A Different High - Ray Collins and Jiu Jitsu
When surfing gets under our skin, it’s so consuming that it feels – for many of us, I suspect – incomprehensible that any other activity could occupy even a fraction of that space in our lives. I can remember as a young bloke, a mate telling me that ‘there’s more to life than surfing’, and it registered as a mild betrayal and insult.
I remember also designing North-Shore-Winter recap features in ASL mag, and feeling weirdly peeved reading accounts of the pros choosing to play golf when there were waves to be surfed. As a result, if it came down to two surf photos equally worthy of publication, I must confess to running the shot of the golf-enthusiast smaller than he-who-did-nothing-but-surf.
As it turns out, there’s all sorts of other pursuits surfers dig without having their first love diminished. So while surfing’ll always be number one for mine, it seems Huey’s cool with sharing. And in fact, time spent in other ponds often complements and informs our surfing lives.
So that’s the gist of this column: every so often I’ll yak with a surfer about a pursuit that might be comparable to their love of surfing. First up is photographer Ray Collins and his newfound love of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu - though after breaking four ribs and puncturing a lung in a horror wipeout last Thursday, Ray won't be rolling for a while. Get better, son.
And finally, the column title 'A Different High' takes its cue from the 2001 album of that name by fine Melbourne band Even. And as with all their efforts, it’s worth a listen.
Cheers, and suggestions welcome for subjects.
Ray Collins: Photographer, 38, Thirroul.
(Ray’s been surfing for thirty years, practicing Brazillian Jiu Jitsu for one year)
Jiu Jitsu’s been in my periphery for a while. I’ve known so many surfers from all over the place – Hawaii, The US, Bali, all over Australia – who’s circles didn’t really overlap but I knew they all did Jiu Jitsu, and there was a similarity between them. You could tell there was something going on.
Initially I was hesitant to jump into it, because it sucks to suck at something new. Often my mind will conduct fearful scenarios that have no basis in reality and I can be defeated before I even start.
I remember the nerves and anxiety when my mate Shaun Anderson took me along for the first time, but the moment I walked in you could immediately tell you were in the company of a good crew, and there was something positive at work.
OK, so the best way I can describe Jiu Jitsu (or more correctly, Brazillian Jiu Jitsu) is as a grappling martial art, one-on-one, non-striking combat that’s all about using your opponent’s actions against themselves.
It’s complex: there’s infinite permutations and combinations of movement, counter-movement, action and reaction. It’s framing, using your opponent’s limbs as levers, it’s joint locks, it’s manipulation of the spine. Like, if you move your opponent’s head a fraction to the left or the right, they lose all power in their base structure – rendering their movements ineffective. And if you look at each section of the limbs alone: like the arm – shoulder, elbow, wrist, or a leg – hip, knee, ankle, each one of those presents multiple opportunities for attack.
It’s impossible to articulate how testing and frustrating and rewarding it actually is. It’s like drowning on dry land for six minutes straight. I could do it for the rest of my life and only get to learn half of it.
You watch inexperienced people like myself and you’re just using so much physical (and mental) effort: it’s all a struggle. Then you watch two black belts or high-level coloured belts rolling together, and it’s honestly like watching water. There’s no effort, it’s a lesson in efficiency of movement, it’s so fluid. There’s an answer for every question and vice versa.
You can be rolling with someone experienced, they could be older, smaller, physically weaker than you, and you’ll exhaust yourself, while they stay perfectly composed, and effortlessly gentle, while completely destroying you at every turn.
Part of the challenge is how to process and store all the information you’re taking on from the instructor and just the process itself. It’s like you’re a basket and there’s just sand and pebbles and rocks constantly being poured in and just overflowing everywhere. And you’re trying to retain as much as you can.
And so you turn up day after day, you finally feel like you’re making real progress – you’re lasting longer against the experienced guys, or your submitting guys who are at your level, then all of a sudden you just get put in your place – more than once I’ve driven home, doing 10km/h under the speed limit, with no music on, just staring ten feet in front of the car, the whole drive home wondering what the hell just happened over the past few hours.
I guess the most obvious cross-benefit and link with surfing is – especially when there’s a lot of energy in the ocean – you’re in that similar elevated heart rate, fight-or-flight state, and so you learn to be comfortable feeling uncomfortable.
And it’s like you can’t overpower the ocean anyway, so you kind of work with it, be fluid.
And the more you practice that discipline of calmness, the less you’re at the mercy of your reactions.
Modern life is generally pretty safe: you don’t have to go into battle, you don’t have to hunt for your food, or evade a sabre toothed tiger. You’re not pushed in that way. And for all the hardship, I think that element of danger also played a role in the full expression of our lives.
Jiu Jitsu can fulfil that role. There’s rigorous protocols that make it a safe practice, It’s built on the foundation of ‘respect for all’ BUT you’re trying, literally, to choke someone out, to render them unconscious.
You’ve slapped hands and done a little fist bump, and it’s like, “I see you, we are mutual, we’re here as friends, now let’s try to fucking kill each other.” There’s no hate or aggression or weirdness. Just total respect. It’s a little club, you go there and put pyjamas on and try to choke your friend out. It’s a real good bond you share with your friends on the mat.
It’s called the gentle art for good reason, and it IS gentle but it’s so effective. There’s lots of scope for training in law enforcement I reckon, as ways of de-escalation. Not just as practical, non-harmful means of restraint and compliance, but also in helping the mindset and composure of the enforcers.
I’ll go to Jiu JItsu two to three times a week at least, but sometimes up to six. Haven’t had any injuries so far, I’m just sore every day! But you get used to that level of sore.
I’m a white belt, one stripe. I’m almost as new to it as you can get, and I love it.
// RAY COLLINS (as shared with GRA MURDOCH)
*If you’ve got a got a question for Ray about Jiu Jitsu, post it in the comments here and if we get a coupla we’ll have a follow up yarn with Ray.