Intro by Ken
The following is a guest post by Josh Vogel. He’s a black belt under the Migliarese brothers, a Level 2 Certified Movnat coach, and a Level 1 Kettlebell Athletics coach. And in addition to that he’s also a contributor to Breaking Muscle and the author of the Sloth Report.
In this post, he’s going to share in his insights on how movement practice can contribute to excellence in our art. Why would he do that? Well, I asked him to.
I respect the fact that he has never lost the desire to learn even as he has had significant accomplishments in our art. Almost all the time, he’s exploring new disciplines and thinking of ways to apply those lessons back to Jiu-jitsu. That process is the key to great creativity, and within Jiu-jitsu, there are few black belts that have explored movement practice to the level that he has.
I’m pretty psyched to see movement training getting more popular right now. Ido Portal’s work with Connor McGregor and Erwan Lecorre’s work with Carlos Condit have gotten people in the MMA and BJJ worlds to really take notice of what’s going on in the movement community.
Naturally there are misconceptions which people have in both communities, this is unavoidable, but overall the attention is a good thing I think.
The article I was asked to write was a description of the specific ways movement training has improved my BJJ practice. The second I put finger to keyboard, I was stumped. Not because I can’t think of ways, but because there are so many ways. It’s a hard article to write without making it so generic as to be indistinguishable from every other “what yoga and BJJ have in common” or “boost your BJJ with ankle weight training” article out there.
I felt including technical stuff, like how crawling relates to guard passing, or specific joint mobility work wouldn’t really explain anything about the Movement world and would just further current misconceptions.
Besides, the real gold I’ve gotten from this training has been philosophical and conceptual in nature. Ideas are powerful.
I am focusing this article on three basic concepts I commonly see in the movement community, regardless of the method you practice. My hope is to use these concepts to illustrate some of the perspectives I have gained in training with various Movement teachers and how this has influenced my practice and teaching in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.
I won’t presume to speak for these people, but I’ll do my best to share some of the things I have gleaned from them both directly and indirectly.
The reason I am focusing on concepts first is I think the philosophy you have shapes all of the actions you take in any form of training. If you are starting from a self defense perspective in BJJ, then the techniques you choose, the way you train and the people you train with will all reflect this.
Approaching BJJ from another perspective will take you in a different direction. In learning from various Movement teachers, I have learned to look at everything I do, including Bjj, through a different lens which has changed the way I approach my Bjj training, teaching and practice.
CONCEPT 1: Generalist vs Specialist
Try to think of movement in a general sense…the full spectrum of human movement. This encompasses everything from dance to skateboarding to BJJ to bowling.
Soften your vision and see the forest rather than focusing on the individual trees. From this broad perspective, BJJ is one part of human movement and enjoys a symbiotic relationship with the rest of the forest. It feels kind of cheesy to put it this way, but bear with me, it’s in my nature to say this sort of stuff.
But how can we really practice such a broad topic?
It’s impossible to become a truly great dancer, gymnast, judo player, boxer, bowler, traceur all at the same time. The cliched phrase “jack of all trades and master of none” springs to mind and….that’s bad, right? I don’t think it is. This is where the generalist vs specialist concept emerges.
If you use MMA as an example of the generalist concept in martial arts, this might make more sense. There is the overall goal of winning a competitive match and being skillful enough in the major areas a fight can go so there are no glaring gaps in your game. You can play in most of the areas you might end up.
The MMA athlete learns elements of a striking art, a clinching/throwing art and a ground fighting art. This is the technical base. From this base (I mean base in the sense of highly recommended skills to have), some athletes choose to explore more unorthodox arts, tactics and strategies.
Some choose to dig deeply into their base and keep things relatively simple. But by nature, MMA fighters are generalist fighters, competent enough in every phase of a bout without being overly specialized in any one area. If you focus too much of your energy in one area, you become vulnerable in other areas. Not only that, but every thing you learn from specialists in individual arts passes through a filter of what is useful for MMA.
The generalist draws from the specialist and keeps what makes sense in his world.
CONCEPT 2: Blurring the borders between arts
Similarly, movement generalists seek to become well rounded, competent movers without over specializing in any one area. Most movement methods or systems advocate developing a general “base” of ability (strength, mobility/flexibility, etc…) which will allow them to play freely in most activities. A mover who can run, jump, dance, fight, climb.
What can you take from this video and apply to your guard passing, positional adjustments, escapes? The small micro movements and adjustments of the feet alone are amazing! Here’s one way to apply this:
This generalist concept is the first thing which changed the way I view BJJ and was of benefit to my practice. When you think from a broad perspective, you are constantly blurring the borders between arts. The border around BJJ becomes porous and inspiration then can seep in from any place. If you cook Mexican food and you only live within the box of Mexican cooking, there are fairly specific limits to what you learn.
When you start looking at Japanese food and Italian food, you start to expand your horizons and find solutions to problems you didn’t even know existed. You learn new techniques of cooking with foreign utensils, different ways to use flavors, new perspectives which influence and breathe fresh life into things you have cooked a million times before.
I told you, I go overboard with the analogies. I should also mention, my knowledge of cooking is less than stellar so I may be talking out of my ass.
A simple example: In BJJ, there are all kinds of demands placed on the body in rolling and injuries happen when the body is insufficiently prepared for these demands. There is no organized way of preparing the body in BJJ culture for these demands besides the vague advice to “stretch” , “take a yoga class” or “do a warm up”.
