I came across a new definition of the term, "Ronin" the other day and it got me thinking. Generally, the term refers to a samurai with no master. But interestingly enough, it is literally translated as "wave person". This likens the samurai without a master to one set adrift in the ocean, to be tossed about by the waves of life.
I've always liked the whole "Ronin" thing. This new (to me at least) translation of the term resonates with me on a whole new level being an ex-sailor. Moving around as much as I have over the the past two decades, switching from dojo to dojo, "master" to "master", I've learned much of my jiu-jitsu game on my own, similar to the way I imagine a masterless samurai would've had to back in the day.
While I do enjoy fancying myself as a samurai, the whole ronin thing has it's pluses and minuses. On the plus side, I'm not attached to any one person's vision of what my jiu-jitsu should look like (except perhaps my own). Furthermore, I've been able to see, experience, and learn from a wider variety of styles than the average jiu-jitsu player. Hey, lucky me, right?
On the down side, I've missed out on that steady, traditional, student teacher relationship that more traditional jiujitsukas get (jiu-jit-su-kas... is that a word?). It can be frustrating to be told that this is the way to do a given technique by one instructor, only to be told that it will get you into trouble by another. You'd be amazed at how many ways there are to do the Scissor Sweep!
I've always found this fascinating by the way. We live in the information age. There is no shortage of learning resources out there. A simple YouTube search for your favorite fundamental technique will show you that there are a multitude of little variations being taught on any given technique. They all have their pros and cons, and are more applicable in some scenarios than others. For someone to have the audacity to think that what they learned from their instructor is the only way, the holy grail of that given technique, is... well... audacious!
Thankfully, I think we're starting to get away with that. I'm starting to see more and more, instructors saying words to the effect of, "I won't go so far as to say it's wrong..." Of course this is more often than not followed by some explanation of how their technique is better.
Most of what I've learned in jiu-jitsu, I've learned on my own. My sporadic training (made so by often chaotic flight and deployment schedules) made anything I learned in class seem like a disjointed collection of unrelated techniques. This forced me to seek out other instructional resources and figure out how to learn from them. It's most certainly lengthened my journey, but I feel that it will make me a better martial artist in the long run.
The human race has a long history of self-reliance, and innovation. Nobody gave Thomas Edison the answer on how to invent the light bulb. He figured it out! Nobody showed Henry Ford how to make an assembly line. He figured it out! Nobody showed Steve Jobs the ancient secrets of how to put a computer in every household, a thousand songs in your pocket, or the internet on your phone. He surrounded himself with smart people, and made them figure it out!
Is it possible to learn jiu-jitsu without a coach? Absolutely! It's easier to learn with a coach, but it's entirely possible to do it without one (provided you have some dedicated training partners). You research what ever information is out there, and innovate the rest.
We still have some pockets of civilization out there that have no access to a traditional BJJ school, much less a blackbelt to teach them. And in those pockets we have some folks who are dying to learn jiu-jitsu. I've met a bunch of them through my travels over the last two decades or so. They get together with a few friends in somebody's garage, lay down some mats, and make do with what they've got. Some of them are getting unbelievably good!
If you're one of those wave people, a proverbial samurai with no master, a BJJ Ronin... I've been there. I'd like to encourage you to stay the course. Learn from whatever resources you can get your hands on, experiment with your buddies, and get after it!