3. Being Good on Bottom
Hint: It’s all in the hips.
Myth: Being on top is always dominant.
Sure, late night Animal Planet may reinforce this. And, in street fights, the guy on bottom is usually getting smashed. And, in the bedroom, the top is usually the worker, the giver. The top gives the advantage of gravity. In wrestling, one fighter can win by getting on top and pinning the other. And getting to the top of the company means you’re head honcho. It’s historically represented the imposing of man-strength: The forcefully holding down or stepping over or on those weaker.
Until Helio Gracie came around. Helio (1913-2009) is credited with helping bring his style of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) to the masses. He was frail and sickly and this is exactly what allowed him to figure out ways to defeat men larger and stronger. He viewed fighting through the lens of science – levers, mechanics, weight distribution, probability and so on. A foundational position in BJJ is the guard. Full guard is when the fighter on his back has his legs wrapped around the waist of the fighter on top. It’s the position where people new to the sport say something about homosexuals in an attempt to be funny. It’s the position women may find themselves in during a rape situation – and it’s this reason that elements of BJJ should be taught in every women’s self-defense course. Cameron and his fiancée demonstrate how to defend the forearm choke using the guard position.
Being good from the bottom in MMA means you’ve developed sensitivity to the rhythms and pressures from the one on top. As you practice, you’ll learn when you’re safe, when you can relax, when to seize an opportunity, and how to bait the person into making a mistake. Being on bottom can be far more controlling than being on top.
Helio’s son Rorion Gracie is a co-founder of the UFC. Helio’s other son, a gangly dude named Royce Gracie who was always outweighed but always used the guard to secure fight-ending chokes and armlocks, dominated the early UFC events. This not only won him fights and made BJJ and the Gracie family famous, but it changed the way we view fighting.
New fans coming to MMA often believe the huge muscular guy will maim the smaller man, or that the guy on top is always winning. But seasoned fans know better. They know the guy on bottom can be just as (and even more) in control than the guy on top. The new fans always cheer for the top guy because they think he’s the more aggressive fighter, and aggression is “manly,” but the old fans know that what looks like passivity can actually be lethal aggression disguised.
In the natural world, we see predator pouncing on top of prey, biting their throats and skulls. We see the dominant male getting on top of the weaker female. What we don’t see is that the predator rarely hunts their prey to extinction. They need their prey to survive. So, who is really dominant? Regarding this, writer and environmentalist Rick Bass wrote in his book The New Wolves, “Waiting does not seem to us like a form of dominance.” Dominance and strength abound in the male culture, they are silently synonymous with man. Of course, there are times when this is okay, even great. Like when sickly little Helio Gracie, all 135 pounds of him, knowingly or unknowingly turned the idea of what it means to be dominant on its head.
Then twisted its neck and hyperextended its arms and put it to sleep, gently.
The UFC and the Gracie family have shown that what looks to be a dominant position might actually not be. From this we can reevaluate our lives as men to see if we are where we want to be – not on the career ladder or financially, but more personally. Royce Gracie has to create the leverage he needs to execute an armbar. How can you create the leverage you need in life for happiness?
Photos courtesy of Cameron Conaway.