Safe Spaces: A Jiujitsu Based Critique

Safe Spaces are places where people who feel marginalized on account of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. can go and escape hate speech and rigid belief systems.  Sounds reasonable.  Everybody deserves to feel safe.  I believe the way Safe Spaces are being applied, however, actually serve to reinforce the dogmatic thinking they are seeking to avoid.

Let’s take a contemporary belief held by some groups of people that would send a gaggle of college freshmen running for a safe space: “Transgender people should use the bathroom that corresponds with the sex they were assigned at birth.”  When a person articulates this belief out loud,  Safe Space folks go running, pausing only to look over their shoulder and yell, “Bigot!” before tuck and rolling in to their sanctuary.  Within the Safe Space, like-minded people reassure one another their belief holds the moral high ground, and any that oppose the belief within the Safe Space are denounced as regressive throwbacks.  The original person that stated their belief about transgender people’s bathroom usage maintains their belief, unchanged by the Safe Spacer’s tantrum.  The Safe Spacer’s belief is left unchanged; maintained and reinforced by his peers within the Safe Space.  The Safe Spacer’s belief, “Transgender people should use whatever bathroom they please (which I endorse, by the way)” becomes the Absolute Truth; especially when championed by University faculty.  This is dogma.  Beliefs unchecked due to being derived behind the shield of the Safe Space become dogma.  Now, bear with me as I talk about jiujitsu.  I’ll come back around to this Safe Space stuff in a minute.

Unless you have been living under a rock since 1993, you probably are aware that jiujitsu fundamentally changed the way we think about effective fighting.  A skinny Brazilian choked out bigger, badder dudes trained in movie-friendly martial arts like Kung Fu and Karate all the way to a tournament victory.  The Jiujitsu player did this by not adhering to the dogma inherent to many traditional martial arts.  Jiujitsu is one of the few martial arts that can be trained at 100% without a big risk of injury.  Due to this, jiujitsu practitioners are able to determine very quickly what techniques are bullshit, and what techniques have merit.  Bullshit techniques are flushed down the toilet quickly, as the application of said technique leads to the person applying it getting strangled.  Getting strangled has a funny way of discouraging a person from doing whatever it was that immediately preceded their opponent’s arms from cutting the blood flow to their brain.  On the flip side, when you successfully pull off a technique you have drilled, and then do it again and again, it reinforces you to add that effective technique to your arsenal.  When your opponent does everything they can to keep you from beating them, but you pull off the technique and beat them anyway, you have developed confidence in that technique through your own effort in learning, drilling, and applying it.

Traditional martial arts, however, have a different approach.  Many of those martial arts don’t spar at 100%.  Techniques, and the application of those techniques are drilled with non resisting opponents, focus mitts, heavy bags, and sometimes, the techniques are applied against no resistance at all (Kata).  Practitioners of these martial arts are taught how deadly effective their martial art techniques are, and that this is the reason they can’t try their technique on a live, resisting opponent.  After all, these Shaolin secrets are too deadly to use and you need to register your hands as deadly weapons with the local police department right?  Riiiight.  Look, if my martial arts instructor tells me that my Spinning Preying Mantis Inverted Kick Chop technique is unbeatable, and that I am unbeatable now that I am a triple stripe golden black belt, but I’m not allowed to test myself to see if the techniques I’ve learned are indeed, unbeatable, then I have bought in to the dogma of that martial art.  My belief in my technique is unchecked by resisting opponents, and further propped up and emboldened by my insulated crew of martial artists at my McDojo.  For a history lesson, check out UFC 1 and/or any of the Gracie Challenge videos.

Now, let me try to synchronize my critique of the Safe Space.  Without resistance, we learn nothing.  Without having our technique, physical or intellectual, challenged and checked by fully resisting opponents, then we don’t truly know why we believe what we believe.  We haven’t earned it.  We haven’t expended the necessary effort of analyzing why we believe what we believe.  We haven’t gone through the process of vigorously grappling an opponent that has different objectives in mind.  In the Safe Space of padded university rooms and phony bologna martial art dojos, beliefs are simply adopted and passed on.  These beliefs go unchecked by an opponent trying to break your arm, or a detractor providing a counterpoint (harsh as it may seem!) to the belief you hold that you are convinced is morally correct.

