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The Last Karate Chop

By Alexander Darwin @CombatCodes

We’ve all been there: a family gathering, work event or barbecue. That conversation begins. Perhaps the catalyst was a discussion of hobbies or weight loss advice or a passing question about a black eye.

“How’d that happen?”

A white belt or new devotee of Brazilian jiu jitsu may launch into an impassioned lecture on the merits of grappling and how it’s changed their life drastically, before frantically attempting to convert anyone within earshot to come along for their next class.

Very often, their enthusiasm will be met with this typical response:

“Oh you mean like, Hi-Yah!” (person proceeds to karate chop the air dramatically)

As years of training pass and ears bloat up like fat-toads our approach to that conversation transforms as well. We no longer gush, we smile and nod and say that we identify as grapplers. What we do is much like wrestling, you know, like those lunatics from your high school you’d see sweating into trash bags.

And when Brazilian jiu jitsu truly becomes an old friend, when our fingers have curled into gollum-like claws, we may simply respond to the karate chop with a nod and curt “yes, that’s exactly what I do,” before transitioning to a more palatable subject.

This is where I’m at. Of course, if someone is genuinely interested in grappling I’m excited to discuss, but I ignore it if someone mistakes what I do for karate or kung-fu or taekwondo. Afterall, the public has been brainwashed for decades by pop-culture, movies and memes, conflating nearly all martial arts into that one symbolic gesture: the karate chop.

Don’t get me wrong, I love old school martial arts flicks. Karate Kid, Enter the Dragon, Fist of Legend, Rumble in the Bronx, that’s the stuff I grew up on. I loved when Uncle Cody from Step by Step beat up a bunch of thugs at a bar. I loved when Neo said “I know Kung Fu” and I loved every time Chuck Norris side-kicked a bad guy through a window.

But the winds of change are blowing. It’s time to put the karate chop to sleep.

Millions of people watch professional mixed martial arts and see the blend of grappling and striking required to succeed at the highest levels. Movie choreographers, directors and screenwriters are becoming versed in grappling, featuring rear naked chokes and armbars and omoplatas in their cinematic action sequences. 

A host of actors and celebrities have started to practice Brazilian jiu jitsu and spread it to the masses. Men and women like the late Anthony Bourdain, Tom Hardy, Keanu Reeves, Henry Cavill, Demi Lovato, Guy Ritchie, Kate Upton, Joel Kinnaman and Jonah Hill. Even Ashton Kutcher touts the benefits of grappling practice. 

Writers are embracing jiu jitsu as well. In the popular sci-fi series ‘Expanse,’ a main character practices “low gravity jiu jitsu” and the long running John Rain series follows an assassin that is a BJJ and Judo black belt.

I hope that my own sci-fi / fantasy saga, The Combat Codes, can help put the karate chop to sleep. The story asks the question: what would the world be like if global conflicts were resolved with one-on-one, unarmed combat instead of armies?

Needless to say, there’s a ton of jiu jitsu, muay thai, boxing and judo throughout the Combat Codes. And heel hooks. Futuristic steroids are rampant, of course, because each nation is attempting to field the best team of fighters to represent them.

The second book of the series, Grievar’s Blood, continues where the last left off, with the main character attending the world’s most prestigious combat school, taking classes like grappling level three and combat cultures around the world. 

Now, maybe I’m a bit extreme (both as a grappling aficionado and nerd), and I certainly don’t expect everyone to know the ins and outs of BJJ. But I do think it’s about time that people understand that grappling is a major part of fighting. Go spend a night watching UFC 1 and 2, the part of Lethal Weapon where Mel Gibson hits a triangle choke, and that scene from The Simpsons where the guy tells Homer to “crawl atop me, and meet your doom!

Of course, that conversation will still happen. White belts will still attempt BJJ evangelism and black belts will still quietly nod, despite feeling empty inside. But we can still hope.

We can hope that the karate chop your boss threw the other day was the last one. We can hope that crazy uncle finally stops saying “Hi-Yah!” to you every Christmas Eve. 

We can hope that one day, we’ll finally put the karate chop to sleep.

February 07, 2020 — Jiu Jitsu Style