The Finger & The Moon – how JKD lost its way.

* (The following is a short section excerpted from a larger work set for release next year)

If you’re familiar with my work, or SBG pedagogy in general, than you know that we don’t usually talk about arts like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, or Muay Thai, as “styles”; instead, We refer to the fundamentals of those arts as “delivery systems”.

This isn’t just a semantic difference. It goes to the heart of the entire process.

A delivery system, is a series of fundamentals that define skill within a given range. In the case of hand-to-hand combat, that means stand up, clinch, and ground.

Those fundamentals, being not what’s most basic, but rather, what’s most important, will, by definition, transcend:

1- culture (history, tradition)
2- bodies (gender, age, size)
3- geography (location, environment)
4- venue (rule set, stakes)
5- time (decade, century, epoch)

These are the universal truths of combat, which all functional Martial Arts will contain.

There is a trite, often heard fallacy within the JKD world that goes something like this – “All arts have something good to offer”. Or the ever popular: “There are no superior arts, just some that are better in a given environment than others.”‭

Neither of those statements is factually true.

Some arts will make you worse, not better. Ask any coach who’s tried to correct someone’s screwed up body mechanics, and they’ll verify that fact for you. And yes, of course, some arts are absolutely better, more valuable and useful, while others will only teach you what not to do. But even the premise of the question itself, resting on the house of cards that is JKD Concepts relativist philosophy, is misguided. It isn’t about individual styles, Hung Gar versus Wing Chun, or Aikido versus Judo. It’s about delivery systems – the mechanics of a proper punch or throw, which transcend style, culture, and location.

I want you to think of style in a different way.

“Style”, as Bruce Lee rightly pointed out, is completely individual. No two Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belts roll the same way. Each has different rhythms, patterns, techniques they prefer, paces, strengths, weaknesses, and routes. If they are good at Jiu-Jitsu, then by definition they will be good at the fundamentals of Jiu-Jitsu, and they will share those as a common denominator. But the application of those fundamentals, the application of that delivery system, that common denominator – that’s as individual as personality.

I call this: The Fighting Style Principle:

Aliveness is the method. The core fundamentals of the delivery system are the material. And style is what you evolves within you when you combine both. It will be as different as every individual, and it will be yours alone.

If you’re a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu teacher, should you teach Roger Gracie Style or Andre Galvao Style or Ryron Gracie Style or Marcelo Garcia Style?

The SBG answer is, none of the above.

Instead you should teach the fundamentals of the delivery system, in this case the ground, create a safe environment for the students to train those fundamentals with Aliveness, and allow each student the time needed to develop into his or her own “style”.

Remember, if you can see the fundamentals that drive the delivery system, you can learn anything.

If you know how to train those fundamentals with Aliveness, you can get good at anything.

What are the fundamentals?

Not what’s most basic, but rather, what’s most important.

How do you find them?

By asking what can be removed and what cannot. Where you find necessity you find a fundamental.

A superior boxer or kickboxer can throw pretty much any particular strike, kick, punch, or knee, and potentially make it work. They can make it work because they have ingrained the core skills, the root movements of the functional delivery system. Just as a Jiu-Jitsu black belt can probably make even the most inefficient joint lock work on someone who has no real skill on the ground. That isn’t a testament to that particular movement, but rather the delivery system, the positional dominance, transitions and timing that make up the fundamentals of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. And that delivery system is not bound to any culture, any style, or any system. Why? Because any functional thing like that, something that is based in factual truth, transcends culture and geography. Just as there is no such thing as “Canadian geometry”, but there is geometry. We call it “Brazilian” Jiu-Jitsu now, to give credit where credit is due, and to acknowledge the teachings and innovations of men like Rickson Gracie, but the truth is all functional wrestling shares the same principles. And it has been that way throughout the ages.

“I grew up with an impatience with the anti-scientific. So I’m a bit miffed with our current love affair with all things Eastern. If I sneeze on the set, 40 people hand me echinacea. But I’d no sooner take that than eat a pencil. Maybe that’s why I took up boxing. It’s my response to men in white pajamas feeling each other’s chi.” – Hugh Laurie

In a functional Martial Art, form will always follow function. The form the movements take within a given delivery system evolved that way, under the pressure of competition. This is, of course, how evolution works.