On a symbolic side note: Check out the images in this post.  The safe space triangle is balancing on its point.  The jiujitsu triangle is balancing on its base.  Which triangle is least likely to topple?

(source that inspired this post was found on Joe Rogan’s podcast)



Black Belt


A few weeks ago, a room full of ninjas beat me silly just before promoting me to black belt in jiujitsu.  It’s pretty surreal.  The concept of “Black Belt” has a mysterious, omnipotent connotation that has transcended martial arts, and is used in every day language to represent mastery over a given subject.  Some kid, somewhere, is a Pokemon GO black belt.  I don’t want to meet him, but he’s out there.

Since the day Corey promoted me, my thoughts have ping ponged between, “Hell yeah, I’m a Black Belt!” and “How the hell am I a Black Belt?” More often than not, the self critical side of me whispers in my ear, “You don’t deserve it.”  Occasionally, the more positive side of me will bleed through in to my conscious mind with, “The people you consider badasses apparently consider you one of their own, so just own it already, Killer J!”

My buddy Lucus posted something that has helped me keep a balanced perspective.  I’ll close out this post by sharing his thoughts:

A belt in Jiu Jitsu is not just a recognition of your skill level. As you advance it shows both your skill, and your knowledge. Not just the knowledge and skill you already possess, but the ability to obtain a higher level of understanding. An armlock is no longer just an arm lock, a guillotine is broken down into a dozen small moves that form together to give the appearance of one big move. A blue belt is a goal, brown and black belts are keys. The keys simply unlocked the ability that others around you already see you have. What belts don’t do, is give you some all power that you will no longer lose. It is still Okay to tap, necessary even. There is no weight on your shoulder, you have no expectations to live up to but your own. As long as you are continually setting the bar higher for yourself you deserve the belt you wear.

Courage In the Face of Complacency


(not my image)

Most people think of cowardice as being the opposite of courage.  Those people might share an example of the heroic fireman blasting past the trembling bystander in to a building engulfed in flames as a contrast between courage and cowardice.

This certainly still applies in my estimation, but Rickson Gracie said something on Rogan’s podcast that got my attention.  I’m paraphrasing, but Rickson said something to the effect of, “In modern society, the opposite of courage is not cowardice.  It’s complacency.”  While looking in to this topic, I found that Nelson Mandela said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”  Rickson and Mandela… good enough for Killer J.

In our somewhat civilized society, most people aren’t faced with fending off hordes of marauders, launching spears in to charging rhinos, or Tarzan’ing from a jungle vine and rescuing a baby from the clutches of a crocodile.  That stuff happens, just not all that often.

Most of us are faced with less imminently severe stressors, but in the long term, our modern day stress can be crippling and is kept in place by complacency.  Do you have a job you don’t like, but fear quitting and doing your own thing?  That’s complacency.  Are you trapped in a bad relationship, but you won’t leave because you fear being alone?  That’s complacency.  If you’re a jiujitsu player, do you find yourself not progressing because you stick to your “A” game at all times while sparring because you fear trying out a new technique and failing?  Complacency.

I know I have fallen in to the complacency trap multiple times in my life with various things, so don’t take this post as being preachy.  I’ve let fear best me plenty of times, and the comfort of the mundane and predictable has been alluring enough to freeze me up for periods of time.  I need to remember to have the courage to take that leap, and not let fear bind me anymore.  Neither should you!

Jiujitsu, Cops, and Schemas

cop car

I’ve written about the psychology concept of schemas before.  They’re basically shortcuts our mind creates to make life easier so we don’t have to think out every single action we do every single time we do them.  As we regularly complete a complex series of tasks over and over, our mind does us a huge favor  and simplifies the complex task in to a “prepackaged” simple action, i.e. a baby learning to walk.