In some styles of dance, gymnastics and some sports, this is not the case at all and they have well defined practices to prepare the body (wholly, or the parts relevant) for the demands of the activity. Practices to reduce injury and improve longevity. So if we soften our eyes and let the lines blur between bjj and dance or gymnastics, we can borrow some important technology which can help us remain healthy.
We can blur with the world of strength training to understand how to improve a variety of aspects of our practice, stronger grips being just one example. Take from the world of motor learning to learn how to better structure drilling and sparring sessions. Draw from the world of parkour to expand our concept of self defense (everyone says to “run” and “get away” but no one talks about how to do this and how to navigate obstacles which might be in our way).
Just as interesting, once we start to look from a generalist perspective, we start to examine how we can bring useful technology from BJJ to other areas.
How can the “drill,positional spar, roll/full spar” model apply to rock climbing, or acrobatics, for example? Can we apply BJJ techniques (sweeps, for example) to dance, or two person hand to hand balancing?
There are even a number of parkour teachers borrowing elements of martial arts break falling to help their students practice more safely!
CONCEPT 3: Educating the body
In coming from a generalist perspective, you are naturally exposed to a variety of movement patterns. An infinite amount of ways to move your torso, arms, legs, face, everything.
Each new thing you practice influences the rest of your practices. A drop of rock climbing influences the way you grip and pull in BJJ. Experience in BJJ can influence and educate the way you move in Muay Thai practice (particularly clinching).
When you first learn Jiu-jitsu, one of the things you will notice is how difficult it is to move your legs and feet with control and precision. You struggle to put your foot in the right spot, meanwhile the purple belt next to you looks like she could perform open heart surgery with her feet.
The problem is this: When you start training, your legs, hips and feet are educated to do the things which they have practiced doing. For most people this is walking, running, getting out of bed or sitting on the toilet. If you were athletic growing up, you may have a larger repertoire including handling a soccer ball, or swimming. But Jiujitsu is interesting in that you are using your legs in ways which, at an intermediate level, are completely foreign to most people.
The technical vocabulary the lower body uses in BJJ is vast and well developed because not only do we drill technique, but we deepen and expand our vocabulary through consistent sparring. It’s not so different than learning language. We learn our alphabet, words, sentences, grammatical structures but learn on a deeper level when we test our knowledge in conversation, argument, debate. So the process of educating your legs begins.
Watch BJ Penn’s leg work here. Bear in mind that while it’s just a friendly roll, and they weren’t going super hard, Viera was one of the best competitive guard passers in the world around this time.
I have used this example of educating the legs for years, but attending seminars with Ido Portal’s crew woke me up to the idea that this should apply to every body part. This is related to the blurring the borders concept in some ways.
BJJ people typically educate their legs and hips beautifully, developing a broad vocabulary of movements, but not necessarily their necks, shoulders or upper torso (in some cases).
Dancers of various types educate much of their bodies almost more than anyone, but the most obvious examples would be the variety of things they can do with their torsos and feet. Musicians develop an amazing vocabulary and fluency of movement with their fingers and hands, but not necessarily with other parts of their bodies.
I found in my own practice, in seeking to educate my entire body through increasing the strength and range of motion of my joints as well as the repertoire of movement styles I’m capable of, I become more capable in a number of ways:
- I have significantly more control and awareness of my body when it is taken out of it’s usual position. This is helpful for escaping tricky situations, avoiding injury and taking advantage of openings which might not otherwise be feasible. I feel like this is particularly useful during those undefined scramble moments where I have to improvise an answer to a crazy problem on the fly.
- By using technology from other arts and systems to strengthen and expand the range of motion of my joints (what people usually call “mobility work”) , I open up not only the repertoire of BJJ techniques available to me, but the versatility with which I can use the techniques already in my arsenal.
A video I was requested to make of my morning joint mobility routine. Check the video description for good info about how to perform this, who to learn more from and what to read.
So, in some cases, when I hear one of my students say they cannot perform a hitch hiker escape because they lack the shoulder mobility, or they cannot resist an x guard sweep because their hips cannot open enough to save their balance I know which tools to use which can sometimes help solve these problems and unlock these closed doors.
In adding to already existing technique, with an expanded movement repertoire, I can perform something like a knee cut pass and close off more space than before by having more control and mobility of my scapulae, neck and spine. Or more effectively angle my shoulder and neck while passing guard to defend a guillotine without having to use my hands.
My hope with this article was to get some simple but potent ideas across while avoiding my tendency to go nuts with over writing. I’m not claiming expertise in this movement work, but I’ve dug around in this world for the last 6 years or so, so I think I have some reasonable insight here. These are my interpretations and mutations of ideas I’ve got in working with some great teachers both in person and through their writings. I highly recommend you check out these folks to learn from, read about, research and watch endless videos of:
- Frank Forencich. I have not met Frank, but his books are excellent and he does not get nearly enough credit for the amount of influence his ideas have had on this community, in my opinion.
- Ido Portal and crew. I have not worked directly with Ido, but his students John Sapinoso, Odelia Goldschmidt, Summer O’black, Joseph Bartz, Zach Finer.
- Andreo Spina.
- Jason C Brown
- Dewey Nielsen.
- Erwan Lecorre. I have mot met him, but I’ve had the pleasure of learning from his students Clifton Harski and Kellen Milad.
- Rafe Kelley.