May 16, 2008


Dojo practice in Japan, circa 1920, courtesy of wikipedia.

The theme at Goat Rope lately is about applying principles from the martial arts to working and writing to achieve social change or social conservation. You'll also find links and comments about current events.

In yesterday's post, I talked a little about ju jitsu, moral, political and Brazilian. Today's will pick up on the latter. I urge non-martial artists to bear with me since I honestly believe these strategies represent the last best hope of making things a little less bad.

In the 1990s, a revolution occurred in the martial arts world as a result of full contact matches with very few rules that pitted people from different fighting styles against each other. Overwhelmingly, the winners were grapplers trained in or influenced by Brazilian ju jitsu, a style widely associated with the Gracie family.

For an old karate dinosaur like El Cabrero, this was sooo not cool. It really wasn't fair. People who were really formidable in arts based on striking but knew nothing else were helpless against ju jitsu fighters. And the weird thing is, the ju jitsu guys would win in a way that left no room for doubt but which didn't hurt their opponents at all, aside from wounded pride.

How bad was it? Let's just say that if you pitted a real good boxer or striker with years of experience and no knowledge of grappling against a rookie who's been practicing ju jitsu for six months, the smart money is on the rookie.

Part of the reason for that is Darwinian. When critters are exposed to a threat for which they have not evolved defenses, they're toast unless and until they adapt. But part of the reason is a refined strategy which is really a development of the ideas of classical martial arts. Like all styles, ju jitsu uses the force of the opponent and attacks weak spots. But it does something more.

Brazilian ju jitsu is based on the idea that a struggle has different phases (some would say ranges or levels) and positions. Each phase or level requires a different set of skills. Brazilian stylists will try to take the fight to a phase or level where their opponent's strengths are useless. Once there, they position themselves in a such a way that the opponent is rendered harmless and can be persuaded to give up (often by the application of a submission technique).

Here's an illustration. A boxer can be dangerous--standing up. On the ground, not so much. As Morihei Ueshiba, founder of aikido, put it,

Even the most powerful human being has a limited sphere of strength. Draw him outside of that sphere and into your own, and his strength will dissipate.

Summary: when engaged in a struggle with powerful opponents to make things less bad, don't engage them where and when they are strongest--change the level. Take the game to a place where the odds are better.

Here's a specific example. Several years ago, there was an incident of police brutality with racial overtones in a small rural community. The local paper and Powers That Were ignored it and tried to cover it up. We changed the level and took the story to statewide media outlets and notified people all over the country. After that, they couldn't ignore it any more and there was a pretty decent outcome.

A general example. Often in a democracy, when a bureaucracy of whatever kind does something that is tacky and/or harms people with less power, it usually likes to do so quietly. You can change the level by making it public. Sometimes you can change the level by questioning the legality of a policy, sometimes by building coalitions, sometimes by raising the noise level, or some combination thereof.

In a word, don't play their game. Make them play yours. Every situation is unique, but the principles, like the Dude, abide.

"PLASTICS." In the classic film The Graduate, that sage advice was given to Dustin Hoffman's character. I'm not sure how much that would help now. As the Economic Policy Institute's latest snapshot reveals, this month's new college graduates will face a challenging job market.

HOT TIMES. The latest issue of Nature summarizes the evidence on climate change. Here are the opening lines:

A comprehensive analysis of trends in tens of thousands of biological and physical systems has provided more evidence to bolster the near-universal view that man-made climate change is altering the behaviour of plants, animals, rivers and more.

HUNGRY PLANET. Several experts on the world food crisis weigh in on the problem in Newsweek. Some of them make sense.

UNION PREMIUM. A new report from the WV Center on Budget and Policy and the Center for Economic and Policy Research highlights the benefits of union membership.

CALMER THAN YOU ARE. On a positive note, research indicates that happiness can be learned if we chill out a little.


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