I hadn’t considered the application of schemas to jiujitsu until a cop buddy of mine was prefacing a series of techniques with a schema-related concept prior to teaching how some techniques flow in to other techniques, e.g. the armlock from guard transitions to the triangle choke, and the triangle transitions to the omoplata, and back again.

To illustrate the concept, he began describing a situation in which an aggressive suspect made a move to attack.  He told me he instantaneously and instinctively drew his firearm and leveled it at the attacking suspect a half beat before his conscious mind realized he’d done so.  His swift action caused the suspect to stand down, and no lethal force was used.

Years of repetition had enabled John to instantaneously perceive a threat, perceive it as potentially deadly and in need of potentially lethal force, remove his pistol from his holster, properly aim the pistol at the threat, and then pause before squeezing off a round to reassess the threat.  If he had to think through each of those steps, his actions would have been significantly slower and his life and subsequently the suspect’s life could have gone very different paths.  His schema, based off countless training scenarios and real world application, worked well.

Well, it works the same in jiujitsu, but with obviously much less dire consequences.  The reason people get really good at jiujitsu has everything to do with schemas!  A lot of factors go in to making a jiujitsu technique work against a resisting opponent.  Awareness is huge, as two people grappling certainly can create a fairly tangled, confusing web of limbs.

nogi grappling

For instance, to pull off an arm lock against a resisting opponent, I have to consider what my left arm is doing, what my right arm is doing, where my left leg is, and where my right leg is.  I also have to consider where each of my opponent’s respective limbs are.  Furthermore, I have to consider where my opponent’s limbs are in respect to my own limbs at any given moment.  Body positioning, weight distribution, and body angles all have to be considered.  Timing of technique, knowing when to apply the technique, knowing when to not apply the technique, and knowing how to even get in the position to execute the technique are all factors.  Finally, doing all of these things instantaneously while simultaneously being aware of your opponent’s attempts at defending as well as possibly what your opponent is trying to do to you in return makes a seemingly simple technique infinitely complex to a beginner.

Through years of drilling, practice, and live application, the complex series of tasks necessary to arm lock somebody gets prepackaged in to a nice little schema.  It becomes automatic.  It is my “Arm Lock Schema.”  Put in a slightly different situation, I have a “Triangle Schema,” and then a slightly different situation from the previous, and my “Omoplata” schema activates.

John was just teaching us to loop those schemas together, ultimately leading to the real life ninja shit of the Arm Lock/Triangle/Omoplata Schema. 


“You are strong.” Insult or Compliment?

Twenty years.  That’s how long I’ve been lifting weights.  It’s important to me.  Strength training has shaped my life; my mind and my body.  As a result, I shamelessly admit I like when people tell me, “You are strong!”

Damn straight.

Typically, I’ll politely accept the compliment.  On occasion, I’ll kindly shrug it off by pointing out I’m unfathomably weak compared to the world’s strongest.  The point is, I interpret the statement, “You are strong” as a compliment.

(not my image)

(not my image)

The funny thing is, when it comes to jiu jitsu, I can’t help but take that statement as an insult. “You are strong” gets scrambled by my mental filter, and the interpretation that sticks is: “The only reason you beat me is you are an ox.  Your technique sucks!”

I know that I’m not the only grappler that shares this belief, so I made a point to tell one of my strong, gigantic training partners, Jared, that he will probably hear that insult veiled as a compliment quite a bit, as he is getting pretty damn good. He weighs upwards of 250, so I believe his technique will often be misconstrued as him winning simply due to his size. My buddy, Seth, overheard me and disagreed. He acknowledged that he, too, thought like me at one point.  Seth went on to point out that in the majority of circumstances, the statement “You are strong” is meant as a compliment, even in jiu jitsu.      That got me thinking, and I realized I was very likely projecting my own fears of not being very technical on to other people when they might be meaning well! From now on, I’ll just assume people mean it as a compliment in all aspects.

Note to self: If I set up and execute a smooth, technical arm bar on somebody and they promptly tell me I’m strong, I can always reply, “Thanks!  The way to get out of that arm bar I just put you in is to work on your triceps kickbacks.  Good luck, bud.”