“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he is not the same man.”
- Heraclitus (Greek philosopher, 535 -475 BC)
Part 1: The Man
We’re constantly being told in jiujitsu that we should revisit the basics. But why? Because we change: after even a few months of jiujitsu you should be stronger, fitter, perhaps leaner, likely more coordinated. You’re also becoming aware of strategy and tactics. More importantly perhaps than any of those, you should find that your proprioception – the awareness of your body in space – has improved significantly. Improvements in any of these areas will improve the way you both understand and execute a technique. Such improved skills should not be exclusively reserved for increasingly complex techniques; they will enhance any technique, including the basics. If you’re struggling to adapt to a new, more complex technique, revisit a basic ‘white belt’ technique and feel how much smoother and conscious you are in its execution. It’s the equivalent of sparring the new guy fresh off the street.
Part 2: The River
We could say that the ‘game’ of jiujitsu is analogous to Heraclitus’ river: it too, changes. Obviously basic techniques adapt to address and overcome common counters; more than once I’ve heard high level black belts say they changed their mind on some basics, despite years of doing it a certain way. But what if our concept of what constitutes a ‘basic’ also changes? When I started my jiujitsu journey over ten years ago, leg attacks were still shrouded in mystery, let alone being a beginner technique. Now we consider a straight ankle lock to be one of the safer (less permanently damaging, if you will) techniques. A case could also be made for the self-defence efficacy of ashi garami (at least as a sweep option). Should these now be considered ‘basics’? The river has carved a new course.
Jiujitsu is not about building a bridge over a problem – it’s about immersing yourself, letting it swirl around you, feeling the flow – and emerging on the other side a new, better human being.