, why am I now once again starting down a new path as a Jiu Jitsu white belt? Firstly, because I love Jiu Jitsu, in an analogous way to my love for ‘downtempo’ music – it’s an inexplicable calling, a pull. Secondly, because through reflecting on my influences (traditional martial arts, combat sports and self-defence), knowing my intentions (to train hard several times per week) and my goals (to become a competent ‘Martial Artist’), I have found the right school for me, and that is the real trick.

Shirindo Jujutsu were recently awarded the opportunity to be featured in the latest issue of Martial Arts Illustrated. In this article, Robert ‘Bert’ Parker (my primary Sensei/instructor) discusses the school and their focus on offering a modern system based on evolution and change.

“We still push ourselves to explore and try new methods and techniques… the original attitude to drive for continuous evolution is still alive today… I think if you are from a traditional martial arts background, it is very easy to see cross training as disloyalty, or ‘cheating’ on your art or instructor. For me, I see it differently” – Robert Parker in conversation with MAI Editor Bob Sykes.

20031822_1391990867503931_5887733925083225680_n
Shirindo MAI: Photo by Robert Parker and Phil Hepworth

In discussion with Bert it is difficult not to be drawn in by his passion for his quest to learn, improve and teach the ‘complete Jujutsu’. This focus on the complete Jujutsu is immediately evident in the class structure, which is vastly different from any other Jiu Jitsu club I have trained at, in a way that I initially thought resembled a sort of ‘MMA’ approach. Shirindo currently functions with 3 or 4 areas of tuition. When you enter the sports centre hall where Shirindo Jujutsu calls home, half the basketball court is suddenly transformed in to ‘the dojo’ as large blue Judo matts are rolled out, the students line up along the mat (in grade order) and Bert welcomes the class with a bow. After a quick warm up, break-fall practice and some exercises, we then clad our hands with MMA gloves and split up in to pairs.

For the first part of our tuition the students, now ready with MMA gloves, will either be wearing a full black gi, tied by their coloured belt, or in ‘half-gi’, consisting of gi pants and rashguard. This training will focus on the ‘Atemi Waza’, or simply put, we work on our striking, including foot work, head movements and incorporating combinations to allow for obtaining the clinch, grab or take down.  Next, with everyone usually now wearing full-gi and gloves removed, we move on to the Newaza (ground-techniques); for this next area of tuition, Bert will pick his Uke and demonstrate a position, transition, technique, and/or all the above. Again, we all split up in to pairs and drill what was shown to us whilst Bert (et al.) observe and advise on our execution. The main ‘bulk’ of our class is then focused on the standing position, or ‘Waza’, where Bert will demonstrate a lock, throw or choke (all usually ending up putting the Uke down on to the mats); we once again pair up and rotate the role of Uke and Tori as we drill the technique shown to us. This is the area of Jiu Jitsu/Jujutsu/Judo/Aikido which for many is the most iconic and for me, the most challenging – the topic of my next blog post. Finally, the fourth area of tuition comprises of either a period of Randori (sparring), or ‘pressure testing’ which involves the class forming a circle, where starting from the lowest grade being placed in the middle (currently me) attacks will be thrown at them randomly by people from the circle, the Tori must defend the attack and respond in kind with a technique – this is a good way to see how you act under pressure.

It isn’t only the way in which the class is structured that draws me in, rather the ‘ethos’ behind the training and the techniques selected. Shirindo Jujutsu very much focus on the ‘completeness’ of their application and aim to allow each of the three main elements (Atemi Waza, Newaza, and Waza) to flow and work with each other. I have experienced and witnessed Martial Arts schools demonstrate techniques that appear to only apply when executed on a compliant ‘Uke’ and from very specific situations; at Shirindo there is a focus on demonstrating a technique from a multitude of positions and situation. For example – Tai Otoshi, this is a technique that I am currently needing to learn to progress to the ‘next stage’ of my journey, it is also a technique that I am going to learn to apply from a multitude of different starting positions/situations and eventually may be able to effectively ‘find it’ during Randori. It is this ethos that feeds in to each of my inspirations and is why I train as a white belt at Shirindo Jujutsu.

Thank you for reading my latest blog post, hopefully this ‘article’ does not (just) come across as an advertisement for the school I currently train at; I hope if you are a potential white belt looking for a Martial Art school to train at, you consider three things: your intentions, your inspirations and your goals. Once you have put thought in to this please learn from my past mistakes, try several clubs around you and don’t be disheartened if you initially feel dissatisfied by what you find; the right club/school is out there and with trial/error and self-reflection you will find your way.

Thank you.

Next: in my next blog post I will be discussing competency, reflective practice and how this helps me to overcome my boundaries in training.

8 comments

  1. Ash, now that I’ve had a few moments to actually sit and read your blog, I think you’re on to good thing (keep writing)….
    I don’t know if you have seen UFC 214 yet so I won’t spoil it for you, but in reading about your first competition (coupled with our conversation a few weeks ago about men showing emotion and crying related to sports etc), you might want to talk about the emotion of the sport as it relates to professional athletes and amateurs (as evident in UFC 214 or simply a 12 year old kid who might be impacted by a win or loss in a Martial Arts competition).
    Good job brother !!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, thank you. It’s nice to have a passion worth talking about! I wouldn’t say I’ve written a blob before, more of a stream of reposted images on Tumblr when I was ‘younger’. Thanks for reading!

      Like

  2. I think it will be helpful if you can have a list of jujutsu schools you recommend on your blog, this would help interested people to actually visit a school and experience first hand the practices. I must say that your article made a very interesting read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the feedback. I am planning an overhaul of my website on the Weekend where I’ll be adding some new content, including a ‘friends and affiliate’ page. This will have some local clubs I recommend. Watch this space!

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s