Jiu-Jitsu is an Art

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“Human nature (Jiu-Jitsu) is full of riddles and contradictions; its very complexity engenders art – and by art I mean the search for something more than simple linear formulations, flat solutions, oversimplified explanations.” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

 Substitute the words Jiu-Jitsu for the words human nature and it challenges one to consider exactly what does art encompass. If art, as Solzhenitsyn suggests, is about the search full, complex and brilliant solutions, then shouldn’t a competitive sport like BJJ be considered an art? We are used to judging some athletes for their artistic performances as well as their athletic prowess. We hear commentators discuss how Olympic judges give or subtract marks for both technical and artistic merit in sports where you have to be spectacularly fit. Where does “Artistic Sport” and “Competitive Sport” come together and where does it diverge? Ballet, and especially Cirque de Soleil (a combination of dance, gymnastics, staging, music, and story-telling), are certainly recognized as artistic performances yet not sport.

The biggest difference between those performances and Jiu-Jitsu, aside for the obvious fact that we face opponents, is that in our sport that beautiful armbar ending in a submission is spontaneous; it’s not a scripted routine performed on cue. These beautiful submissions are only repeated if the situation arises that would make them possible.

Yes, I recognize visual artists don’t use scripts and create unique one-of-a-kind works, but visual artists don’t work in real time in front of audiences and painting would never be considered an artistic sport.

So what about art that is spontaneous and performed before audiences? I’m not the first to see links between the art of Improv Theater and sport. Take soccer. Both are “team activities” with players anticipating plays in a wildly dynamic environment, connecting, feeding each other, moving towards the goal, be it an actual goal or successful sketch. The art of Imrov prepares actors to make quick, spontaneous responses also needed in fencing and in both these activities pacing and timing are key. Finally, Jiu-Jitsu, like Improv, is different every time. Both require mental agility to quickly size up a situation and offer a creative response. Unlike Improv, in Jiu-Jitsu, you set up your fellow “actors” to make them more vulnerable so you can leverage their mistakes.

 It is not enough to know your craft – you have to have feeling. Science is all very well, but for us imagination is worth far more.” – Edouard Manet

The famous French painter Manet tells us that art cannot be created without connecting with one’s emotions. Skill alone is not sufficient.

Jiu-Jitsu is far more than belts; it’s science, art and tradition that’s best applied with courage and humility. After years of embracing defeat, practitioners advance, their battle becomes more fluid; a skillful dance with a potentially devastating ending. A slight movement of a wrist could reverse power of position leaving the owner of the misstep to quickly shift their mind to a more calculating player. If we could see players emotions as light you would see an array of colors depicting intense speed and domination; to calculating strategic thinking; to humility and calmness. A spiritual journey for some, for others it’s an escape, a fulfillment in an otherwise mundane life.

To us, Jiu-Jitsu is a personalized art form, as elegant and imaginative as Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” or as brash and unconventional as Banky’s street art. Whichever your style or combination you chose, it is your quest in a never-ending “game of human chess.” –Black Label Jiu-Jitsu.