The Triumph of Human Intelligence Over Brute Strength

Jiu Jitsu represents the triumph of human intelligence over brute strength.”
— Helio Gracie

Helio Gracie is the founder of the famous martial art, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. His son, Rorion Gracie, was my father's first teacher in Jiu Jitsu and the creator of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

Helio's quote above is one of my all-time favorites, and this past Winter Break I even had it put on the wall in our academy. The thing is though, when people see this quote and the word "triumph" or are told that martial arts teach smaller people how to overcome someone bigger and stronger than them, they tend to think that "triumph" or "overcome" means "to dominate".

If you watch any footage of Helio Gracie fighting, you will see something much different.

In the following fight, notice how Helio is thrown like a rag doll a couple of times before finally securing a move that will render his opponent unconscious and win him the match. This match is narrated by Helio's son, Rorion.

You see, the primary goal of Jiu Jitsu is just to survive against your attacker. Ideally, that would end with you choking them unconscious so you can get up and get home safely, but it may be just protecting yourself until help arrives, or until such time that you can run away.

Recently, I heard of a scenario in which an untrained male (internet troll) is claiming that he could defeat female mixed martial arts fighters because of how much stronger and faster the average man is. A female MMA fighter decided to take him up on the challenge, and it was held at an academy (as such a match would probably never be sanctioned by any organization).

Take a look:


As a martial arts instructor, I have seen this exact scenario play out multiple times. We get the opportunity to see our female students, smaller male students, older students, or any of our students for that matter, train with brand new students who are just getting started.

When I was a kid, I witnessed my Mom choke out a local wrestling coach with the same choke Helio used in the above video. 

I remember at age 18 watching my wife (girlfriend at the time), control a man that outweighed her by at least 80 pounds (of muscle). He started the match telling her that he was not going to use his strength. About midway through the match, he said, "I take it back, I'm going to use my strength." It didn't help.

You see it isn't that size, strength, and speed don't matter. They certainly do, as we've touched on many times on this blog before. It's just that they CAN be overcome with training.

One of the key takeaways from the video above is how quickly the in-shape male runs out of gas. An untrained opponent is not conditioned to fighting the same way as someone trained will be. In fact, not even close.

I will always remember a student coming to train at our school here in Knoxville when I was a teenager. He was an Olympic marathon runner, sponsored by Adidas. Arguably, one of the most "in-shape" athletes on the planet. He can run 26 miles faster than almost anyone else alive. BUT, within 30 seconds to a minute of grappling, he was utterly exhausted - just like every other person that begins training in Jiu Jitsu. This alone is one of the most important reasons to train.

Solely by training martial arts on a regular basis, you are preparing yourself physically and mentally for an altercation that your opponent will be grossly underprepared for if they do not train. We will teach you to weather the storm, and when their gas runs out, your opportunity to come out on top or to get away will present itself.

The funny thing is, in the interview after the match, the man states that it went about the way he expected and that he dominated until he gassed. What he should have said is that he dominated until she dominated! While his strength and speed allowed him to win the early exchanges, it quickly deteriorated, to the point that he actually tapped out to the exhaustion. That means he gave up (defeated both physically and mentally) due to just exhaustion - not from being hit or submitted by something like a choke.

At the beginning of this post I mentioned Rorion Gracie creating the UFC. Well that was now 25 years ago. At this past weekend's UFC event (the two hundred and twentieth event), we got to witness this exact scenario play out.

In the main event for the Undisputed Heavyweight Championship of the world, Stipe Miocic weathered the storm of the fearsome striker, Francis Ngannou, to keep the belt and remain the UFC Heavyweight Champion. In the process, he set a new record for Heavyweight title defenses (3). The strikers are so powerful in this division, the fighters have an extremely difficult time keeping the belt for very long before someone else comes along and knocks them out.

