February 11, 2017

A Observation of Cross Over

I studied classical ballet m a n y years ago.  Since then I have hiked, run, lifted weights, rock climbed, mountain biked, and now I practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Arnis.  What strikes me, is how much the basis of the technique of, well, ALL these forms of physical movement is deeply rooted in the core, in strong balance, proper alignment, in the basics of classical ballet.  I am always, brought right back to ballet.  Ankles straight, knees over ankles, hips over knees, stomach in, butt tucked in, shoulders over hips, head resting straight on top supported by the body and a strong spine.  In hiking, proper alignment ensures and efficient gait. Running?  Open shoulders will keep your lungs open.  Weight lifting?  There is no weight lifting without the core.  If you are riding a mountain bike downhill, you're moving the core to the back of the bike for counterbalance.

In ballet, you spend hours upon hours, holding in your stomach tight, squeezing the butt,  holding your shoulders open and straight, and stretching your spine tall.  This description of ballet technique makes a dancer sound like a stiff board, but in fact, the ballerina looks smooth and fluid, because she has refined her core strength into almost mechanical perfection.

The most beautiful Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, like ballet, is also graceful.  The movements are grounded in hours of practice that start off looking rigid, but over time, the practitioner slowly sculpts away the extraneous rocks of unnecessary movement.  All that is left is pure clarity of movement, giant and gentle crashing waves from an ocean of the clearest aqua blue.

The warm-up I do before a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class is completely stolen from ballet class.  I start with joints.  Head, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, ankles, and then I move on to the muscles and spine.  In guard, I am hyper aware of my posture.  If someone attempts a sweep, it's my stomach and butt muscles that come to my rescue before my legs.  If I practice a throw, my knees and ankles had better be in order.  In Arnis, we practice "rebalancing," which is the practice of staying slightly up on the toes, and constantly moving your feet to reestablish your balance quickly when your opponent swings the baston at your head and you move out of the way.  The rebalancing in Arnis would not be possible without a strong core to assist with speed and direction, and an awareness of proper alignment.

The reason I mention all this, is today Fabio was demonstrating a choke originating from the guard (bottom position).  Fabio has particularly long arms and knows how to maximize their reach.  I remember the first time I felt the power of that space station when I was going merrily along passing his guard, and his left arm crept sneakily around my neck and choked me.   Today, I was watching him demonstrate this same ability and I realized, it's Swan Lake!

When a ballerina rehearses the Odette role in Swan Lake, she will spend countless hours practicing the up and down "flying" movement of her arms.  Seasoned ballerinas who have performed the role many times will still, at the beginning of the season, practice this movement over and over.  Watching a skilled ballerina perform this delicate technique is impressive.  You watch her and think, okay, her elbows must have been surgically removed because the movement just flows like a silk scarf in the wind.  In fact, she has learned how to create magic before your eyes.  And that's what I saw today.  Fabio's arm reached around my classmate's neck and I realized, this technique, when performed correctly, is as effortless and graceful as the regal 8-foot moving wingspan of a swan.

I am so many years removed from my last ballet class, and yet here it is, in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class.  

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