May 15, 2008


Brazilian ju jitsu in action, courtesy of wikipedia.

The theme at Goat Rope lately has been applying ideas from the martial arts to working and writing for social change and social preservation. There are also news items and comments about current events.

Today's "lesson" comes from ju jitsu, an art that's so old it's new. It began as an art practiced by the Japanese samurai for centuries. In the 19th and 20th centuries, it was the source of both judo and aikido. Judo, in turn, influenced the development of a particularly effective variation known as Brazilian ju jitsu.

The ju in both means something like gentle, pliable or flexible (jitsu means technique or art and do means way as in something practiced as an end in itself). But don't make the mistake of confusing gentleness with weakness. It is rather the opposite of relying on strength alone.

I found one of the best summaries of strategy, broadly conceived, in the book Mastering JuJitsu by Renzo Gracie and John Danaher. This approach applies socially as well as physically:

The guiding principle behind ju is the idea of a weaker (gentler) force overcoming a stronger force through the application of technique, or jitsu, rather than strength and aggression. Reduced to its core, jujitsu is the employment of intelligence and skill to overcome brute strength and aggression...This should not be misunderstood as a notion of gentleness or softness. Strength is used in jujitsu. It can definitely help to be strong, but strength is used in an intelligent, rational manner as part of a strategy guided by efficient technique. Rather than confront strength with strength, jujutsu confronts strength with efficient technique and strategy so that the weaker fighter can attain victory. In practice, this means applying a high percentage of your total strength to a low percentage of your opponent's strength.

A simple illustration can illustrate this principle...if a weaker fighter can attack a vulnerable part of his opponent's body (such as the neck or joints) with a greater strength than his opponent can defend it with, he is effectively stronger than his opponent, even if his overall strength is less. This is the theoretical basis of jujitsu conveyed by ju. Technically skilled fighters can then efficiently apply what strength they have in a way that can cause sufficient damage to end the fight.

A way to understand the meaning that lies behind ju comes from an analysis of the phrase ju yoku sei go, which translates as softness controls hardness. This phrase conveys the idea of a smaller force initially giving way or yielding to a stronger force to eventually overcome it. Thus, it amounts to the use of strategy, one that resists strength with technique, and not additional strength.

By the way, Gandhi once described the method of nonviolent action as "moral ju jitsu," as have a number of other theorists and practitioners of nonviolent action. Similarly, the term "political ju jitsu" has become pretty popular as well, as any internet keyword search will reveal.

So how do you do it? There are probably almost as many ways as there are situations. More about that tomorrow, but in the meantime, here's a perfect example:

LOSING A SEAT. Here's AP on Tuesday's WV Supreme Court primary election outcome. Photographs of justice Spike Maynard vacationing in Monaco with Massey CEO Don Blankenship (after the court agreed to hear a Massey appeal they were later to win and after Blankenship spent millions to buy another seat on the court in 2004) created an opportunity for people who at least want to pretend we have a legal system to express their disapproval.

MYANMAR. For those interested in trying to help the Burmese people after catastrophic flooding, here's info on the American Friends Service Committee's response.

FOOD. This item argues that responding to the world food crisis will require sustainable agriculture rather than another green revolution.

CHEW ON THIS. On a similar note, here's an interview with Raj Patel, author of Starved and Stuffed: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System on how messed up current arrangements are.

SPEAKING OF FOOD, a new study with monkeys shows that stress leads to over-eating.

HOLD THE BAPTISM ON THE ALIENS. The Vatican's chief astronomer says life could exist in outer space and that some aliens may not have our original sin thing going on.



Hoyt said...

"Moral ju jitsu"--I like that!

El Cabrero said...

Me too. It's just helping people learn by experiencing the consequences of their own actions.

magmak said...