Jan. 18th, 2017

aadler: (CalvinGrump)

Following various random YouTube links today, I wound up watching something unexpected: a short video depicting a televised match between a female brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and a male judo black belt. Unfortunately, it was part of a Japanese television show, so except for a pre-fight statement by her (which was presumably translated back into Japanese for the audience), I couldn’t understand anything that was being said.

This is less of a handicap in watching a physical contest than in other situations, but it wasn’t negligible. My own background (I spent years in judo, and dabbled enough to get minor ranks in several other arts) allowed me to understand most of what I was seeing, but I was missing some background and completely at sea in the explanatory commentary. It would have been helpful to know a few things, which I didn’t. What rules were being followed? Was the judo player allowed to use only judo techniques, while the BJJ female could call on a somewhat larger repertoire? Had he been handpicked as somebody she probably could beat (because you know, these days, that such contests are set up specifically to make the woman look good)? What was his competition record, his ranking among other judo players? What was hers among BJJ students? Was she actually brown-belt level, or had she been artificially kept there for some purpose? (I’ve seen it happen; at the National Judo Institute, before it went out of business, one of the rising stars was told explicitly that he wouldn’t be promoted to black belt until he’d acquired 100 competition points, or maybe 300; either way, MUCH more than traditionally necessary for such a promotion. This was intended to motivate him and make it clear that he was being held to a very high standard, and seemed to be having that effect on him. It was somewhat unfair to his opponents, though, since the competition points you earn are based on the ranks of those you beat, and keeping his rank artificially low likewise artificially lowered the points acquired by any who managed to defeat him.)

The match itself was decently straightforward. From my perspective — educated, but the education being relatively limited — it seemed clear that he was more skilled than she was at the things they had in common (judo is derived from jujutsu, but concentrates on throwing, some choking techniques, some arm-lock techniques, and some hold-down techniques), but she was at least familiar with what he could do better, while she kept surprising him with things he had to figure out on the spot how to deal with. She was constantly shaping for chokes or joint-locks (not unknown in judo, but BJJ has a much larger range than he would have previously encountered) that he had to work his way out of, and he always managed it but was clearly uncomfortable. She never managed to throw him; he threw her more or less at will, but never could hold her down, which would seem to mean that she was more than usually skilled at turning out of a coming hold-down before it could be properly solidified. The two were not physically equal: he was larger and heavier than she was, and — unless preselected for weakness — would have been stronger as well, and he genuinely seemed to be using his reach and strength to best effect. Likewise, all other things being equal, his higher rank should have indicated greater experience … and, Japan being the number-one nation in judo, there would have been a LOT of competition against a lot of people of varying levels of skill and technique.

The end … I couldn’t tell. They were down, he was on top, the end was called after a few seconds and she got up to return to her corner while he remained on hands and knees looking frustrated … Did she manage to sneak in some fast-acting choke that I wasn’t able to spot? (BJJ people are extremely crafty about such things.) I don’t think so; he didn’t pass out and he didn’t tap out, which means he wouldn’t have been considered vanquished except by some peremptory referee’s call. (Which can happen, but usually there’s explanation and slow-mo replay to make clear what couldn’t be seen from the studio angle; also, she wasn’t acting all celebratory, nor was her coach, they were just straightening her up for whatever came next.) Was the judo guy simply ashamed at not being able to manage better than a stalemate? I truly couldn’t tell what the outcome was or what it was supposed to mean, and that frustrates me.

I’m not passing judgment on either style; I loved judo, and would still be doing it if that were possible. Similarly, I have deep respect for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, particularly the Gracie school, and if I could afford it (financially OR physically), that’s what I would want to explore if I attempted to expand beyond judo. The set-up, however, seemed to be intended to make a point, and I’m not sure I agree with it, even if I can figure out what it was.

The most likely intended message was that BJJ is superior to judo. The answer to that is, superior at what? Judo isn’t a martial art or intended as one; it was derived from the traditional Japanese arts to produce a safe and beneficial sport form; hence the name change from jujutsu (‘subtle art’) to judo (‘subtle WAY’), with ‘way’ carrying quasi-spiritual connotations that don’t translate well to a western audience. Superior as a fighting form? But they weren’t fighting; they were in a contest, following some sort of rules even if I didn’t know precisely what those rules were. I am FULLY willing to believe that BJJ is more effective for fighting, though its contests are still in the sporting arena. Put me in an actual fight, and — assuming I wasn’t crushed in the first seconds — I would rely heavily on my judo background but would not for a moment limit myself to approved judo contest techniques; I’d be biting and head-butting and eye-gouging and looking around for improvised weapons and whatever seemed like a good idea at the time, which is not at all what happened in the video. (Nor should it have been; genuine fights are ugly things, and civilized people should not look on them as sport.)

As I say, I figure there must have been a point, and it probably was at least generally spelled out for the people who spoke the language. It may have simply been a novelty event, with the (unknown) rules adjusted specifically to make it more even and interesting. I just don’t know, and that left me mystified and dissatisfied, much like the judo man at the end.