10,357 DSB

A significant part of the game of Brazilian jiu-jitsu is “passing the guard“. If my opponent is sat on his butt or lying on his back during sparring, the “guard” is his legs. I want to pass them in order to move to a more dominant position (side control, knee-on-belly, mount, reverse mount etc.) and start hunting for submissions. There are numerous ways to do this but all, fundamentally, involve minimising my opponent’s freedom whilst maximising my own.

However, in order to increase my rate of learning I spent a year or so deliberately entangling myself, sacrificing my freedom. That means that, instead of trying to avoid, sidestep, smash through, or redirect my opponent’s guard, I entered it. I offered a leg, an arm–sometimes both–let myself get bogged down, and then tried to free myself and pass.

My reasoning was simple: I figured that to learn the intricacies of the different guards (there are a lot) I had to entangle myself within them. Sure, I could focus on passing using speed, agility, misdirection and precision? But what if someone was faster, more agile, more wily, and more precise than me? How would I match that? I wouldn’t, couldn’t. Not without experience.

The period of entanglement in my BJJ game is over for now, though. I need to go the other way. I need to learn to be more dynamic and audacious in both my attack and defence. This change has coincided with changes in other areas of my life, and I only noticed this the other night after a BJJ session.

Several years ago, I read a whole lot of self-help, business and productivity books. They changed me and they changed my life. The petals of possibility unfurled within me and I was electrified with what loomed on the horizon. I became impatient for progress, scornful of stability, indifferent to the slow and the steady. If the books I read were Brazilian jiu-jitsu players, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that they locked me down, swept me over and led me into submission.

As you can guess, I’m learning the limits of the bold visions I lapped up at a younger age. I’m meeting this thing called Reality and discovering it’s a cunning, unscrupulous negotiator. I have had to revise many things, particularly assumptions and beliefs. Now, I don’t want to turn this into a Dear Diary entry, but these meetings with reality have taught me to think more deeply about entanglement.

Go back to BJJ. Imagine the ability to untangle one’s self from a guard and to entangle one’s self. The combination of the two could be called a “tangle rate”. I don’t want to go overboard and get lost in advancing the intricacies of the tangle rate. There are many different ways to do it, of course. However, what I do want to draw attention to is one’s ability to alter the tangle rate. It is, I believe, critical to learning.

Imagine a vast open world game. The purpose of the game is unknown, as is its lengths. The catch is that as soon as you begin to play, things—animals, plants, the environment, the elements, other players—try to entangle themselves with you. If you stay, things will come to you. If you move, you will meet them. Moving fast will result in shorter but more frequent encounters. If you move slow, the encounters will be less frequent, but longer.

In such a game, what does progress look like? Is it avoiding entanglement? Is it getting so entangled that you become unrecognisable from your past self? Is it notching up as many varieties of entanglement as possible whilst preserving a sense of identity?

What about death in such a game? Is death ultimate entanglement, the complete cessation of motion and the sheer devouring of the self? Or is it coming untangled, voiding one’s contact with any and everything?

Entanglement and its opposite, untangling, are rich concepts. I urge you to look into them, or to join me in thinking more about them. If you want, you can entangle yourself using some of the ideas above. Me? I am off to a Brazilian jiu-jitsu session. There, I’m going to attempt to avoid entanglement and pass the guard.