Grappling Is A Competition For Freedom

“In a fight, only one person can be comfortable. Your job is to transfer the comfortable from your opponent to you.” —Rickson Gracie

The goal in grappling is to maintain and protect our own physical freedom, our ability to move freely and unhindered, while taking away the same in our opponent. Posture, balance, and dynamic mobility are the means by which we maintain our own physical freedom. It is by disrupting these attributes of freedom in our opponent that they are thrown, pinned, and/or submitted, depending on what the goal of our particular grappling art or sport is.

The Japanese word for this disruption to another person’s physical freedom is ‘kuzushi.’ Although commonly thought of as simply the act of unbalancing an opponent, kuzushi is most likely derived from ‘kuzusu,’ which means, roughly, to tear down, collapse, or destroy. While unbalancing an opponent for a throw is certainly one manifestation of kuzushi, pins, strangles, joint locks, and even strikes are all actions that, by taking away an opponent’s ability to move freely, are methods of kuzushi.

Looked at in this way, grappling is a means of competing for freedom. Grappling is the physical struggle between two persons wherein, depending upon the chosen ruleset, the goal is to limit the other person’s freedom to such a degree that he or she either falls, is pinned or contained, and/or is put into a position to submit via strangle or joint-lock. At the highest levels of grappling, however, instead of forcing a person into a position of reduced freedom, an opponent is actually led or guided there in a combined effort wherein the decisions he* makes unwittingly allows him to choose the form of his own demise.

*he or she


Holistic Budo: As it is in budo, so too it is in life. As it is in life, so too it is in budo.

Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Taikyoku Mind & Body and Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, as well as a founding member of the Severna Park and Baltimore Holistic Chamber of Commerce.

Artwork by Ana, except where otherwise noted.

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