Written by Chad Smith
Sometimes when I get to roll with Professor, the experience is nothing short of mind blowing. He does what he does, slowly, methodically, relaxed, laughing. But the positions are exotic to my white belt student mind. Position is a terribly inadequate word, implying that what he does is understandable in a quantifiable, component set of static placements. No, the movements are in a realm of movement I don’t think in yet. When he rolls like this I am a grain of sand with an ocean floating around me. When he moves on to another student I sit there on the mat, perfectly uninjured, but my mind has been blown. I am waking up from a dream world: I was there, participating, but deep down completely helpless. What the heck just happened to me?
Last night a training friend and I were working after class. We were practicing something new we had learned, when a much-higher belt at our school started to give us help. His moves weren’t quantifiable though. There was no way to separate what happened next from what happened next-next, from what happened before. It was all of a part. It was a piece from the middle of a conversation, at a party, where the chain of phrases are all linked to a room of branching talk. And so we were quickly immersed in the totality of his voice.
Voice: A Brazilian friend said that Professor shows us everything he knows. He does not have special moves for competition. There are things he hasn’t shown us yet simply because we are not ready, but he doesn’t have this extra secret catalog he only uses for himself. The only moves unique to him are those that are suited to him. We had difficulty translating the Portuguese word he used to describe it, malandragem. My Brazilian friend is a musician, and so the closest I got was flow or groove, like a bass player’s groove, the voice he gets when he is a master. But that wasn’t it exactly. He later clarified that it is closer to street smarts, but street smarts flavored with your own unique groove.
I have heard from friends (and do not know if it is true) that the difference between a blue belt and a purple belt in BJJ is only partially knowledge. By knowledge I mean of course what you can unthinkingly execute, the knowledge stored in the neurons of your muscles after you’ve trained them over and over in a particular manner, body-knowledge that you can, if called upon, break down into words. But knowledge is not sufficient for promotion. One must also have begun to develop one’s unique voice, your own BJJ. Your flow, groove, malandragem, is distinctive to you. At purple belt it is not fully developed, but it is there (I surmise it is always there, you are simply now aware of it) and you develop it. The knowledge difference between purple and brown belts is negligible; it is about the voice. Brown and black I don’t understand yet. I have read that black is a commitment to compete or teach, and that your ability to pass on what you know is important to the promotion. And your ability to be self-sustaining, I suppose.
The much-higher belt I referred to earlier has a very distinctive voice. He is not like some black belts, whose style is fast, or Professor, who moves like the tide. He is this vortex, a typhoon. He thinks in spirals, and so it was difficult to pull one move apart from another when he showed us his sequences. They all existed in spiral-space. The only way to participate is to realign your perception of reality from my current three dimensions to that of curved space. Our minds were blown, but it was at least possible to understand this place, because he was adept at instructing us. And, once there, we were spiraling with ease.
I can not stop thinking in that spiral-space (doubly curving non-cylindrical geometry, or, possibly, systolic geometry for geometry geeks out there). Partly because I am fascinated by this new kingdom. Partly because I wish to make it my own.