The longer you spend time training DZR the more you’ll come to understand the importance of concepts. Concepts serve several purposes simultaneously: they simplify movements for students, they help us to memorize techniques by creating internal associations, and can even change the energy seen and felt in the technique itself. The way a technique looks, the way it feels, and the result from it all begins in the mind and the particular chosen mindset employed for the occasion is often the result of a concept the practitioner had previously learned and embraced. Naturally a geek like me finds the concept of a concept to be fascinating. The particular concept on my mind at the moment is the “Dragon and Tiger.”
The Dragon/Tiger concept is explored deeply in the later lists but is hinted at earlier on in the jujitsuka’s journey. For a thorough explanation, ask your Sensei or Professor about it. For a bit of context, however, the rough idea is this: the Dragon and Tiger are equally skilled, equally dangerous opponents locked in a struggle. The Tiger is fierce, powerful and explosive while the Dragon is flexible, intelligent and patient. The Tiger generally embodies initiative, hoping to end the fight decisively. The Dragon is a master of timing and thus utilizes swift, tricky counter attacks that take advantage of the forward nature of its opponent. Sound familiar? That’s because many of our techniques fit that description. Take the Kihon for example, at first glance it is essentially a checklist for becoming a Dragon. While there are some techniques often seen completed with the spirit of a Tiger, I believe them to be the exception rather than the rule. If our goal as teachers is to cultivate Dragons, that’s evidence pointing in the direction that being a Dragon is the way to go. Why then do we consider Tigers an “equally skilled” opponent? My initial guess: because it is wise to have respect for the power/skill of an opponent in order to face it with a resolute spirit.
Professor Geoff Lane introduced this concept to me during the AJJF convention in which I received my Nidan. I was given some great food for thought, enough to think about for years. During that discussion it became quickly apparent to me where I needed work, which simultaneously felt exciting and discouraging. Luckily, we have all been trained well in facing adversity. I’m not sure how the rest of you all build self-confidence, but my process involves looking at something from all angles to better understand it. Once I understand something, there’s no reason to fear it. After some pondering, however, it was clear that I didn’t really understand Tigers so I went looking for some to learn about the other side of the coin. All things in balance right? This search took me to Thailand, a country full of tough martial artists who strive to resemble the fierce striped cats. After living and training with the Thais for some time – after endless rounds of bag work, conditioning, sparring, clinching, skipping rope – I’ve learned a bit I’d like to share with you. This information is pulled from experience with modern fighters, retired champions with their unique flavors of a classic style, and Pra Jao Seua “Tiger King” (no kidding) Muay Boran or “Ancient Boxing.”
There are many things I learned from the Tigers that now benefit me as a Dragon. While some of these may be obvious, some may be new so hopefully I provide some good food for thought.
- Entering In – Tigers work very hard at their craft and they are equally skilled at controlling their maai, so be aware that diving in for a clinch or takedown recklessly can mean eating a well-timed punch, knee or elbow. Jujitsu thrives in a close range, but you need to have a way of setting your position of control/technique up. This can be a matter of developing your sense of timing, defensive capabilities, or methods of distraction. There are many routes to success, but they all need to be practiced diligently. Think not just of what you would do, but also how you would do it. Remember, this is assuming we’re facing a trained, skilled opponent unlikely to make many exploitable mistakes.
- Clinch Fighting – Thai Clinch is worth learning. The Thai Clinch is infamous for spelling trouble for boxers, kickboxers, karateka, etc. and for good reason. In addition to powerful knee and elbow attacks, the movements and maai are very similar to that of Randori. In fact, I think they’re a perfect match. By practicing knees and elbows from clinch range, you learn a way of softening them up so to speak, which makes pulling off your Nage technique that much easier. Improving your knee and elbow techniques will also add to your arsenal some effective short-range weapons better suited to jujitsuka than punches/kicks.
- Athleticism is a Weapon – I’ve met some monsters, and I can promise you that toughness, fitness, and explosiveness are not to be underestimated. You’ve got some powerful techniques in your arsenal, and it’s nice to imagine that’s all you need and it may be. But what if you’re wrong? What if they defend in an unexpected way? What if something goes wrong? In these moments conflict can become a struggle, and no matter how good your technique is, it doesn’t hurt to have that extra bit of power or endurance on your side. You don’t need to be a bodybuilder or a marathon runner, but it’s important to be as strong as you can be, as tough as you can be, with good cardio. Unfortunately, this means a lot of extra work on your part. I’ve watched many fights between skilled competitors of all styles and it very often comes down to a battle of endurance and will. Of course, don’t neglect your technique training…technique is king. You should, however, take the time to specifically strengthen your body and mind, and your spirit in the process. And don’t worry, your technique won’t suffer from a bit of excess muscle if you’ve learned well and you keep the end result in mind.
My suggestion? Start with these three:
- Skipping Rope – I skip rope in a specific way with a specific rope. With the “Thai Style” rope I’ve gotten used to (heavy rubber tubing) I’ve learned just how important it is. With it you build cardio, rhythm, shoulder endurance, smooth footwork, and most of all explosive movements derived from developing your leg as if it was a spring. This will help you in just about every way imaginable.
- Core Exercises – I can’t stress this enough…there are nothing but benefits from having a strong core, especially as martial artists. The core muscles are used for just about everything, and developing a strong core will help greatly when it comes to taking impact to the body (i.e. punches, kicks, knees).
- Body Conditioning – You don’t need to go overboard here, if anything err on the side of caution. There is a very real advantage you will gain, however, from being able to take some punishment as you enter in for your techniques. There is also a mental advantage you will have knowing what certain pains feel like, and being sure that you can handle it. This style of training is tested and proven effective.
As jujitsuka in this great Ohana we are representatives of the AJJF and of DZR as a whole. Naturally, we should strive to be the best versions of ourselves possible. Hopefully I’ve provided a tool that can help in that mission.
P.S. On a fun side note, you may also be interested to learn that you already know some Muay Boran, you just may not be aware of it yet. Check out this video for a glimpse of how similar our DZR techniques are to those I learned from the Thais nearly 8000 miles away.