Once I started studying the Feldenkrais method and using it within my jiu jitsu training, everything that I did changed. The first thing that I learned, and then applied to my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, was how we do something is much more important than what we do.
Almost all the instruction I received throughout my life ran counter to what I learned in Feldenkrais.
I had been an athlete my whole life and subscribed to common notions that effort, repetition, and intensity were the key to improvement.
I got pretty good at things following this method, but as I got good, I felt worse.
My body hurt; my joints hurt; my back and neck ached all the time.
Somewhere I knew that this method wasn't working but I looked for ways to supplement my training with techniques to help me recover.
I went to chiropractors and massage therapists and posture specialists. I took up yoga. I studied different methods of stretching and foam rolling and lying on lacrosse balls.
All to little avail.
I felt miserable.
Then I found Feldenkrais.
He preached ease, lack of effort, never straining, moving in comfort.
For someone who had a yoga master literally stand on my legs in butterfly stretch and forcibly shove my head to the ground (and thought it was great), this was a radical departure.
The less I tried, the better I got.
The more I relaxed, the more I learned.
I found out why: a thing called the Weber-Fechner law.
In a very simplified explanation, it basically states that the greater effort you exert, the less you will be able to notice small differences.
Learning brazilian jiu jitsu is all about noticing very small things. I always tell my students this at Zenyo Jiu Jitsu in Baltimore.
That means the first step in learning should remove effort from the equation.
For most people, this makes no sense and even when they think they are not using effort, they are still using 10 times too much.
Movement should be without strain, each new rep should be done slower, smoother and more relaxed than the previous. The goal is to reach a state of maximum ease.
The state that Judo Founder Jigoro Kano calls "seiryoku zenyo." Translated: "maximum efficiency, minimal effort."
Zenyo. Good Use.
After ease comes control.
The sign of good movement is control.
Feldenkrais defines good movement as having the property of reversibility.
That means movement must be able to be stopped, started, changed or adjusted at any point in time.
These two ideas things -- the Weber-Fechner law and the concept of reversibility -- now are the measure that I use to judge my training.
Through them, my jiu jitsu has improved drastically, and so has my body.
Many of those aches and pains are gone.
My shoulder feels great.
My back hurts way less.
When I have a problem, I look inside, rather than outside, for a way to learn better, move better, and be better.
In following those rules, I usually find something.
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.