Ultimately, what we should be engaged in, assuming we’re looking to reach our potential in effectiveness, is a journey towards efficiency. Since form follows function – the most technical answer will be, by definition, the most effective answer. And the most effective answer will be, by definition, the most efficient answer. To understand Jiu-Jitsu as it is taught by a man like Rickson Gracie, is to understand that there is no distinction to be made between the most effective, most efficient, and most technical movement. The terms become interchangeable. Form follows function.

Evolution requires heritable traits, and three additional things: replication, variation, and selection. Provided all three things are present, natural selection makes use of the design space, and evolution occurs. In evolution by natural selection, the delivery system (plant or animal) serves as a vehicle to pass on the gene. Replication occurs. Variation arises through that process, and through random mutation, and the environment and all that’s arises and occurs within it provides selection pressures.

With functional Martial Arts, the process is much the same. The delivery system, instead of carrying the gene, carries the core fundamentals of animal (in this case homosapian) combat. The variation is the different bodies, temperaments, minds, which use that delivery system. And the selection pressure is the roll, fight, competition process, and theater of operations itself.

#1 Replication: gene – meme- delivery system
#2 Variation: bodies, temperaments, minds
#3 Selection: environmental pressures, the “roll”, the fight

A good BJJ teacher passes down the fundamentals of the delivery system to a room full of people. Let’s call them a “variety”. That variety then competes against each other, and that process forces adaptations. The same choke is used, but each player finds, over time, the best way to apply it individually. If you have a room full of 30 people, you will, given enough time, have 30 different “styles”. Same delivery system, in this case BJJ, but they will all be as different as Roger Gracie is from Marcelo Garcia – each great, each highly skilled in the same core movements, shrimps, hip motions, weight distribution, chokes, etc; and each very different from the other.

That’s how functional Martial Arts work – like evolution – through competition, eventually, creating a variety of species/”styles”.

By contrasting the delivery systems of martial arts with the evolutionary process, we can better understand why certain arts developed the way they have. Alive-functional delivery systems will evolve under the selection pressure the environment provides, so even a minor change in the rules of something like MMA, could have a profound affect if it remained a rule for long enough. In addition, a large cultural change, such as the one that occurred in post WW2 Japan, can also have lasting effects on the way a delivery system is used. That doesn’t mean the core of the delivery system changed, remember, a true delivery system is based on movements and principles which transcend culture and venue – no, what it means is that certain parts of that delivery system will become more dominant, while others may go unused, and over time become lost.

An example is the headbutt. If it were allowed back into the sport of modern MMA it would not mean that Aikido, Silat, Systema, or (insert fantasy based martial art here) all of the sudden became “functional”. We would still see the same core delivery systems of kickboxing, wrestling, and BJJ. It also wouldn’t make a position like the guard (where you control the person on top using your legs) go away. What it would do is change how athletes who compete regularly in that environment played from the guard. That change would remain so long as the environment allowed that selection pressure of ‘headbutts’, something that UFC fighters currently don’t have to contend with.

Another good example of this process is Judo. Remember, it was a Judoka who initially taught the Gracies Jiu-Jitsu. However, Kano, Judo’s founder, was known to favor the throwing aspect of the delivery system to the ground fighting (newaza). That favoritism was reflected in the sport. Time allowed on the ground was limited. And perfect throws could gain you an instant victory. The result? The Judoka developed a great deal of skill in the takedown portion of the art, and in comparison with their Brazilian cousins, limited skill on the ground. Does that mean the art of a well-placed choke on the ground, or a well-timed hip throw standing, changed? Of course not, what it means instead was that a competitive Judo player is more likely to be skilled at throwing someone to the ground, and a competitive BJJ player is more likely to be skilled at choking someone once it hits the ground. Same delivery system, different emphasis and specialty developed, based on the selection pressures (rules), of their respective competitive environments.

Once you see how the evolution of functional Martial Arts works, the reality that the entire curriculum, whether it is for stand up, clinch, or ground, needs to revolve around the fundamentals of the delivery system, becomes self-evident.

