Surf and jiujitsu. Blood cousins!
A few years back, Kelly Slater, without a hell of a lot of prompting, advised parents to put their kids in jiujitsu “before any other sport.”
Forget surf, get ‘em rolling. he said. It’ll teach ‘em confidence and smash their ego.
“There’s something about it that puts you in your place.”
Slater got turned onto the art of human chess and the various ways to buckle a man in 1992 on one of his first trips to Brazil; ended up getting pally with Rickson Gracie when the BJJ legend moved to California, swapping boards for private lessons.
“I wish that I had grown up training Jiujitsu,” said Slater, who would be put to the sword soon after in an ironic turn by Peter Maguire, black belt and ghost-writer of the Rickson Gracie biography Breathe.
Watch Slater roll here and below.
And, read about the great Slater-Tudor blood feud about the correct procedure re: wearing coloured belts, here.
In a piece called The Pleasures of Drowning, the American neuroscientist and author Sam Harris describes the feeling of being dominated and the breath squeezed outta your body as akin to being sunk in the ocean.
“Grappling with an expert is akin to falling into deep water without knowing how to swim. You will make a furious effort to stay afloat—and you will fail. Once you learn how to swim, however, it becomes difficult to see what the problem is—why can’t a drowning man just relax and tread water? The same inscrutable difference between lethal ignorance and lifesaving knowledge can be found on the mat: To train in BJJ is to continually drown—or, rather, to be drowned, in sudden and ingenious ways—and to be taught, again and again, how to swim.”
I’d been hearing this sorta thing for years.
I saw jiujitsu swing through Maroubra, a few beaches south of where I live, in the early two-thousands. Suddenly, at parties, squeezing a pal’s carotid’s arteries to cause a temporary hypoxia was all the rage.
“Let me put you to sleep, bruz” was a common refrain.
I was impressed enough by it I got my kid into it when he was four. It’s the only martial art where you practise, over and over over, at a hundred percent resistance. Boxing, y’gotta slow it down in training or you’re going to get brain damaged. And when you throw a punch in the street or at school, there’s a chance one of the participants is gonna end up in hospital, the other down at the police station.
Karate and the rest of it work on hypotheticals.
“Students tend to trade stereotyped attacks in a predictable sequence, stopping to reset before repeating the drill,” writes Harris. “This staccato pattern of practice, while inevitable when learning a technique for the first time, can become a mere pantomime of combat that does little to prepare a person for real encounters with violence.
By the time my kid got into his first fight ten years later he’d had roughly three thousand fight simulations. The video, kids with phones weren’t gonna miss it, is instructive.
There’s no panic. He gets low. Bigger kid tries to take him down. Sprawl. Circles to the back. Arms ring the neck. Legs hook into the other kid. Fight over. No blood spilt.
The same way Taj Burrow’s trainer Johnny Gannon used to deal with pests hassling TB. Quickly, expertly, harmlessly.
My kid’s trainer, a surfer called John Walton who’s been in the jiujitsu and fight game for thirty years, would always tell me, “Mate, it’s always offshore in the gym.”
So, a little over one year ago, now, I figured, let’s compare surfing and jiujitsu.
Are they really simpatico? Does one complement the other?
Why are so many surfers, Jack Freestone, Luke Stedman, Richie Vas, Eli Olson, Joel Tudor, Freddy Pattachia, Dustin Barca and so on, so deeply into it?
And, at a fitness level, how’s it compare to surfing?
I told Chas to do the same experiment in southern California, home of modern jiujitsu. Figured it might help him next time he gets slapped around at a trade show.
To get real tricky, we were outfitted with apparently revolutionary fitness trackers called WHOOP straps. Developed by a Harvard grad who was the captain of the college’s squash team, fittest man around town, but who couldn’t work out why some days he felt like he was going to collapse.
“I read something like 500 medical papers while I was in school, and I wrote a paper myself on how to continuously understand the human body,” he says.
Company said, write about ’em if you feel it. If you don’t, send ’em back.
Bottom line was, you want to really compare the two sports? Get some data.
“I have a good idea of what my recoveries will be and what I need to do to recover. I know that if I strain from 18 to 20 (it maxes out at 21) one day, two days in a row, then I know that I’m in need for a big recovery day.”
Can’t hurt to see what happens.
I ain’t one for watches or jewellery but this is subtle enough. It’s a black plastic rectangle affixed to a webbed band. And it’s waterproof.
It uses LED lights flashing into your wrist to measure your oxygen saturation, combining heart-rate variability, resting heart rate and sleep patterns to tell when you to work out, when to rest, as well as strain, how much sleep y’should be getting.
What I wouldn’t realise, then, was how addictive tracking data is, how it’ll seize you and turn you into a fitness loon: late-night runs, extended surfs, afternoon-long wrestling sessions, just to push your strain metric into the stratosphere. You feel tension if your numbers are ordinary.
Conversely, if you let the battery run down and it’s sitting on the charger, you have no desire to do anything. Why exert if it isn’t gonna shift the strain meter.
I also would’t realise, and didn’t think it was possible, that a new sport could steal me away from the game I’d chased and loved since I was a kid.
But that was still a few months away.
Next week: The blissful joys of hypoxia and the realisation that twinks shouldn’t roll with bears!