There’s a certain mystique that surrounds Rickson Gracie, much of that aura can be attributed to what he calls “invisible” jiu-jitsu. It’s the jiu-jitsu that you cannot see, but you can feel. Having had the pleasure of being the “demonstration dummy” with Rickson, I can personally attest to the powers of his unique brand of invisible jiu-jitsu. About a year ago I had the chance to roll with Henry Akins. Henry is the third American to have earned his black belt under Rickson Gracie. Henry teaches the fundamentals, as well as the finer points of invisible jiu-jitsu. The first time we met Henry, the purpose was to learn the concept of weight distribution. The interviews and the training with Henry that allowed me to write that article (Issue 19) have had a profound impact on my own jiu-jitsu. Just that one element, weight distribution, has changed my approach to my side control, mount, and some bottom positions. Even a year later I feel like an absolute novice employing this concept. So, when the opportunity arose to train with Henry again and learn the concept of “connection,” I jumped at the chance.
Henry explains the idea of connection this way, “The idea of connection is at the essence of what Rickson calls “invisible” jiu-jitsu. At the core level of jiu-jitsu that’s all we’re trying to do. The connection is what enables us to be effective. The connection is the ability to transfer your energy to another person so that when you move, your opponent feels the effects of it.”
In this article Henry is going to tell us about the core elements of connection and illustrate some of the finer points during various examples. I will do my absolute best to explain each one in words however, if there were ever an article meant for video, it’s this one. Head on over to our new website, jiujitsumag.com, to see the videos associated with this article.
The Broad Concept
Think of connection as being fused with your partner. Think of the scene in any sci-fi movie where the alien comes down to earth and he places his hand on top of the human’s head. There’s that point that’s beyond just simple touch where the hand melds to the head and the alien is downloading every memory, every thought, experience, etc. That’s connection; it’s not just contact. In jiu-jitsu, at the highest level of connection, it would be like being so connected with your opponent that you can feel or sense their movement even before their intention is visible. You’d feel the muscles tightening before they fire. Of course, that would be a huge upper hand for the person realizing the intentions before they happen. On a simpler level, connection would be having no slack in your grips of your holds. You can grab someone’s sleeve and have a good grip of the fabric, but that slack between their arm and your fingers is different than having a grip so tight there’s no slack in the gi and your clenched fist is against their elbow. There’s no room for them to move without you having something to say about it.
During my time with Henry on this subject it was amazing how simple some of the minor adjustments he made were. Many of which I do already, but not consciously knowing it. After our session I went back to my own training and focused solely on recognizing connection versus contact, when I could employ the concept, and when I was missing an opportunity. This simple idea has brought me back down to feeling like an absolute beginner as I look to expand my jiu-jitsu with the recognition and use of this concept. So, let’s get on with some of Henry’s examples of connection in use.
To illustrate connection while standing the two of us squared up face-to-face and Henry placed his hand on my shoulder. He asked me to walk towards him. His common neutral stance was easy for me to progress into, causing him to take a step back as I pushed forward. When Henry made a connection to my shoulder, with the same stance, he started by anchoring his feet to the ground by slightly shifting his weight to his forward foot. His muscles tensed to be in a state of readiness to apply more weight distribution to his forward foot, anticipating that I would come towards him. The tightening of his body made it nearly impossible for me to move him from his position when I walked towards him with the same amount of force, or any force for that matter. Henry essentially took all the slack out of his body so that the moment he felt the application of force, his resistance was immediate. The harder I pushed the more planted he was.
Application: The obvious application for this is in a tournament situation or any sparring starting from standing. Even though we might be amped on adrenaline and in our minds, ready for anything, it’s plain to see that this idea is not in use during most matches. When we see two competitors pulling and pushing each other around the mats the story might be different if one were to connect to the other. The other application is in a self-defense situation. Maybe you’re in a crowded environment and you’ve got your 95-year-old grandmother trying to make her way behind you, or a young child. The crowd is pushing towards you and them. Making connection might help avoid a disaster.