Monday, November 25, 2013

"Choking: A Dangerous Weapon?"

Women's Health Magazine's "Domestic Terror," by Meghan Rabbit presents some pretty staggering statistics. According to their stats, 1 in 4 women has been victim to severe physical violence by an intimate partner and almost 1 in 2 has experienced psychological aggression. Clearly, this is all sorts of fucked up. (It wasn't addressed in the article, but this issue certainly is not exclusive to women. Plenty of men have wound up in relationships with abusive partners as well). Domestic violence is horrible for victims of both sexes and the problem is more widespread than I thought.

Most of the article chronicled one woman's story of suffering, surviving, and ultimately escaping an escalating cycle of abuse. It was a captivating story, for sure. But what really grabbed my attention was the blurb at the end of the article, entitled "Choking - A Dangerous Weapon." According to the blurb, choking in domestic violence cases "is one of the strongest predictors that a victim is at risk for more serious violence, including a major assault or even homicide."

In jiu jitsu, choking each other on the mats is harmless. We can tap out at anytime and it is generally within our power not to go unconscious. If we are stubborn and refuse to tap, our partners are trained to release us as soon as we go to sleep. I tap really early to joint locks, but I try longer to fight through chokes, even to the point of feeling light-headed, since the effects are fleeting and not damaging to my body. I've never been put to sleep before, but I have put others to sleep and it no big deal.

Trying not to tap!!

Violently choking someone with attempt to harm or intimidate is obviously a different story. According to the article, "even one episode can lead to long term neurological problems, such as difficulty concentrating, memory problems, or even seizures." Or worse, it can be deadly.
Choking someone can be harmless in one setting or it can be devastating in another. Since it can have serious consequences, there are folks who want to make sure it carries a serious punishment. While choking someone is often charged as a misdemeanor in court, "some 30 states are trying to make it a felony instead by classifying it as 'second degree strangulation,' given prosecutors another tool with which to charge abusers with a more serious crime." In North Carolina, the state where I live, choking is indeed a felony. I have mixed feelings about this. As a feminist, a decent human being, and an overall disliker of bad guys, I am glad that abusers in my state can be put away for longer periods of time.  But as a jiu jitsu practitioner, this makes me nervous. Choking someone out is something that is safe and taken lightly in my world, but it is serious in the eyes of the law.

I don't carry a gun, a knife, a taser, or a can of pepper spray in my purse. Jiu jitsu is my weapon of self defense. Jiu jitsu is what I rely on to keep me safe. It is a weapon that I hope I never have to use, but one that I am training to use without hesitation should I ever need it.

I hope that I never have to defend myself against a rapist, but if I do, I would be thankful to have drilled thousands of triangles, allowing me to throw them quickly, fluidly, and without much conscious thought, should I ever be held down that way. If my safety depended on it, I believe that I could triangle an attacker without hesitation. But what then? Would the onus be on me to prove that this was a self defense situation? The #1 defense of rapists is to claim that the assault was consensual. If people believed his story, would I be the one under suspicion? Could I become the felon?

I may sound paranoid here, but an MMA fighter in my community was sentenced to a long prison term for using his training to defend himself against a much larger attacker, in a pretty clear cut self defense situation. The case did not involve choking, but it proves to me that juries do not understand MMA or jiu jitsu. They understand guns and will let you "stand your ground" and flat out shoot an adversary. But to use nonlethal martial arts training to subdue an attacker? That just might get you arrested.

Self defense is not always clear cut to onlookers. What about a highschooler who has been a victim of chronic bullying, who finally stands up to her tormentor? What about a concerned party-goer who observes a belligerent drunk threatening his girlfriend? Jiu jiu prepares its practitioners to deal with these scenarios. If they choke out one of these assailants it is not "strangulation" the way jurists may see it, but a use of nonlethal force that results in no lasting damage. It is perhaps the gentlest way to subdue an attacker. It is disconcerting to think that it also carries the severest of penalties. In light of the article, I appreciate that anti-choking laws make a lot of women safer, but as a martial artist, they make me feel more vulnerable.


Friday, November 15, 2013

Jiu jitsu math - why it doesn't always work

I'm not much of a numbers person, but I remember a few things from high school algebra. In the math world, if a>b and b>c, then we also know that a>c -  every time.