Francis Ngannou was promoted as the most fearsome Heavyweight to ever step into the octagon with the most powerful punch ever recorded at the UFC Performance Institute. In his last fight, Ngannou knocked his opponent out with one punch - an uppercut so hard that his opponent was lifted off of his feet by the punch.

Ngannou came out swinging this fight too but had run into an opponent with a gameplan to avoid Ngannou's punches, use his wrestling and Jiu Jitsu to get the fight to the ground, and control him. Despite Ngannou's 20-pound weight advantage, he was unable to escape from underneath Miocic. He had zapped all of his energy trying to knock Miocic out and defending against the grappling positions with a lack of technique (he is still relatively new to the sport). 

The fatigue allowed Miocic to cruise to his 3rd title defense, but gave the rest of us another clean example of overcoming strength. 

Demian Maia vs. Tyron Woodley - What the Commentators Left Out and Why the UFC Doesn’t Deserve Him

Demian Maia is a Mixed Martial Arts fighter of a rare breed in 2017. He is a specialist in a time when specialists are hard to find in the UFC. That means he’s an expert in one particular area of the fight - for him that area is on the ground. His forte is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which primarily focuses on controlling an opponent on the ground, and Demian is one of the best in the world at it. 

Hang with me through a long post, as I’d like to introduce you to Demain Maia, for those that don’t know much about him, and then break down some key takeaways from his fight last night for the UFC world championship.

In 2007, Demian won the ADCC World Championships, one of the most prestigious grappling tournaments and considered by many to be the toughest championship to win. That same year he made his debut in the Ultimate Fighting Championship and began a ten-year display of some of the best grappling ever to be shown inside the octagon.

The UFC was started by the Gracie family (the same family that created Brazilian Jiu Jitsu by adapting Japanese Jiu Jitsu to make it their own) as a way to showcase Jiu Jitsu versus other martial arts. In the early events, it was dominated by grapplers, like Royce Gracie, and the world was sent an obvious message - you have to know Jiu Jitsu.

Now, you cannot find a single fighter on the UFC roster that does not train Jiu Jitsu. With the secret being out, stand up fighters began to slowly take over the sport as they developed better and better tactics to neutralize the attacks on the ground, and keep the fight standing up, and the champions all started to have very similar styles - a potent mixture of striking and grappling.

While Demain Maia also trains stand up arts to learn all aspects of the fight, he has stated that his game plan is always to use his Jiu Jitsu. He is a specialist and looks to get the fight to the ground where he can neutralize his opponents’ strikes, control them, and hopefully finish the fight with a submission such as the Rear Naked Choke (“Mata Leao”) shown in the fight below.

While he makes a living fighting mixed martial arts, Demian distances himself from some of the more negative aspects of the sport: the onlookers who are only interested in seeing a blood bath, the unsportsmanlike and overly cocky attitudes, and the constant trash talk. Instead, he treats everyone around him with respect, including his opponents. He is confident in himself but humble. And intends NOT to hurt his opponent!

A lot of jiu-jitsu is based around the idea of not hurting people. Jiu-jitsu gives people an option to tap or submit. The intention is not to hurt or punish the opponent. They are given a choice to stop that. That’s what I try and do in my fights. I try and represent jiu-jitsu to the best of my ability and to show the philosophy of the art. I don’t like to hurt people.
— Demian Maia

The UFC is a business, and to make more money they have to entertain their fans and get people to watch the fights. Over the last couple of decades, a successful formula has developed in which fighters talk trash to build hype and excitement for their fights. Much of the respect, humility, and kindness that was traditionally taught in the martial arts is not present in the UFC culture as fighting and making money has become more important than sportsmanship and similar values.

Last night, Demian Maia challenged Tyron Woodley for the Welterweight title in the UFC. This fight was the culmination of years of hard work and a seven fight win streak (the current longest in the division) for Demian. Along the way, he took down and submitted the best fighters in his weight class but was passed up over and over again for a title shot because he is the antithesis to what the UFC is looking for as stated above. He doesn’t talk trash; he even said that he doesn’t try to hurt his opponents, and that is not the type of fighter that the UFC promotes (though I wish it were!).

