Learning, Progress and Success in Jiu Jitsu
"To understand movement we must feel, not strain.To learn we need time, attention and discrimination; to discriminate we must sense. This means that in order to learn we must sharpen our powers of sensing, and if we try to do most thing by sheer force we shall achieve precisely the opposite of what we need." Moshe Feldenkrias, Awareness Through Movement. I use these words daily to lead my teachings in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at Zenyo Jiu Jitsu Baltimore.
I first came across the teachings of Moshe Feldenkrais while shopping at a used bookstore. I bought his book, Awareness Through Movement, mostly because Leonardo da Vinci's "Vitruvian Man" was on the cover.
The book sat unread on my shelf for several years.
I eventually returned to the book after coming across repeated references to Feldenkrais while trying to research ways to rid myself of constant neck and shoulder pain.
The book is not at all easy to read, especially since I thought I only had a problem with my shoulder and just wanted a quick way to fix it, but the teachings inside changed my life more than anything else I've encountered.
The most important things I learned are how the brain and nervous system run the show and how to understand the process behind learning. What I discovered changed completely the way I practice and teach jiu jitsu.
First and foremost, to create an optimal learning state, it is important to relax, engage and have fun.
Learning is very different than doing. Movements made during the learning stage must be slow, controlled and reversible.
Movement is controlled in the motor cortex by pre-existing roadmaps. To create new maps, new routes, takes time and patience. The brain must be given time to process new information.
Learning is the opposite of copying another's movement. Learning is individual and must be experienced, felt and understood for it to be permanent.
Understanding small, subtle differences that are beyond conscious recognition can bring about sudden change. Many of my students are not aware of how much tension they hold, how they use movement muscles to control posture. The ability of students to allow movement muscles to do their job without having to determine posture has created radical changes in jiu jitsu skill.
Frustration from focusing on the big picture and goals delays the learning process. Mistakes are more than okay, they are good, and help spur the learning environment. Create small successes for yourself along the way and progress will happen much more quickly.
The major point is that to change what you do, and how you do it, takes time. You have to learn to undo. You are no longer learning to do something, you are learning to become something different.
"It doesn't happen all at once...You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept" The Velveteen Rabbit
John David Emmett is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu with an interest in movement and the Feldenkrais method. He teaches at Zenyo Jiu Jitsu in Baltimore.