Putting the Academia in Academy
Being a parent has a tendency to create a shift in thinking. A repurposing of priorities is a common trait that pierces through cultures, backgrounds, and social-economic structures in a relative fashion. As parents, we all want what is best for our children, and another common focus tends to point towards the education that our children receive. There is this push/pull effect that takes place between the science and arts disciplines.
Insert Brendan Foong
A few years ago I had the opportunity to link up with Brendan Foong while he was passing through Los Angeles CA on a business trip. Brendan is a native of Singapore with an international education that spans various continents and has an executive business background. Whenever Brendan and I begin to talk about the art of jiu-jitsu, well, that’s when the real fun begins. As the founder of “The Gentle Art Academy” which happens to be Singapore’s top competitive kids’ academy, Brendan has drawn on his executive and educational experience to develop a clear systematic methodology of imparting jiu-jitsu with dramatic results. His interest in creative culture also permeates the ethos of his academy which he uses to express his unique ideas of the lifestyle of jiu-jitsu. There’s a lot to unpack here such as the way he has identified those aspects and is able to thoughtfully express those concepts in a structured method that will take, well beyond a single write up to discuss. This is why we have teamed up with Mr. Foong. To branch out and provide a steady thread of thought that will help create a vivid, more broad picture that permeates beyond the “one-two-threes” of technical movements. The more I talk with Brendan, the clearer it becomes of how well thought out these ideas are, whether you necessarily agree with them or not. Jiu-jitsu is everyone’s own personal journey that means something different. However, the foundation of anything to build from is paramount. Referencing the effective elements of Singapore’s educational methods (Singapore’s international ranking is top three in the world overall and number one in math and science in 2018 according to Pearson’s and PISA rankings), it’s clear to see that Brendan is on to something special. I had a chance to catch up with Brendan in his most recent visit to Los Angeles, and this is a portion of that conversation. This will be the first installment of what will be continuous contributions from Brendan and the path he hopes to blaze in the merger of art, science, and culture.
What drew you towards jiu-jitsu?
I started Jiu-Jitsu 13 years ago and immediately recognized the effectiveness of the techniques in combat situations. It was magical to learn the limitations and the weaknesses of the human body and also the secrets on how to exploit those weaknesses to my advantage. It is like having a superpower that no one else knows about.
Jiu-jitsu is like a never-ending puzzle that keeps you engaged. Every time you spar there are many abstract problems that need to be resolved, such as a person’s size, strength, movement, etc. As you become more experienced in jiu-jitsu, you learn to filter out the white noise and break down these problems into its most important components then apply functional solutions to solve those problems.
How are business principles and jiu-jitsu connected?
The parallel between business and jiu-jitsu is that both require clarity of thought and focus of intent. With both, you need to be able to look at the problem at hand and zero in on the root cause. Only then can you reduce the energy required to resolve it and amplify the effects of the solution.
In jiu-jitsu, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the flailing of arms and legs. To the untrained eye, everything can seem like a threat; however, as you become more experienced, you start to recognize which movements require a response and what the appropriate response should be.
Similarly, in business, many problems are not clearly defined and you are dealing with human psychology, so filtering the white noise and distilling the problem down to the root cause will allow for the appropriate actions to be undertaken. This allows for more effective and less time consuming decision making.
The Gentle Art Academy is a school that is looking to revolutionize training by taking a highly academic approach to the teaching of jiu-jitsu. We break down our teaching year into semesters where we have a specific focus for each semester in what we want to impart to our students. The semester is further broken down into weekly techniques where we emphasize mindful repetition to develop muscle memory and proficiency. We also use teaching aids such as student manuals, technique videos, and regular internal seminars to supplement our standard syllabus.
We are highly focused on concepts, and we place a heavy emphasis on students to understand base, balance and leverage, in turn teaching the students to teach themselves and also learn how to recognize good and bad positions in advance. For instance, a lot of typical beginner students ask questions like, “how do I get out of an armbar?” or “how do I stop from getting swept?” Students are encouraged to learn and understand the warning signs of impending sweeps and submissions, so they avoid getting into these poor positions to begin with.
We take teaching of Kids Jiu-Jitsu very seriously and our results speak for themselves where we are the top competitive Kids Jiu-Jitsu school in Singapore. The teaching of kids is serious business and we never treat classes as babysitting or non jiu-jitsu related playtime. For us, every minute of the class has to be working towards improving the child’s jiu-jitsu skills, and we are constantly reviewing and tweaking the classes to ensure that the students are absorbing and constantly leveling up.
This is obviously only possible with highly passionate coaches who invest a lot of time and effort into the training of the students and are always ready to help with tips after sparring.
What are your aesthetic influences?
The Gentle Art Academy design is influenced by minimalism and Japanese streetwear aesthetic. We’ve organized art shows and exhibitions and have done work with Chris Haueter, DualForces and Shoyoroll. We see the unlimited creativity of Jiu-Jitsu as an inspiration for art and design and we would like to contribute to the energy in this burgeoning area. We hope to continue to collaborate with creative individuals and bring jiu-jitsu into mainstream consciousness.
What are your jiu-jitsu influences?
I am a fan of highly technical but fundamental players such as Demian Maia, Chris Haueter, and Lucas Leite. Their cerebral approach to jiu-jitsu allows them to continue to perform at a high level through the years by relying on strong fundamentals and techniques.
I am a big believer in the Chris Haueter philosophy of Think Street, Train Sport, Practice Art. We should never forget the jiu-itsu origins of combat and always be ready to defend ourselves in street situations off the mats.
What do you hope to achieve with The Gentle Art and teaching Jiu-Jitsu?
We hope to make The Gentle Art Academy the Harvard school of Jiu-Jitsu, where there is a disciplined and thorough approach to teaching, a comprehensive syllabus which ensures strong basics and a proper progression up the layers of complexity.
The Gentle Art Academy has two main goals. Firstly it is to impart the qualities of confidence, resilience, and resourcefulness in our students. Secondly, we aim to get our students ready for the 2020 World Championships and beyond.
What will you be sharing with JJM in the coming articles?
I will be contributing to JJM on a range of topics such as Business Philosophies, and how they relate to Jiu-Jitsu, tips on running a successful academy, updates on the jiu-jitsu scene in Asia and analysis of the cultural impact jiu-jitsu and streetwear have on each other to name a few.
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