By Chris Davis | 8 February 2019
Every martial artist is looking to turn that corner where the ‘martial’ binds with the ‘art’ to become who we are rather than what we do. It becomes a part of how we move, speak to people, feel the world around us, and shake hands.
We are automatically more vigilant, can ‘feel’ all around. We can be moved to roaring laughter and heart-opening tears, but can't be surprised by someone's aggression. Real emotional content is being open, embracing the moment; learning, laughing, living.
The base of everyone's interactions with us, from our boss to our kids, opens, heightens, and always there’s respect. Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee epitomized this level of complete integration of self, emotions, body and mind, always moving from center.
This is the goal. Probably few of us reading this have achieved this level of immersion in our art, although that’s always the ultimate challenge.
We naturally admire those who are farther along in this journey than we are. My particular gym is quite lucky to have recruits from the local Air Force base join us every Saturday to roll. Weekdays are for technique, while Saturday’s are all about Bruce Lee's "emotional content."
My BJJ gym is located in Montgomery county which is in the southern United States. This makes a huge difference in the emotional content the recruits bring to the table. The Armed Forces are full of administrators, people who never have to train for field work. These are not the folks who come into our gym.
The base near us is known to be one of the best in the region for physical training. Even if a recruit comes to learn law or medicine, they get their hands dirty in a way that doesn't happen elsewhere. When these guys come into the gym, the entire mood of the place rises.
Not only do the Air Force guys bring new techniques, but they also bring a different kind of energy to the sparring sessions. Part of it is about survival. The instructors raise their vibe because they know they are going to have to prove all the techniques they taught us. If they get embarrassed, they may lose respect, students, and money.
The students get excited for different reasons. It's time to show and prove. The Air Force guys bring new techniques that students feel confident will work in the real world. The gym is huge, built inside of a repurposed warehouse and filled with sweaty volleyball, track, football and powerlifters all working out.
We roll for an hour to 90 minutes every day, including Saturday. When we roll on Saturday, everybody else in the gym watches us. They don't totally top, but their practices slow down to a crawl. Sometime we get Fight Club circles when one of the instructors goes up against one of the military guys, and the going gets freaky. No one gets hurt, but it’s a lot of fun!
I dare say that we laugh harder and learn more on Saturday than we do the rest of the week. Why? The military guys bring in that intense emotional commitment, that deep content everyone’s always looking for.
I also learned a truer definition of ‘emotional content.’ On Saturday, my martial art feels playful and lighthearted. It’s tense and intense, childish and mature, loud and soft, wide and small. It’s three dimensional, like a shape that I can manipulate and incorporate into my life, full of grays, points, and planes, every feeling under the sun, not just bullheaded anger.
Rolling in the South
The fact that we are in the Bible Belt plays a huge role in the emotional content we enjoy on Saturdays. These are military guys who legitimately enjoy fighting. Their techniques are more fluid and truthful as a result. Watching them, you can fill in the holes in your own techniques.
We've all been in that place where our technique is perfect, but it never seems to work. Maybe you've been in a fight, nothing went the way you thought it would, and you started to question everything you’d ever been taught.
There's no need for all of that insecurity and doubt. You really just need to roll with someone who really enjoys fighting.
Southern military guys come in with tattoos and swagger, bragging about college football, MMA and hunting. They chat each other up as they invoke painful leg locks and arm bars. They have the presence of mind to form poignant sports analogies while they are being thrown around like rag dolls by the instructors and each other.
They play around with each other verbally, but there's no give in their practice. If you muted all the jokes, the practicing we did looked like real street fights.
If you were a rookie going up against one of these guys, it felt like a hard-as-brass street fight as well.
They had little concern for your belt ranking, tossing white belts hard as brown and purple. Although you may get up with your head ringing a bit, you now know for sure that your spread eagle works to diffuse the energy on a backwards fall. It's a good feeling.
I somehow gained enough respect from these guys for them to invite me to the bar one night after practice. Here I witnessed the way that Southern military guys invoked martial arts into their everyday lives.
The jolly, hardscrabble, backslapping aggression they showcased in the gym was the same stuff that undergirded every interaction they had in the real world. As a result, they got respect (we didn't have to wait for drinks once that night), they did whatever they wanted that night (we got pulled over and the cop ended up coming to drink with us), and they always had the most fun in the room.
My experience with Southern military jiu-jitsu guys continues to change my perception of how the martial arts lifestyle should look. I've never been around a group of happier, more amicable guys. At the same time, they’re straight up real, you just know not to mess with them. It's a balance that goes deeper than perfecting a technique, or even many techniques.
Gimme emotional content every time!