Chapter 3: The Middle of the Movie…
Alon had to go to work soon after training.
“So, what do you think?” he asked as he sat on his scooter, strapping the helmet to his head.
“Amazing, I said. “Although I feel as if I just spent an hour inside a washing machine.”
“You do look like wet laundry,” he laughed and pointed at the red marks on my sweaty face. “You really put up a fight there, didn’t you? I saw the face of your first opponent and it looked far worse than yours.”
“Poor fucker, I took it all out on him.”
“Now I hope you understand why I avoided sparring with you,” Alon laughed.
“I more than understand. I also avoided sparring with beginners when I used to practice Karate. They can be the most dangerous people on the mats, trying out a flying Bruce Lee kick or another spectacular move they’ve seen in movies. But they always ended up with their shin embedded in your groin, lifting your balls right up to your throat.”
“Or trying to smother you with the Royce Gracie choke, rubbing the skin off your face with their kimono like it was a potato peeler.”
“I know,” I grimaced. “Although I must admit I was quite insulted when you didn’t want to spar with me. I guess I didn’t take myself as a beginner. Ego is a dangerous thing.”
“Well, let that be a lesson to us all,” Alon said and drove off, leaving me to take the train back to the city.
I felt like a ghost as I rode back to Shibuya, so overwhelmed by the experience. The image of my sparring partner sitting on his ass and throwing me left and right went through my mind. He threw me despite the fact I was sitting on my knees, the seiza I had practiced for years, a position I considered, until the sparring session, as the strongest expression of the term – Center of Gravity.
The thought caused me to chuckle and nod to myself. My disturbing expression and behavior did not escape the eyes of the poor Japanese passenger who stood across from me. He quickly turned his head away, his half closed eyes peering through the wide window. Unconcerned I continued to chuckle. That’s the beauty of a place like Tokyo where you can ride on a crowded train and yet be in a world of your own.
“Amazing art,” I whispered and for a while thought of the techniques that we learned. I tried to memorize them and got deeply annoyed when realizing I had already forgotten many essential details. Frustrated, I moved on to analyze the dissimilar modes of practice between the technical training and the sparring. It brought about some insights about Aikido.
In the technical practice of BJJ, the partners exercised in complete harmony, helping each other perform to the best of their abilities, together striving to grasp the finest details of the techniques. The technique serving as the center of the practice and as such, it was stripped of ego, aggression and ill intentions, shaping a friendly, helpful, flowing and very relaxed atmosphere. It could have been described as Aikido at its best, despite the different techniques.
The sparring had a different goal all together as it presented a clash between opposing forces and opposing wills. Clearly, I couldn’t argue with the fact that flow did occur in sparring, especially when one party followed the movement of the other while luring him into a trap. However, such flow of action only occurred spontaneously and wasn’t, by any means, the purpose of this game. What mattered was winning and indeed, each party strived to dominate the other, to overpower and impose submission. The effect was a sense of threat that ignited the survival instincts of the individuals. The inflicting wills caused resistance, tension and in a sense, prodded at the ego, threatening to deflate it in defeat and to inflate it in victory.
Analyzing the sparring versus the technical training made me realize why Master Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, strongly opposed sparring in the practice of his art. Sparring stood in contrast to the philosophy of peace and harmony he promoted. Ironically, however, his decision generated the opposite effect in many practitioners. The reason for that was the fact that many students, at one point or another, desired to test their abilities, to judge the effectiveness of their martial skills. But without sparring in the system they began to seek the fight in the techniques. It caused stagnation and resistance where there should be harmony and flow.
In a place without fighting the egos clashed instead. It reminded me of an incident at the dojo, a few years before, when a student ran crying to the dressing room after being scorned by one of the instructors.
“Insult is the worse injury in Aikido!” a fellow aikidoka once observed and I chuckled at the pinching truth his words presented.
I chuckled a little too loudly again. I continued smiling as another passenger turned his head away from me.
“So, what else have I learned today?” I wondered. What immediately came to mind was the way BJJ presented order within the chaotic nature of the battlefield.
At the beginning of every fight there are limitless options for attack. The opponent might punch or kick at any given moment, from any direction and in any form of combinations, making it virtually impossible to predict.
BJJ managed to minimize these options by swiftly closing the distance from the opponent and taking him down, in one decisive motion shutting the lid on his ability to kick and punch effectively. From that point on it is a cat and mouse kind of game, the BJJ practitioner, like the seasoned hunter, lays down his traps and leads the prey to its inevitable doom.
Such a thought-through plan, so rich, eloquent, elegant and simple, imposes calm in the heart of the fighter. Sure, there is also calm in the heart of the Aikidoka, but that comes from a different place. Aikido is practiced without the chaotic nature of fighting, each attack and technique clearly called out long before being executed. Aikido starts from the cherished place of knowing it all, the practitioner stands tall and relaxed as he faces the attack. In BJJ, on the other hand, relaxation comes from brilliant strategic planning, calculated tactics and vast amount of techniques in response to every situation.
I love Aikido but the conclusion I came up with made me realize the disadvantage it had as a fighting system. Aikido, despite its detailed techniques, deep philosophy and strong emphasis on proper bio mechanical movements, the kind that maximized the force one could generate from his body, seriously lacked in the strategic and tactical department.
"I need to learn this shit,” I whispered as the train came to a halt at Shibuya station.
Both Alon and I found it hard to memorize all the technical details of Taka’s lesson, so we conjured a plan of action. We would write down everything we could remember as soon as the class was over. Then, with all the info on paper and the lesson still fresh in the mind, we would travel to Alon’s house, practice what we had just learned and capture the moves on video. It was a simple enough plan but when we got down to it we were faced with unexpected hurdles.
“Now where exactly do you want to take the video?” I asked as we entered his apartment after training. Alon had a couple rooms. The largest, a six tatami room, (about 5.5 meters by 3 meters), was stuffed to the brim with all sorts; clothes, work equipment, training gear, piles of videos, music CD’s and even a table. The other room had zero space to spare as most of the floor was taken up by a large double bed.
“Outside?” he offered but the sound of thunder, followed by a heavy downpour, spoiled that plan.
“No. too weird.”
“Pain in the ass,” Alon said and lifted a small mountain of CDs from the middle of the floor, placing them on the bed. “Come on, Gadi, help me out.”
It took a good ten minutes of hard labor to clear a descent space on the floor.
“But who’s going to take the video?” I asked Alon as we changed into our kimono, ready to begin the filming. Alon did not seem concerned.
“It will take itself,” he smiled and quickly improvised a stand for the video camera. At his command, I sprawled on the clear space on the floor and read out aloud from our notes while he stood and fiddled with the focus of the lens. When he was pleased he pressed the REC button and we got down to business. It took us about an hour to complete everything.
“So what do you think?” Alon asked as we sat and reviewed the video we had just taken.
“Definitely not the work of Tarantino but I guess it’s alright.”
“You don’t sound too convincing.”
“Because all this information is so new to me that I can’t really judge it. Ask me in a couple of weeks.”
“But you leave in a couple of weeks.”
“It is what it is.”
The days flew by and we continued the intense practice, hours on end on the mats or at Alon’s house. It was an enriching period for me and I did my best to squeeze the most out of every minute and every second, knowing that my time was running out.
“You’re going to kill yourself!” Alon warned me when one evening I collapsed at his house from sheer exhaustion.
“I’ll certainly get an A for trying.”
“Or become a master in BJJ.”
We laughed and we joked and I did my best to hide my frustration.
“Give me the beginning of this movie,” I wanted to scream at him from the top of my lungs. “I’m lost, mate, bloody well lost.”