In last night's fight, Tyron won via unanimous decision and based on the scorecards and the comments made by the commentators, Joe Rogan and Dominic Cruz, and the media, you would think that Tyron decisively won the fight. Before I go any further, let me say that I understand this is a business and that making exciting fights will entice fans to buy pay-per-views which creates a need for the scoring system to reward what would make an exciting fight. 

Regardless, I watch the matches as a martial arts instructor and look to take away as many lessons on fighting as possible, and I think there are some important ones here that Demian did well (as did Tyron), but the commentators only talked about Tyron’s success.

Dominick Cruz criticizing Demian’s “wrestling.”

Throughout the fight, Demian shot in to take Tyron down 21 times and wasn’t successful at getting his opponent to the ground on a single attempt. This was obviously a job well done by Woodley. He did his homework on Demian’s takedown strategy and shut it down perfectly. Using a combination of his back against the cage, well-timed sprawls, and turning and pulling his leg free anytime Demian was close on a single leg attempt, he kept the fight standing for the entire 25 minutes.

Now, while this was going on, Dominick Cruz was pointing out some things that he thought Demian could do better with his wrestling to get Tyron to the floor. Dominick has had a lot of success in the UFC, and is very knowledgeable in the fighting game, but so is Demian. My problem with Dominick’s style of commentating is that he tends to point out what he thinks one fighter is doing wrong rather than what the other fighter is doing right. I disagree with that approach because the fact that something works one way for one fighter does not necessarily mean that is the “right” way to do things, and all fighters should do it that way.

Last night, Dominick made the comment that Demian is not following through on his shot attempts and that he needs to keep driving through his opponent to finish the takedown. He said, “that’s wrestling 101.” And he’s right. BUT Demian is not a wrestler, he is a Jiu Jitsu fighter and one of the best to ever compete in the UFC. He trains wrestling to improve his takedowns and takedown defense, but if you look at the success he has had thus far, it is not by using “wrestling 101.” He doesn’t usually drive through his opponents to get them down, and one of the reasons is his body.

If you look at Demian Maia and Tyron Woodley side by side you will notice a taller, leaner Demian Maia, and a shorter, stockier, Tyron Woodley. Tyron is extremely muscular, explosive, and powerful. Woodley is a wrestler and has the body necessary to drive through his opponents and follow through on his takedowns with ease. Demain does not, at least not with ease on a strong wrestler like Woodley.

I know this because I have a similar build to Demian Maia. I wrestled in high school and had a much harder time with it than I did with Jiu Jitsu. In Jiu Jitsu, you don’t need the pure athleticism that you do in wrestling. While both grappling styles are technical, wrestling is much more built around explosiveness, and Jiu Jitsu is much more based on control.

In another martial art, Kenpo, five animals are used to showcase the different characteristics and styles that a martial artist can implement. In this fight, Tyron Woodley would be a Tiger, and Demian Maia would be a snake. Tyron has the explosive power to charge forward and quickly take out an opponent, and Demian has the strength of an anaconda to wrap his opponents up and control them (or choke them!).

So when Dominick Cruz criticizes Demian for not wrestling the way a wrestler would, I’d have to say that he’s right, but it’s because that’s not the style of fighting that works for him. The fight video above is Demian in the middle of his 7-fight win streak where you can see his Jiu Jitsu in action, and the way he typically has success getting his opponents to the ground.

Demian shoots in on his opponents, but rather than drive through to finish like a wrestler, he latches on and either drags them down to the ground with him or even pulls them on top of him. His goal is just to get them close. Then he can go to work.

Both Commentators Calling for Demian to Throw High Kicks

As the fight went on, the commentators began to try to come up with things Demian could seek to do to have more success. At one point they began calling for Demian to throw some high round kicks to the head of Woodley.