Something else about the process also starts to come to light. You’ll realize that when each individual athlete is given the freedom needed to develop his or her own style, they will, over time, come up with one that is optimum for their own body, mind, and temperament, in a way otherwise unachievable if you were attempt to do with a conscious, human choice. In other words, the process is always smarter than you are.

I’ve spent more than 25 years teaching these arts fulltime, and yet, I still have no idea what a Jiu-Jitsu white belt will end up looking like, ten or twelve years later, when they achieve a black belt. I might assume a particular “style” of play based on their size or athleticism, but, more often than not, I’ll be surprised. I’ve seen short stocky people who became phenomenal guard players, and tall skinny people who ended up wrestling and playing for top; the evolution like process that occurs from the selection pressures that arise on the mat with alive training and rolling is always smarter than I am. Never let a coach tell you how you “should” play – learn it all, and let the your opponents on the mat, over time, teach you your body how it plays best.

The reverse is also true. When a coach begins to teach his or her own personal “style”, rather than sticking to the core fundamentals of the delivery system itself, it is akin to inbreeding within biology.

This is the mistake the “Original” JKD people made. They were trying to fight the way a 130lb man who died in 1973 fought – trying to replicate Bruce Lee. If Bruce Lee could fight well, then, like all modern MMA fighters alive today, he would have had a unique individualized style that made use of functional delivery systems – and it’s the delivery systems, and their pedagogy for training, Aliveness, that the Original JKD teachers should have focused on, not one individuals application of them. Said plainly, they missed all the glory of the heavenly bodies because they were too busy staring at a finger.

This brings us back to our JKD endorsed fallacy: In that case, isn’t it all just up to the individual? There are no superior delivery systems are there?

I hope you can see the flaw in their reasoning now. There is a proper way to perform a rear naked choke that will allow you to achieve the desired results as quickly and efficiently as possible. This is simply a reality. Likewise, there is a proper (best) way to throw a right cross. There may be many variations in how it is thrown. This is ‘style’ specific, and every boxer will have his own, but the fundamental body mechanics, the rotation of the hips, the transmission of power from the ground through the body into the target, that’s based on the laws of physics, and that is the delivery system. Whether people choose to acknowledge that reality does not change the truism. Everyone who teaches functional ground fighting these days, meaning every MMA coach on Earth, is incorporating the guard, the mount, etc. They may call it Submission Wrestling, but it’s the same delivery system. Since the Brazilians brought that delivery system to prominence, and since so much of it was perfected by men like Rickson, I feel it’s important to give them credit. But, ultimately, the name is not what matters most; the reality that the delivery system is backed by principles of leverage and timing, and works against resisting opponents; that is what matters.

Delivery systems can be tested. And that testing has been done.

At this stage it’s obvious what works and what does not. MMA has proven the boxing, wrestling, and BJJ delivery systems to be of great value. So that’s what all skilled MMA fighters choose to do. Someone trained in Silat, or Wing Chun, or Aikido, or Systema, without that background in the functional delivery systems mentioned above (kickboxing, wrestling, BJJ), would be unable to compete in MMA. They cannot defend themselves against modern MMA fighters. Instead of a sport, it would become a beating.

However, as we’ve seen, that doesn’t mean all MMA fighters look and fight the same way. Spend some time watching the UFC. Of course, you’ll see many common threads in their movement – again, that’s the delivery systems at work. But you’ll also see tremendous variation – that’s their individual style in action.

Each fighter naturally develops that style, as they practice, drill, spar, and fight.

Take away that opponent process, and you also remove that ‘style creating process’. You’ll be back to a sclerotic tradition – a dead pattern.

Why?

Because it is not a matter of taking different pieces from different arts, (the JKD Concepts method), or learning an imitating someone else’s style, (the Original method); rather, it is a matter of learning the fundamentals of the delivery systems, and then training alive.

That process is the real JKD.

A style IS: an individual’s personal method of application of a given set of delivery systems, as developed, over time, through the opponent process.

A style IS NOT: a fixed series of patterns or beliefs, passed down from Guru to pupil.

There is no shortcut. No hack. No secret words, obscure forms, or magical Gurus that can bypass the work, sweat, and effort.

You have to EARN your style.

Helping people earn their style is what JKD should have been – and what SBG is.