So in the jiu jitsu world, if player a beats player b, and player b beats player c, then logically, player a should also beat player c. Right? Right?! This is jiu jitsu math 101.

Only it doesn't always work. Now, if I had to place a bet and I had no other information to go on, I would still side with jiu jitsu math. In the above scenario, I would pick player a to beat player c. But there is a decent chance I'd be wrong. Among competitors of the same skill level, I would expect this math to fail about 25% of the time. That makes this a pretty lousy jiu jistu theorem.

Indeed, I've lost several matches that I expected to win based on  jiu jitsu math. And every time, I have found myself dazed and surprised. It makes no sense! Just ask my algebra teacher, Mr. Scata -  a>c! Except every now and then, c beats a.

So why does jiu jitsu math fail? There are a couple of reasons.

- Randomness and chance play a role in jiu jitsu matches. According to some smart math people at MIT, there are more possible outcomes to a game of chess than there are known atoms in the universe. So as a form of kinesthetic chess, a given jiu jitsu match can go about a gazillion different ways - at least when the 2 individuals are close in size and ability. Now, if I were to compete against Gabi Garcia 100 times, I would most definitely lose to her 100 times. But there are plenty of other people with whom I would expect to go 50/50, 60/40, 25/75, or some other split. Just because you beat someone once, doesn't mean you will beat them every time. Conversely, just because someone beats you once, doesn't mean you won't get her next time.

- People match up with each other differently. Some people do ok handling big, strong folks but have trouble against faster scrambly people. Some people do great when they can get on top, but get smashed on bottom. Depending of your style, success in a tournament can be dependent on the attributes and style of your opponent.

- Familiarity plays a role. I tend to drill and train with the same people a lot - so much so that we get to know each other's moves. Some folks who know me well know exactly what I am going for and can shut me down before I even start. And sometimes I can do the same to them. How you perform against folks who you are super familiar with cannot accurately predict how you will perform relative to each other when rolling with new folks.

What about you? Have you ever underestimated an opponent due to jiu jitsu math? Or have you ever defied the laws of jiu jistu math and defeated someone you weren't "supposed to?"


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Gracie Brothers' response to the Llyod Irving rape case

So evidently this video is several months old and I am more out of the loop than I realized. I came across it as I was reading up on the rape case in wake of the accused rapists' shocking acquittal. But this is the first time I have watched it and I have to say it is an AMAZING clip. I frequently watch videos of submission highlights, played to aggressive music to get me pumped up before a tournament. But I have to say, this has gotten me just as fired up about jiu jitsu as any highlights reel out there.

It is a fairly long video, but it is absolutely worth watching all the way through.

I am taking several messages away from it:

 - The culture of a gym can influence people to be more or less aggressive. Schools have the power to either calm people down or amplify aggressive tendencies. "If ultimately dominating and defeating someone is the best thing and where you get the most praise...that's what's going to be your look around and say 'who can I abuse. Who can I technically victimize on the mat'?" There is always going to be someone out there who is better than you. It is more useful and more important to train with people who you can consistently learn from than those who you can consistently smash.

- We have an obligation to serve and help the less powerful. "There is someone who has more knowledge, more technique, more strength, more power...that person has an obligation to the student they are training with and to the school as a whole to build this {less powerful} person serve this person." Training needs to be productive for both parties.

- On a similar note, training jiu jitsu should give practitioners more confidence to step in and intervene when someone is being victimized, bullied or just plain needs help.

-"The nature of martial arts in general is that of combat, that of aggression, that of overcoming adversity and fighting someone...if left alone this can morph into a violent dragon of aggression." Creating a positive environment takes constant work and does not happen by itself.

- Rolling respectfully with your partner and rolling hard are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to roll hard and fight for submissions, while still valuing your partner's safety, comfort, and right to learn. 

My one gripe about the video is that it implies that jiu jitsu was the "dangerous weapon" that the assailants used to rape the victim. Certainly, jiu jitsu can be harmful and deadly if put in the wrong hands and used to bully people instead of to defend oneself. It certainly could be used as an instrument of rape. But that's not what happened here. The assailants were the victim's teammates, but they did not subdue her by using jiu jitsu techniques. Rather, they took advantage of the victim's trust. Instead of helping her, they preyed upon her when she was most vulnerable.