I originally wrote this post on March 8, 2015 after attending my first seminar with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Henry Akins. I’m re-posting it now because Henry Akins is scheduled to teach a seminar at my dojo’s affiliate headquarters in Columbia, MD on April 6-7, 2019.
What follows were my thoughts after my first seminar with Mr. Akins:
I’ve been reflecting a lot on the Henry Akins seminar I attended earlier this week. I was thoroughly impressed by Mr. Akins’ techniques and his demeanor. I’ve seen a lot of good techniques though and I’ve met a lot of nice people. These things alone, for me, are not what stood out about this seminar – although the details to Mr. Akins’ techniques are truly amazing and he is a really nice guy who obviously loves sharing what he knows (and he knows a lot!!!). What really stood out to me about what Mr. Akins taught was the fluid consistency between techniques – the principles that underlie all that he taught. Mr. Akins has a deep understanding of WHY he does BJJ the way he does and why he DOES NOT do it other ways. Henry Akins understands a few fundamental principles which make every technique he does and teaches work – consistently.
In my opinion/experience, this is what is missing from BJJ (and most other arts) these days. Without a clear set of fundamental principles, what we have is a seemingly unrelated set of skills that, while they may all come together when we roll/spar (we may even beat most people in the class), we don’t really understand. From what I’ve seen, most people in BJJ take the “more is better” attitude (this is America after all) and are merely collecting as many techniques as they can. Akins’ approach is exactly the opposite. His focus is on a few basic techniques with fine-tuned details that follow a set of physical and strategic principles. In other words, for Akins more is not better… better is better.
As a friend pointed out once, there is a classical Japanese sword school whose entire curriculum is one single sword cut that they practice over and over with frightening intensity. Their attitude is essentially, “Who’s going to stop us?” Along these lines, I once read an interview with the great judo player Masahiko Kimura (the one who beat Helio Gracie and whom the technique is named after). In it, he explained that the only throw he really used was Osoto Gari (large outer reaping leg sweep). Why? It worked. This is one of the things that impressed me about Akins. His focus is not on how many techniques he has, but on how to most effectively use the few that he knows work.
With each technique he taught, Akins answered the question: What are the underlying principles of physical integrity, power generation, and martial strategy that will make this or that technique most effective? If you are a collector and you want more techniques to add to your toolbox, you probably won’t get them with Akins. If you like complicated, multi-step techniques akin to “human oragami,” look elsewhere. However, if you want the highest level of skill and a deep understanding of the art of jiu-jitsu through a few highly evolved basic techniques taught using principles that have the potential to change your entire jiu-jitsu trajectory, find Henry Akins and PAY ATTENTION. With more techniques, you simply have more techniques with which you can DO jiu-jitsu. With principles though, you are empowered to BECOME jiu-jitsu. Henry Akins is empowering the jiu-jitsu community and it was an honor to train with him.
Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Kogen Dojo in Severna Park, MD where he teaches and practices Taikyoku Budo and Gracie Jiu-Jitsu