By Malachy Friedman
How many times has a potential new student walked into your academy and given you the rundown of their training? “I did taekwondo for five years," they begin. You wait for them to finish, then launch into an explanation of how your martial art differs. You make sure they understand that they may not be good in the new style at first, since your Brazilian jiu-jitsu is very different than their TKD. You caution them to temper their expectations. That's what you're supposed to do, right?
Instead of, “Oh, they're going to struggle," you should immediately think, “Fantastic – this person knows how to learn."
I make a habit of asking new students if they have any other hobbies or skills. Even in something as disparate from the arts as woodworking, there is a translatable skill. You cannot make a gorgeous deck on your hillside without learning to make a basic chair.
While writing this article, I Googled "hardest pieces in woodworking." My search sent me to a blog on woodchoppintime.com: "Setting Goals in Woodworking". I guarantee any similar search on specialized crafts geared towards beginners and experts you will find similar results.
As a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and an MMA coach training out of American Top Team Headquarters for nine years, with a total of 18 years on the mat, I have met experts in every discipline. The respect they hold for their art is steadfast. Stepping out of their comfort zones into a newer mainstream martial art whether it is BJJ, muay thai, or even judo (an art that isn't exactly new) takes a lot humility. I have to remember I wouldn't want the hard work I have put into my art to Thanos-snap away. What we know is that martial arts as a whole is an ever-changing organism and that our arts can just as quickly become dated and viewed as incomplete.
I pose this very real scenario to BJJ snobs: I trained exclusively MMA-style grappling for eight years. I never put on a gi because I didn't know how to wear the uniform and thought it looked too much like karate.
Then I injured myself. I wasn't able to take the collar ties I used to in no-gi grappling. I didn't want to give up on ground game, so I reluctantly switched to learning BJJ. I fell in love with the sport and with the use of the kimono. I was able to pull off highlight-reel techniques while improving my grappling. In our sport there is a divide happening between the rules of gi jiu-jitsu (IBJJF) and no-gi jiu-jitsu rules (ADCC) in regards to reaping and leglocks. It Is very similar to what happened when judo stopped allowing competitors to grab the legs, to prevent wrestling-based takedowns, and limited the amount of groundwork, or newaza (essentially Brazilian jiu-jitsu).
In short, reality has come crashing into what we enjoy. The truth is that leglock systems work and are dominating the no-gi grappling scene. Those of us who enjoy the gi rules want to continue using the techniques that would otherwise put us in leglock danger. This could be an entirely new article so I will cut this short. But it is apparent that something about our system is incomplete and the longer we look away the more steam it will pick up. Eventually we will be forced to learn the application or be deemed ineffective.
Whether a BJJ or JKD practitioner, your belt color doesn't transfer over into another art, but your experience surely does. Ask yourself: What am I looking for today? Is it the similar to what I was looking for in my first art? Is it to get out frustrations? Protect myself? To learn and obtain new skills? Meet new people and gain new perspectives? Luckily, all these goals are obtainable, just like before.
Here is the best part of entering a new sport, craft, language, or martial art: You have already learned how to fail, how to correct failure, and how to master yourself and your learning. Time taken to learn is transferable.
Here is a quick rundown on my must-have list for students joining a new art:
1. Save your story for another time. We all have an origin story, but let it come out organically.
2. Take notes. Treat learning this new art like you would taking a college course. You will learn more quickly and get better faster, which will make training more enjoyable.
3. Visualization is huge in all sports.
4. Assessing your inventory of goals and techniques.
5. Forget about belts, past or present. No one starts a martial art with the sole purpose of becoming a black belt – rather, it's about the learning, hard work, and effort that will put you there.