A little writing I did a few months ago about training BJJ in Southern California. I posted this on the MSU Karate Club Facebook page, and I have waffled for a bit about sharing it here, but what the heck - the worst that can happen is that nobody reads it
Every time I visit and train in southern California, I realize how
little I know about real fighting.
This revelation came to me at about 6:45AM on 12/28/07, as I was
struggling to breathe under the seemingly impossible weight of Craig
Husband - Ventura County Undersherrif, friend, and 20 year Jiu-jitsu
exponent under Rickson Gracie.
"No, Mike, your arms mean nothing," he chided me as I attempted to
wedge my elbow into his hip to give myself the leverage to push myself
out from under him. "Move your center, and let the arms and legs take
care of themselves." An easy thing to say when you are the one on top,
crushing your partner's diaphragm, making every breath painful and
"Move your center" was the common thread through my week of training
with Craig and his students in the Boys and Girls' Club gym in
Camarillo, California. "Base, as it is called in Jiu-jitsu," explained
Craig as the half-dozen or so of us sat around him on the threadbare
wrestling mats, catching our breath in the chilly auditorium, "is
everything. You either have it or you don't - there are no gradations
of 'base'." Having base, he went on to explain, means being centered,
in balance, not easily thrown. Base relates to not only Jiu-jitsu, but
to striking arts, to sports, and to life in general. "I am not a
golfer," Craig continued, "but if I were to drive the ball, you can
bet that I would be doing it with my center." He explained on how the
concept of base permeates his daily life: "When I wake up in the
morning, I feel like crap like everyone else. I thought today, 'It is
37 degrees out. I am going to a cold gym, with a bunch of guys who
would like nothing better than to choke me out. Why the heck am I
doing this?' Then I took a few deep breaths, stood up, and found my
'base' [Craig stands up and looks straight ahead]. I was then ready to
face the day - I find that the posture dictates your attitude, not the
other way around."
How often have we karateka preached about "punching from your center"?
When we speak of utilizing our center in our strikes, we are speaking
of "base". Given this, how many of us actually use our base correctly?
Shouldn't this 'use of base' translate from one art to the next?
I thought it should, but I was having an obviously hard time getting
my body to understand what I thought I had my mind wrapped around.
While working a guard escape [where my partner had his legs wrapped
around my waist while I attempted to 'posture up' and pass his guard],
my partner effortlessly broke down my structure almost every time,
while I struggled in vain to keep my 'base.' "I am mimicing what Craig
is doing, so why isn't it working?" I asked.
He stopped, grabbed my hips, and tilted them ever so slightly,
bringing the base of my hips forward. "Try it now," he recommended.
Wonder of wonders, try as he might, he could not break down my posture
without changing his angle. I finally felt "base", and it was
different than anything I had felt in Jiu-jitsu thus far.
I grabbed Craig at the end of class, and asked how the concept of base
relates to striking vs. grappling. His answer I should have guessed
at. "They are the same," he replied. "If you have base on the ground,
you will have it on your feet."
"Well either I am not using my center correctly at all, or I cannot
translate what I do standing up to the mat." I sighed.
Craig winced slightly, as he tried to tactfully tell me what I already
knew. "You are actually not using your center correctly at all." He
explained that a lot of martial artists don't really "get it", but
that I was well on my way.
Luckily for me, martial arts is more about the journey than the
destination. I wished Craig a Happy New Year, stood up straight and
found my "base", and walked to my car, looking forward to my next
California visit and the training opportunities to come.