Defining the Polish Grappler

It is true there is no one-size-fits-all in jiu-jitsu. Individual preferences for guard, variations of passing, differences in strength, stamina, explosiveness, and mobility ensure that styles differ wildly from person to person. Nevertheless, there appears to be a certain commonality inherent in Polish grapplers, a shared ethos, bathed in a righteous belligerence that one must never say die.

This anecdote, I feel, goes some way to sum up this hypothesis. During a session at Warsaw’s Academia Gorila, I witnessed a blue belt refuse to tap to the kimura of a higher belt (I had my own experience with this particular blue belt; seemingly, gifted grip strength from the devil himself, he’d strangled me mercilessly last year. It was somewhat depressing to return and find him sporting the same colour belt). His shoulder made an array of stomach-churning cracking sounds before the higher belt responsibly let go of the hold.

The blue belt ruminating the following day on not being able to move his arm, gleaned there were two important lessons to be learned for everyone involved. Firstly, you need to concede before something pops. Secondly, don’t ever let go of a submission until your opponent taps!


The Greatest Thing About Jiu-Jitsu

I have often attempted to conceptualise the flow state that jiu-jitsu allows one (after some significant mat-time) to tap into.

I recently came upon this excerpt by Ian McEwan from his novel, Saturday. I think you would struggle to find a more perfect summation of what is, for me, the most gratifying thing about training BJJ:

“in a dream of absorption that has dissolved all sense of time, and all awareness of other parts of his life. Even his awareness of his own existence has vanished. He’s been delivered into a pure present, free of the weight of the past or any anxiety of the future. In retrospect, though never at the time, it feels like profound happiness. It’s a little like sex, in that he feels himself in another medium, but it’s less obviously pleasurable, and clearly not sensual. This state of mind brings a contentment he never finds with any passive form of entertainment. Books, cinema, even music can’t bring him to this. Working with others is one part of it, but it’s not all. This benevolent disassociation seems to require difficulty, prolonged demands on concentration and skills, pressure, problems to be solved, even danger. He feels calm, and spacious, fully qualified to exist. It’s a feeling of clarified emptiness, of deep, muted joy.”



Navigating 64 Squares in Colombia’s Capital

“I stay on the 64 squares, while patrolling the center/ Trading space from material, the time zone, I enter”


There was always chess going down in the centre of Colombia’s capital, Bogota. At a number of different points throughout the city tables were set up and cats would have them packed out.

Even the rain which frequented the city daily during my visit could not stop the dirty and weathered boards being attacked by a range of eccentric characters. Players ranged from well-dressed elderly gents to odious smelling dudes, playing off last night’s hangover.

The boards were a mixture of those engaging in speed chess to those enjoying games at a more leisurely pace.

There was always a fair share of spectators including a number of kibitzers who would freely distribute their unwanted advice to players deep in concentration.

Each day, I saw this same dapper gentleman vanquish one and all. There was less than gentlemanly conduct when some opponents refused to shake his hand after he had dished out another devastating beat-down.


The rib injury that has kept me off the mats has given me more time to work on the 64 squares but my own chess game was very much in its infancy;  I was scared to death of stepping up to play. Nevertheless, each day I would stop and watch a couple of boards, in the hope that I could pick up some knowledge that would elevate my suckage.