Their argument was solid in that Demian needed to try to mix things up because apparently Tyron was prepared for Demian’s game plan. They stated that since he isn’t afraid of getting taken down, there was no risk in throwing kicks and that in fact, it would be a gift if Tyron decided to catch Demian’s kick and take him down. This is true, but what they are forgetting is that while half of Demian’s gameplan was to get the fight to the ground, the other half was to control the distance on the feet and ensure that Tyron could not strike effectively.

The most important rule in the fight is to control the distance, and Demian did it beautifully in last night’s loss. He maintained a range in which Tyron could not reach him to land his notoriously powerful punches that have knocked out some of the best fighters in the division. He did this by calmly moving out of punching range or closing the distance with a takedown attempt anytime Tyron came forward with an attempt to strike.

Throwing a high round kick while trying to control the distance can be risky in that you could be caught standing on one foot and your opponent could seize that opportunity to finally close the distance and land a big punch while you are unable to retreat effectively or shoot. This is especially true with a round kick because since the kick travels around the side, it would allow the opponent to move straight forward past the kick and close the distance. Especially with Woodley’s speed and 2-inch reach advantage!

Discussing Tyron Shutting Down Demian’s Game But Not Demian Shutting Down Tyron’s

Lastly, the commentators highlighted well that Tyron was shutting down Demian’s gameplan by stopping all 21 takedown attempts and keeping the fight standing up. And since it was a unanimous decision from the judges, they apparently felt the same way.

However, I’d like to argue that Demian shut down Tyron’s game effectively as well. As stated above, he controlled the distance very well and didn’t allow Tyron to effectively strike, evidenced by the fans booing Woodley as soon as his name was announced as the winner. The fans were frustrated because of the lack of effectiveness Tyron had on his feet. He did a superb job keeping it on the feet, but then could not execute there effectively.

In the post fight press conference, Dana White was extremely critical of Tyron Woodley’s performance and much like Dominick was doing to Demian Maia as discussed above, Dana was discussing what he thought Tyron was doing wrong rather than what Demian was doing right.

Tyron did not strike effectively because anytime he began to commit to his striking, Demian would shoot in for a takedown. You could argue that while Demian didn’t manage to get the fight to the ground, his takedowns were extremely effective because of what they did. They allowed him to control the distance. 

Demian did a phenomenal job controlling the distance, Tyron did a phenomenal job at stopping the takedowns, and Tyron was able to inflict slightly more damage which is surely what secured him the win on the judge’s cards. Dana White was overly critical and said Woodley should be embarrassed, going as far to say that “it couldn’t be a worse performance.” I disagree, I thought Woodley did a great job staying composed and not falling into the trap that could have landed him on the ground with Maia, not to mention he defended 21 takedowns!

As a martial artist, I enjoy watching someone like Demian Maia fight more than anyone else. He fights efficiently, with incredible technique, and doesn’t look physically imposing. To acquire the skills you see Demian Maia using, you only need to train martial arts for many years. You don’t have to be naturally gifted with athleticism or power, but if you are, the martial arts can provide you with a fighting style that fits you too! The five animals of Kenpo that we mentioned above are the Tiger, Snake, Crane, Leopard, and Dragon. All five are very different, but all can fight effectively. 

Most importantly, I love that Demian Maia carries himself like a true martial artist with respect and humility in both victory and defeat. The UFC really doesn’t deserve him, but I’m glad he’s there so that my children still have some genuine martial artists to watch fight.

The Importance of Martial Arts Training for Children

The following is an excerpt from a letter by Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States, to the President's Conference on the Fitness of American Youth, June 16, 1956:

"We tend to overlook one important fundamental which you emphasized:

That national policies will be no more than words if our people are not healthy of body, as well as of mind, putting dynamism and leadership into the carrying out of major decisions. Our young people must be physically as well as mentally and spiritually prepared for American citizenship."

Well, I guess he made this blog post easy! 

