Off the Mat with a Bjj Black Belt: Henry Akins Part 2

Read Part 1 Here: 

Jiu-jitsu Times: What is your take on the direction of modern sports bjj positions and strategies in contrast to the old school “Gracie challenge” style?

As with all things in life, Jiu-jitsu must evolve – but is it evolving into seperate and different branches of sports bjj and real fighting?

Henry Akins: Well I think most people that follow me know my stance but let me see if I can explain my stance and my belief.  

Gracie jiu-Jitsu was developed as a practical form of self defense to allow smaller individuals to stay safe and overcome bigger and stronger individuals.  

With this philosophy in mind, it was trained primarily for combat. That was the reason you had the Gracie Challenge.  

Back when I started training Jiu-Jitsu was trained to see if we could beat all the other martial art styles.

Practitioners were training to test the effectiveness against other martial artists regardless of weight and time usually wasn’t a factor.

The way things are now, jiu-jitsu is primarily trained to only beat jiu-jitsu, with striking being illigal, points, advatages and time limit restrictions being a factor and this is where you have the evolution of the sport and with that the philosophy concepts and strategies have changed.  

Its something I’ve been pondering a lot lately and I guess what it really goes back to is what is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and how do we define it.

At the end of the day there are many many grappling arts, wrestling, judo, catch, sambo, shooto… What is the difference between these arts and what we know as Jiu-Jitsu because all these arts share similar, overlapping or identical techniques.

For example with the evolution, now there is a huge trend for leg attacks where even 17-18 years ago you’d be boo’ed if you were to finish a match with a leg or foot attack.

Jiu-Jitsu guys started learning leg attacks from Sambo and Shooto…. I remember Erik Paulson was teaching this stuff 20 years ago, hes a master at leg attacks… look at Barnett!  

So is whats being practiced now in competition shooto or sambo? because thats where the jiu-jitsu instructors learned these techniques from… or is it Jiu-jitsu.  Judo evolved from Jiu-Jitsu, why is it called judo even though many of the techniques are similar and there are even branches of Judo with an extremely heavy emphasis on grappling and submissions like Kosen judo.

Even though it came from jiu-jitsu its not called jiu-jitsu.

My belief is all these art forms come from a certain philosophical idea, concepts and strategies that dictate the practice and thats what distinguishes one from the other.

Because the concepts and strategy is so different from the founding belief I dont really think whats practiced is jiu-jitsu or Gracie Jiu-jitsu.  

Its submission wrestling… pretty much grappling with submission holds.  And there is nothing wrong with it being called that, it doesn’t make it any less, but thats really what the “sport” is.  

Its evolved to a different art, because the ideas that guide it are different.  

“Sport Jiu-Jitsu” is really a whole different beast all together and it’s beautiful and can be extremely effective but just because its a grappling art doesn’t mean we need to call it jiu-jitsu.

Let’s face it – these are some of the best submission grapplers in the world but they are not training on a daily basis with an emphasis on safely closing distance with strikes, taking an unwilling opponent to the ground (in competition, your facing an opponent that also wants to go to the ground, thats why you have so much sitting and butt scooting) and dealing with strikes once on the ground.  

We should call an apple an apple and an orange an orange even though they are both fruit.

Sorry I’ve been pondering that question a lot lately and really trying to come up with a thoughtful explanation and understanding.

Anyways these are just my thoughts and I’m 100% open to being completely wrong.

After all who am I to define Jiu-Jitsu? I’m just one person of tens of thousands practicing this incredible art.

Jiu-jitsu Times: Can you give some advice for students of jiu-jitsu that worked for you in your training?

(a principle or training practice, motivational quote, tips on passing the guard etc.)

Henry Akins:Yes I have a few pieces of advice that I know were crucial to me.

First is try not to muscle or force things, if you feel like something is requiring a lot of effort then either the timing is off or the technique is off.

Remember everything we do is supposed to work against someone who is bigger and stronger.  

With jiu-jitsu its all about using your opponents energy and movements against them so even against a strong person things should feel easy because they should be helping you.

Try to relax more in training… it might be difficult to do at first because of fear but remember whats the wort thing that can happen?

You tap and start over… Relaxing allows you to be more sensitive and feel your opponents movements better, it also allows you to react quicker.

Be more focused on learning instead of winning.  The ego always wants us to win. Many times you will be stuck in situations where you feel you need to use power to either escape or finish.  

Powering through moves teaches you nothing, just that you need to use more energy or strength but again this strategy will not work for you against a bigger opponent or when you’re tired.

If it doesn’t work without using strength and power don’t do it.

Be focused on learning the technique and having things feel effortless, that’s when you know you’re doing things right.

When you’re more concerned with winning then learning you lose.

Jiu-jitsu Times: Can you talk about your philosophy of brazilian jiu-jitsu – training and life?

What do you try to teach to your students about the role of jiu-jitsu in their lives?

Henry Akins: For each individual what they gain from jiu-jitsu will be different.  

People usually have different goals in mind when they start and at different stages of their journey there are different things they will gain from training but some of the amazing benefits I’ve seen from my students, is more self confidence, self awareness, improved health, less anxiety and better relationships.  

There are so many life lessons to be learned in the practice as well about persistence, dedication, trust, teamwork, struggle and overcoming adversity, thinking and problem solving.  

This is why 20 years later I’m as passionate as ever about it.

Jiu-jitsu Times: Can you tell us something interesting about yourself that most Jiu-jitsu Times readers would not know?

(Do you have any projects underway or some important event coming up that you would like to discuss?)

Henry Akins: Yes!  I’ve just started an online program to be able to share my techniques, concepts and ideas on jiu-jitsu with the world.  

It’s called  

It’s kind of a new format that I haven’t really seen done in BJJ before.  

It’s lifetime online access to an on going curriculum where I answer questions and update the content to help all the members.

Each curriculum focuses on a different position or idea.  Its kind of like buying DVDs but allows me to interact with the members and also update and add additional content.

I’m also planning on doing more camps this year to give more people access to my teaching and understanding of jiu-jitsu.

I’ve done a camp in Costa rica the past 2 years at which has been an amazing time and experience for all and am planning a Bali camp soon.  

Also, the goal for me is to have an East coast and West coast camp with jiu-jitsu plus a lot of other fun amazing activities to do.  

Lets face it, one of the best things about jiu-jitsu is all the amazing people you get to meet who also share the same passion.

Lastly… and I’m still not certain on this, but I’ve been thinking about maybe starting a small association.  

I’ve been traveling around the past few years teaching seminars at different schools but with a seminar I can only teach so much.  

I would love to have a few like minded instructors under me that I can focus my time and energy on so I can pass on and share the whole system that I learned from Rickson so that this jiu-jitsu lives on.

Video: Week In BJJ Episode 63 with Henry Akins


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