Saturday, March 19, 2011

Salsa lessons for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

I sat last night, watching PrettyVoicedInstructor rolling with a very talented blue. I'd seen him spar many times, but it was different this time. The match moved fluidly and didn't stop to rest or think. It was fast, but neither hurried, panicked nor forceful. It was the first match I'd seen in person that looked like an actual dance. It was pretty. I don't think everyone's jiu jitsu is, or even can be pretty, but his is and often are. The most amazing part is that rolling with him, you can feel the fluidity and even a masculine grace.

I just finished reading Clinzy's post on winning. Only recently, have I started to feel glimpses of the flow and freedom that I used to experience when dancing salsa. The first time I experienced it then was about three years in and one year before my dance zenith in China with the guy in the video below. It was a trip to South Carolina to visit my cousin and I dropped in to a local salsa club to check out the scene. I was feeling bold being the "mystery salsera" and decided to ask the resident instructor for a dance. He was more than willing, even offering to learn the style that I was most comfortable in. It was an amazing, inspirational, playful, seductive dance to Marc Anthony's Tu Amor Me Hace Bien (a sweet, light hearted, yet powerful song). It went down as the best dance I'd ever had. Thanks Joel.

Dancing salsa...I danced socially for four years, which isn't very long in the grand scheme of things, but it was long enough to learn that it's a dance of flirtation, communication, playfulness, seduction, spontaneity, skill and interpretation. I've made comparisons since the beginning, and the longer I do BJJ, the less similar they seem, but the more I see them both drawing on similar parts of me as a practitioner. There are a few things that I learned in salsa that I believe tie into staying away from the trap of "need-to-win-based" stagnation that, from what I hear, is a big problem for quite a few people that practice.

1) It's about communication. Sure, you can impress people around you and even your partner, but at the end of the day, you have a living, breathing, responding human being with traits and ideas to explore and share that will, in the end, help you grow, but only if you listen.

2) Who you are as a dancer (player) morphs with your changes in partners. There are some people in the gym who bring out really good things in me...both in technique and experience. Others...not so much. Part of that is just meshing of skill and preferences, the rest is personal.

3) Trying new things won't kill you. You may elbow somebody in the face (or catch an elbow), but you'll likely either discover something that doesn't work, or something that does. Both are great.

4) Pay attention to your partner. The moves you choose will change based on their physical traits and choices of response. Doing this makes you more versatile and trying things out with different types of people gives you better insight into techniques themselves.

5) You should be having fun. You won't all the time, but overall, experiences should be enjoyable.

I seriously doubt I'll ever devote the same time and energy to dance that I did before and honestly, my drive to improve there is pretty much done. BJJ is a much better fit for me, I enjoy the people more and it has left its own unique signature, earning its own, distinct place in my life.



Hi Megan,

Found your blog after you posted on mine...and you probably found mine after I posted on Clinzy's! :) I like that you are doing BJJ. This is one of the many arts I'm learning, so I don't post all the time on it, but I am happy to follow yours.

All the best and keep rolling!


P.S. I also like your food blog and could pick up some culinary tips. Following that, too.

Georgette said...

As a salsera and former salsa teacher, I often note major similarities between salsa (probably any kind of partner dancing) and jits.

1. Body mechanics is key: if you understand base, balance, posture, pressure, and momentum, you will see movement and understand how to influence it.

2. Salsa has one lead, one follow; jits, two leads. Dueling leads, if you will. In jits, you just have to make it so that the reaction you desire from them is the most comfortable, physically logical thing for them to do. Asking at the right time in the right way is essential.

3. It's more important to be smooth and fluid than to be flashy and fancy. There're about 10 basic elements of salsa, and probably 10 basics in jits. If you master those ten, you'll stay busy all night, and be entertaining and successful.
[In salsa, I'd say- basic, right turn, left turn, crossbody lead, inside pivot, outside pivot, axel turn, copa, spin, & basket.

In jits, I'd say- two takedowns, cross collar choke, triangle, armbar, omoplata, pendulum sweep, scissor/push sweep, americana, kimura.]

Anonymous said...

"I seriously doubt I'll ever devote the same time and energy to dance that I did before and honestly, my drive to improve there is pretty much done. BJJ is a much better fit for me, I enjoy the people more and it has left its own unique signature, earning its own, distinct place in my life."
I feel the same way. I went out to salsa last night for the first time in over a year, and I couldn't wait to get out of there. I will always love the dance, but some of the personalities there and associated negativity have really turned me off from the scene in my area. BJJ is a much better fit for me too :-)

Megan said...

@Michelle...thanks for reading! Good call on the blog-trail:)

@Georgette...Love the idea of two leads...that's exactly what it is. I also like the 10 point breakdown. Might incorporate it into my private lesson structure.

@Anonymous...the more I hear this story, the more I'm starting to realize it's a very common path in the salsa journey. Some regions have some very "difficult" scenes.

A.D. McClish said...

You know, it's interesting that so many people who do salsa also like bjj. I've known several. There is even a guy at our gym who is known as "Salsa John". From what you described, I can see how there are crossovers in philosophy and movement.
Makes me want to try salsa! ;)

Megan said...

Do it! Do it! :)