Martial arts and hand to hand combat are some of the oldest forms of activity that we have on record. We are even pretty confident that athletic events like wrestling have existed since the stone age men. They had to figure out how to use strength and skill to provide for themselves, and thus physical combat was necessary for survival.

When you look back in history, you will see close range struggles from the Egyptians to the Greeks, and the Assyrians to the Japanese. Before warfare developed to include long range weaponry, victory came to the strongest people that knew how to fight. Things like courage, bravery, self-respect, strength, and athleticism were encouraged and often necessary. 

Fast forward hundreds and thousands of years to the United States of America (and many other developed countries) and you will find a country full of individuals who expect to be protected. We assume that nothing bad will happen to us. The police protect us from the bad guys. The military protects us from invading countries. Even those in the military have said that they feel protected from hand to hand combat because of their weapons, drones, and machinery.

While all of these things are partially correct, the world is still full of individuals who can cause harm to you or your family, and there will not always be someone or something there to protect you.

Martial arts training is an incredible way to prepare a child (or and adult!) for combat, as well as for life. Due to its rigorous nature, a child growing up in the martial arts must learn to overcome failure and develop coordination, poise, and efficient use of their body. The physical and psychological benefits are tremendous.

At our academy, we introduce a student to the difficulties they will face in the martial arts gradually so that even the shyest and most timid boy or girl has a chance to overcome their fears and benefit from the practice of the arts.

For example, a student will practice defending against a strike in the air before doing it with a partner. Then a student will learn to defend against strikes to their body, before dealing with strikes to their face or head. This training allows the confidence to build gradually, so they have the tools to overcome anything.

Learning to grapple against other kids develops physical attributes that you see many other species in the animal kingdom develop in their youth. Imagine a couple of bear cubs wrestling with each other. This training will produce mental preparedness for other challenges through youth and adulthood such as bullies, social hierarchy, joining the workforce, and handling themselves with confidence and patience in arguments. Most importantly this hones their self-discipline and self-reliance.

Competing in the martial arts, like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, brings out essential qualities such as the drive to succeed and learn from failure, strong moral fiber, and courage.

We see children that may have been previously labeled as awkward, weak, or shy overcome their fears and develop their weaknesses. We don't change their personality, but allow them to highlight their positive attributes and strengthen their weaknesses.

Unfortunately, many children stop training martial arts during their teenage years due to other aspects of their lives competing for their attention, such as sports, extracurricular activities, friends, dating, driving, and even jobs. This timeframe is an ideal time to teach young men and women martial arts, especially competitive sports such as wrestling and jiu jitsu because this is such a formative period in their lives.

While team sports offer significant benefits as well, the individual nature of martial arts gives the student an opportunity for self-expression that may not be available in other activities. And while their training partners and teachers are vital components of their training, once they enter a match with another student or opponent, the outcome is entirely in their hands. 

In a fight, there are not any timeouts when it gets tough, and the battle must be won with a student's intelligence, skill, and pure determination. Martial arts training will teach your child to take the initiative in stressful situations and control their body in physically demanding situations. It will provide them with mental alertness, physical toughness, and the courage to get back up when they fall.

I remember Ryron Gracie stating once that there are two activities that his children will not have a choice in learning and practicing - swimming and martial arts. About 70% of the earth's surface is water-covered, and thus children should learn to swim. Over 7 billion people are living on this earth, and thus children should learn how to defend themselves.

The need stated by the president above is even more evident in today's world than it was in his time (although I wasn't around then to be sure). I'll leave you with our mission statement at Progressive Martial Arts Academy:

1. To enrich our students' lives through the study of martial arts.

2. To strengthen our community by developing the character of our young students.

3. To uphold and pass on the techniques, traditions, and philosophies of the martial arts as taught to us.

4. To present a progressive martial arts curriculum and fighting style in a safe manner, with respect for all individuals, resulting in a calm, confident, and courageous student.

Please share with someone who needs to get their kids into martial arts!