Jiu-Jitsu, Cops, and Schemas

Written by Jeff Moore, ‘The Ginja Ninja’


I’ve written about the psychology concept of schemas before.  They’re basically shortcuts our mind creates to make life easier so we don’t have to think out every single action we do every single time we do them.  As we regularly complete a complex series of tasks over and over, our mind does us a huge favor  and simplifies the complex task in to a “prepackaged” simple action, i.e. a baby learning to walk.

I hadn’t considered the application of schemas to jiujitsu until a cop buddy of mine was prefacing a series of techniques with a schema-related concept prior to teaching how some techniques flow in to other techniques, e.g. the armlock from guard transitions to the triangle choke, and the triangle transitions to the omoplata, and back again.

To illustrate the concept, he began describing a situation in which an aggressive suspect made a move to attack.  He told me he instantaneously and instinctively drew his firearm and leveled it at the attacking suspect a half beat before his conscious mind realized he’d done so.  His swift action caused the suspect to stand down, and no lethal force was used.

Years of repetition had enabled John to instantaneously perceive a threat, perceive it as potentially deadly and in need of potentially lethal force, remove his pistol from his holster, properly aim the pistol at the threat, and then pause before squeezing off a round to reassess the threat.  If he had to think through each of those steps, his actions would have been significantly slower and his life and subsequently the suspect’s life could have gone very different paths.  His schema, based off countless training scenarios and real world application, worked well.

Well, it works the same in jiujitsu, but with obviously much less dire consequences.  The reason people get really good at jiujitsu has everything to do with schemas!  A lot of factors go in to making a jiujitsu technique work against a resisting opponent.  Awareness is huge, as two people grappling certainly can create a fairly tangled, confusing web of limbs.

nogi grappling

For instance, to pull off an arm lock against a resisting opponent, I have to consider what my left arm is doing, what my right arm is doing, where my left leg is, and where my right leg is.  I also have to consider where each of my opponent’s respective limbs are.  Furthermore, I have to consider where my opponent’s limbs are in respect to my own limbs at any given moment.  Body positioning, weight distribution, and body angles all have to be considered.  Timing of technique, knowing when to apply the technique, knowing when to not apply the technique, and knowing how to even get in the position to execute the technique are all factors.  Finally, doing all of these things instantaneously while simultaneously being aware of your opponent’s attempts at defending as well as possibly what your opponent is trying to do to you in return makes a seemingly simple technique infinitely complex to a beginner.

Through years of drilling, practice, and live application, the complex series of tasks necessary to arm lock somebody gets prepackaged in to a nice little schema.  It becomes automatic.  It is my “Arm Lock Schema.”  Put in a slightly different situation, I have a “Triangle Schema,” and then a slightly different situation from the previous, and my “Omoplata” schema activates.

John was just teaching us to loop those schemas together, ultimately leading to the real life ninja shit of the Arm Lock/Triangle/Omoplata Schema. 

Resolving to be More Functionally Unfunctional

by Arlo Gagestein

With the coming of the new year, many lives are filled with often fitness related resolutions. I too have some gym goals for the year (see, even fitness professionals do it!). Like most resolutions, time quickly erases them from our memories, and next year we find ourselves re-evaluating and either recommitting, or deciding the goal wasn’t worth the effort and we should pursue something new.

Last year I hit some goals and missed some goals. I did finally run a trail marathon in September, so check that one off the list. However, running is on my New Year’s list again this year. Everyone who knows how much I despise running will be very proud to know I have thus far stuck with my goal with unwavering resolve this year. On January 1st I ran 40 seconds on the treadmill, and yesterday I hit 45 seconds.

The only thing more shocking than running on my list is my second and infinitely more important goal for 2016. I am going to do more biceps curls. Depending how well you know me, this may or may not seem like a big deal. Let me put it in perspective by disclosing that in the 11 years I have owned my own gym, I have done bicep curls less than a dozen times. Part of it stems from my belief that doing exercises for aesthetic reasons only is silly. I have always been a firm believer that if I train for performance, my sex appeal should remain sufficient without adding “curls for the girls” (besides, I’m happily married already). Also, until now, I have believed that biceps curls were far from functional. Complex, multi-joint movements are more similar to actions our body does in real life and will do much more to improve athletic performance. If I’m doing chin-ups, pull-ups, and rows, my biceps shouldn’t need extra attention. Even some complex movements such as the bench press, the supposed “king of upper body exercises”  haven’t seemed particularly functional. When in sports will a person lay on their back and push something off of themselves?

Over the past couple years, everything I though I knew about sports performance has been destroyed. My world has been shattered. I have been both enlightened and confused to the point of tears that my sport of choice, and in my opinion the MOST FUNCTIONAL martial art, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, is from a training standpoint, largely UN-FUNCTIONAL! It all started with the bench press. When would I ever lay on my back and push something off of me? Oh wait…that’s Jiu-Jitsu. The stupid leg curl machine (FYI, hip extension is a much more important function of the hamstring than knee flexion)…? Hmm, resisting kneebars, finishing triangles and armbars, keeping a closed guard…yeah, again, Jiu-Jitsu. Bicep curls, the most un-functional single joint exercise known to man? Resisting armbars and finishing chokes. Yep, Jiu-Jitsu. Joint by joint, exercise by exercise, a fellow Meathead Jiu-Jitsu (if you haven’t heard of that style you will) practitioner and I went through the functional uses of non-functional exercises. I buried the knowledge deep within, content to fake ignorance and continue on in my functional training ways.

Then, I made two startling discoveries that will change the direction of my life forever.

1.  While doing chin-ups recently, I realized my biceps fatigued much faster than my back and were actually substantially limiting the number of chin-ups I could do. While this should give me plenty of reason to work biceps, it alone might not have been enough. Reason #2 however, made me realize what a desperate situation I’m in!

2.  In October, my physical therapist pointed out that I have horrible elbow range of motion. Unfortunately it is a bony restriction rather than tight muscles (or restricted fascia for those in the know), so it’s not going to be an easy fix.  For 6 years now I have been struggling to finish guillotine chokes and suddenly it all made sense. I knew I didn’t have the mobility to front squat worth beans, but didn’t make the connection to my Jiu-Jitsu game. Compare these pictures, the traditional selfie pose (1st photo) and me trying as hard as I can to bend my elbow (2nd photo):


My traditional selfie pose.

Straining for all I'm worth to bend my elbow.

I know, it’s the same, right. Now it’s about to get crazy. Check out these pictures of the guy who routinely catches me in a North South Choke:

The selfie pose.


Now, several things should be blatantly obvious. 1) He has much bigger biceps than I do. 2) My wrist is daintier though. 3) If my neck is wedged between his biceps and his forearm, I will go to sleep much faster than he will if his neck is loosely fitted between my biceps and forearm.

Now, not only is it a tighter fit, while caught in a particular choke last week  I thought I was okay until the above pictured arm flexed and I immediately had to tap. It was uncanny how much tighter the choke got when the muscle contracted. So, back to my resolution. Putting two and two together I immediately knew what has to happen. I need bigger biceps. Without full range of motion at the elbow joint, I need a giant mass of muscle to close the gap to effectively choke people out.

So, there it is. My main motivation for my most important New Year’s resolution to choke people. Is that wrong? Who cares, I’m gonna go work the GUNZ!!