The idea of Jiu Jitsu can be simple. You lock someone up so they can’t move.
The best way to do it is with your arms and legs working together. To undo it, focus on unlocking their arms or legs.
The idea is simple. A simple idea is usually best.
A simple practice for Jiu Jitsu
The best way to practice for skill has a simple answer, too. Skilled practice is always different, adapting with a changing environment. The most important question for practice is, how does this help me see and think for myself?
Ecological psychologist James J. Gibson, who began his career by studying pilots in World War II, called learning an “education of attention.”
As you become skilled, you know how to better focus your attention. This is the main difference between beginners and experts.
At Zenyo, we use Gibson’s ideas as a key element for our training.
We help you to be flexible and adaptive. We help you learn to focus so that you can make your own decisions. This ability to direct your attention is something that always can be developed.
“The achievements of a perceptual system are susceptible to maturation and learning,” Gibson wrote. “The information that is picked up becomes more and more subtle, elaborate, and precise with practice. One can keep on learning to perceive as long as life goes on.”
Skill is generally thought of as doing the same thing, the same way, over and over. This is a simple idea, but is it true?
Famed Russian neuroscientist Nikolai Bernstein, who coined the term “biomechanics,” studied blacksmiths and learned that, no matter how skilled, they could not reproduce the same action exactly the same way. Bernstein concluded that there was no such effect as “muscle memory.”
A simple solution
“Practice, when properly undertaken, does not consist in simply repeating the solution of a motor problem time after time,” Bernstein wrote, “but rather in the process of solving the problem again and again by techniques which we changed and perfected from repetition to repetition.”
Good practice liberates you from rigid standards. Skill is variable, dynamic and always different.
“It is already apparent here that, in many cases, practise is a particular type of repetition without repetition, and that motor training, if the position is ignored, is merely mechanical repetition by rote, a method which has been discredited in pedagogy for some time.”
So, for Gibson and Bernstein, learning is an improvement in focus and problem solving, not attentionless repetition.
But what exactly are we focusing our attention on?
Howard Zelaznik, a researcher in movement coordination at Purdue University, has a simple answer. He sums up his decades of research into skilled practice: “When people move with an environment goal that is easily comprehended, coordination is simple. More importantly, people move to achieve goals in their perceived environment. Rarely are movements required for movement sake. When they are, these tasks are very difficult.”
A simple paradigm
This is our paradigm for training at Zenyo.
We keep Jiu Jitsu simple. We talk in simple words.
We practice with simple goals, in a dynamic way, with variability, and work on developing focus and decision making.
What does this kind of training do? I asked one of our white belts, Chrysanthemum Desir, who has been training for eight months at Zenyo.
She says, “I feel so liberated not having to think about moves or positions or guards or even about getting better at jiu jitsu. I know how I’m trying to discipline my attention and I know how to structure my practice and that’s really it. I love it. It also makes practice so much more fun because I feel like there is this expansive space to play in as opposed to this limited sense of what’s right and trying to do that.”
This is a radical paradigm shift for anyone, much less a white belt with less than one year of training.
That’s exactly what we work to develop at Zenyo: athletes who can take a simple idea and turn it into a powerful force.
Above: Chrysanthemum Desir, a white belt with eight months of practice at Zenyo, trains with teammate Rob Cooper helping her.
A simple belief
At Zenyo, we consider everyone competent and capable from the time they first walk in the door.
Most beginners think they need us to tell them what to do and how to do it. But they don’t. In the way we practice, they figure out what is needed right away.
That’s because ability comes before words, competence comes before content and knowing how is the paradigm, to paraphrase philosopher Jerry Fodor.
To think this way may require a paradigm shift for you. But once you make the leap, you will never practice the same way again, or doubt your ability to learn new things.
Skill is simple. You come with it, ready.