Gracie Self Defense and “Aliveness”

The thing that first drew me to training in Gracie or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was its undoubtable effectiveness in unarmed combative situations.  All martial arts have their strengths and weaknesses, but jiu jitsu has continuously proven itself as the most effective martial art when faced with stronger, faster, and more athletic attackers.  However, there can be some downsides to any grappling based art.  How do you handle multiple attackers?  There are strategies that a jiu jitsu stylist can implement to handle these situations, but that’s not truly the topic I’d like to tackle today.

The Helio Gracie self defense methods include striking and weapons defense.  In many jiu jitsu schools across the world, these techniques are becoming less and less the focus of training.  There are a few instructors, however, that make it their mission to keep Helio Gracie’s system alive.

The system is composed of situational responses to scenarios involving unarmed attacks (punches, grabs, etc.) and weapon attacks (to include stick/baton, knife, and gun).  Here’s a couple of examples:

There is a stark difference between these defense techniques and the usual free-sparring training method (rolling) used to increase reflexes and auto-responses (Boyd’s concept of implicit guidance and control) to your opponent’s full resistance.  In fact, the self defense techniques have a feel of WWII-era combatives to them that is undeniable.  The problem from my perspective is that they do not add an element of “aliveness” to them which makes the more sportive aspects of jiu jitsu so effective.  For more on aliveness read through Matt Thornton’s Straight Blast Gym’s philosophy.  This aliveness is critical to the development of real skills to be utilized and called upon when needed in the most dire of circumstances.  This should be kept in mind when further evolving and developing training methodologies that build upon the spirit of Helio Gracie’s self defense method.

There is an example of this aliveness that was shared by the Gracie Academy a while back.  It was something that I had not seen before, and showed an example of how the concept of Gracie Jiu Jitsu self defense should evolve to create this aliveness when training weapons defenses.  In the video Rener Gracie removes a training knife hidden inside his gi and begins attacking his rolling partner with it mid-roll.  It was an interesting exchange and created an increased level of realism in how an attack might occur during an assault.

An interesting video that shows the dynamic nature of knife attacks:

As you can see an attack can occur in the blink of an eye.  An change to the training methodology is warranted in order to increase the preparedness for such an encounter.  Aliveness is the answer.  Consider Matt Thornton’s explanation of this core concept of his from the link above.  It could be what is missing in your self defense training, armed or unarmed.

Lucky Me! Training with Guro Dan

There was a time during my first assignment as a brand new LT that I was taken with the Filipino Martial Arts.  This interest progressed into also wanting to learn more about the Indonesian martial art known as Silat.  In particular, I was interested in Pukulan Pentjak Silat Serak.

There are very few who were knowledgeable in this particular martial art in the 80s and 90s.  It wasn’t until one of the de Thouars brothers, whose family guarded the art with much care, started teaching it openly in the mid-to-late 90s that it started gaining more popularity.

I had read about the de Thouars brothers while still in high school, but unfortunately, john-beset-tim_2they all were a bit out of range for a teenager to just travel to seek training.  It wasn’t until I was leaving my first assignment as a LT in late 1999 at Fort Riley, KS and on my way to Korea did I get the opportunity to train with one of the brothers.  I continued to train in Serak from 1999 to 2006.  During that time, I traveled from coast to coast and even internationally to seek out training in Serak.  It is a very efficient art of off-balancing and leverage applied to overwhelm your opponent from close-range.  It is also simple in execution, but extremely complicated in its movement theories and methodologies.  I’m still sometimes in awe of its curriculum and the cerebral nature of its movement and angular theories.  As Carl von Clausewitz once said, “Everything in war is very simple. But the simplest thing is difficult.”  My ability to comprehend Serak was always difficult.

During one of my visits to train near LA for a week, I was picked up at the airport and told that “Danny will be by tomorrow.”  I asked, “Who’s Danny?”  “Guro Dan” was the answer.  Wow, wow…Guro Dan Inosanto was stopping in to receive his private lesson from my Serak Guru, and I was going to get to be his training partner for that hour of time.  I’ll spare you the details, but if you follow the martial arts, you know who Dan Inosanto is and that he is a legend.  Not only the top student of the late Bruce Lee, but a veritable encyclopedia of the martial arts in general and South East Asian arts in particular.  I’d gotten to train under his direction during a couple of seminars, but never got the opportunity like this to train WITH the man.  That hour of training was one that I will never forget.  Guro Dan has surely forgotten more about the martial arts than I will ever know or understand.  But, underneath that layer of expertise is an ever committed student of the arts.  As such, there I was as a training partner with him as he received a private lesson in the Indonesian martial art of Silat Serak.

I also once had the opportunity to be a supporting cast member of an instructional video series focused on the art of Silat that included one volume starring Guro Dan.  It was produced by the old and now defunct Inside Kung Fu magazine.  Here’s a short clip.  No, that’s not a skirt I’m wearing.  It’s a sarong; and it’s typically worn in Indonesia and other South East Asian countries.

Guro Dan is now in his 80s and is still traveling more often than most to teach and share his knowledge.  He is a kind soul and a very humble man.  And, not to mention the fact that he is a veteran of the 101st Airborne Division back when it was really an “Airborne” division.  If you ever get the chance to bump into him he’ll likely be traveling somewhere to teach.  Take a gander at his luggage or tote bag.  As I recall, he still carried his wings pinned to one of his bags.