Do you remember your algebra and geometry classes from high school? Or, if you were on the cutting edge, middle school? Or (again), if you were perhaps like me (on the dull edge), in college? Well, if you remember these things from any school, you may remember that they have many parts, such as elementary algebra, abstract algebra and euclidean geometry. There’s also algebraic theory and those little constants and theorems we so fondly remember as “pi” and “pythagorean.” I was never much of a math student, so I’m not going to pretend to get into this stuff, but what I do want to mention is that what I recall about my classes is that we oftentimes didn’t reinvent the wheel. In lower level mathematics, we simply built off the foundation that had already been discovered. We didn’t “create” or “invent.” We learned and repeated. But we didn’t repeat without cause – if we had a good instructor, we repeated after, and only after, understanding the reason we were repeating.

I’ll confess that I failed any and every math course from 8th grade all the way into community college. That wasn’t for the lack of trying, I’ll assure you that. It was for the lack of instruction. Not until a remedial algebra course did I pull a C and until a basic algebra course almost a year later did I pull an A. Before and in between, all Fs. Did you read that correctly? All Fs. I failed and failed and failed again. All because of the instructors I happened to receive at the time of registration. Not one of those instructors could answer the most basic question I had from day one. I bet you can guess the question I had – it’s the same question I have every time I sit in a Jiu-Jitsu class or watch a Jiu-Jitsu video. The question is “Why?”

Man, I remember those days. My mother would try to tutor me out on our porch and she would say things like, “Jay, what you do to one side you always have to do to the other.” I was like, “Okay, but why would I want to do that?” She would get red in the face because she had already repeated her statement about ten times and she figured that if she said it just one more time, but this time with real genuine sincerity, I would understand the concept.

“JAY, WHAT YOU DO TO ONE SIDE, YOU ALWAYS HAVE TO DO TO THE OTHER!”

“THAT’S FINE MA, BUT WHY?”

I mean, seriously. You don’t just “do” things in life. What did these people think I was, some sort of programmed machine? Back then, I didn’t “do” things and I still don’t.

That way of learning didn’t make sense in those days and it still doesn’t make sense today. It’s like talking louder to a blind person. Perhaps if you say things really clearly, you’ll help them see.

Later on in life, I realized that all my mother and my instructors had to do was to spend just a few minutes of their day to sit with me and help me understand just a tad bit of history. Help me gather the facts that I needed to have some sort of a timeline of where algebra began, where it’s been and what it was that day. Tell me about those constants and theorems I mentioned above. Educate me about the inner workings of mathematics and inform me of the work others had already done – the work I needn’t rediscover. Others had already labored over the thinking required that would allow me to simply apply their models to the simple teachings I was attempting to undertake. If my mother and my instructors had bothered to go down this route instead of “teaching by force,” I sure would’ve had a simpler time come later on.

What I’m trying to say here in not so many words, is that in mathematics, we build off the theories, principles and concepts others before us have developed. But even though they’ve already been devised, we certainly can’t relieve ourselves from understanding what led them from one point to another.

But how does this relate to Jiu-Jitsu? You may ask. And I’m glad you did ask because there’s an important point in all this. A point I can only explain by demonstration.

Say, for instance, that the mathematical constant “pi” had been discovered, but you refused to listen to your math instructor and use it. Say your instructor badgered you day in and day out and told you that all you needed to do to find the circumference of a circle was to measure its diameter and apply a simple equation. “The work has already been done for you.” she would say. “Why go through all the trouble?”

But, you would refuse to listen and during every test, the instructor would watch you creating little drawings on your paper, trying to line up the string you brought to class in your pocket with it. You’d coil the string on your paper as accurately as possible and then straighten it our and measure it. Oftentimes you were close to the correct result, but you were never quite there. You would try and try and try again through, but never succeed.

Now, say that you were the same kind of Jiu-Jitsu student. Say that you refused to listen to your instructor’s teachings and apply the learned “constants” of others before you. Say (and we’ll use the straight line theory I’ve already discussed here) that all you wanted to focus on was “techniques” instead of real Jiu-Jitsu fundamentals. You would struggle and fight needlessly in an otherwise calm and subdued world. While all you needed to do was to see where you were, know where you were going and apply the principles that someone else has already created for you.

The problem is, if you were this kind of Jiu-Jitsu player (as I am), you’d probably want to know “why” you were being told to do something and before you gave in to the teaching, you’d need an answer. Until then, you’d be quite content struggling through your own methodology.

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