Blacksmithing and the Martial Arts


Recently a good friend and former training partner of mine opened a BJJ school in Colorado called The Forge. Ryan Foster is a seasoned brown belt under Carlson Gracie Jr., tough competitor, and excellent teacher. He wrote a short piece explaining the origin of the name of his school that I wanted to share here. In an odd stroke of fate led me to a blacksmithing class in Kentucky with a long time Judoka named Barry Fizer. Both the written piece and the interview I did with Barry about the relationship between blacksmithing and martial arts seemed to dovetail nicely. I am reprinting Ryan’s piece with permission here and providing a link to the video interview with Barry to complement it.

Brian Jones, PhD


The Forge of Jiu Jitsu

by Ryan Foster

“Life’s a forge. Yes, and hammer and anvil, too. You’ll be roasted, smelted, and pounded, and you’ll scarce know what’s happening to you. But stand proudly to it. Metal’s worthless till it is shaped and tempered. More labor than luck. Face the pounding, don’t fear the proving; and you’ll stand well against any hammer and anvil.”

-Lloyd Alexander, The High King

The Principle of the Anvil

met·tle (noun)

  1. a person’s ability to cope well with difficulties or to face a demanding situation in a spirited and resilient way.

At many points throughout our existence, life will test your resolve, test your character, test your integrity.  Life will flat out beat you down.  These hard times shape our character.  Times of growth are almost always preceded by something or someone that puts us out of our comfort zone, sometimes far, far out of our comfort zone.  These times are ripe for introspection, and hold the mirror up for us to examine what is inside.  Jiu Jitsu will test you almost daily, and by adjusting our attitude to embrace challenge, instead of shying away from it, we can truly examine and adjust who we are.  We slowly polish the spirit through daily practice over an extended (years) period of time.

A good anvil does not fear the hammer -Italian Proverb

As one starts their jiu jitsu journey, they should take on the attitude of the anvil, an attitude of endurance.  You will get beat during randori by most of the other practitioners with experience.  It is the daily grind defeat that forces the majority of people who try jiu jitsu to quit.  It is foreign, it is difficult, and you won’t be good at it for a while.  But every defeat is a learning opportunity.  Once you adjust your attitude to see defeat as learning, you will learn to embrace the heat of the forge and pounding of the hammer.

The anvil attitude is best exemplified by Grand Master Helio Gracie, and now through his grandson Ryron.  GM Helio was not concerned with winning, but rather not losing.  This subtle mind shift puts the onus of winning on the opponent.  You simply have to survive to win.  This is a valuable mindset and practice that will allow you to become comfortable in the uncomfortable.  Your survival skills will be put to the test often early in your career, but it is important to keep your defensive skills sharp even as they become tested less often.  There is always someone better, faster and stronger than you.  This attitude is the epitome of mental toughness.  You can be defeated, but not broken.

The anvil lasts longer than the hammer. -Italian Proverb

In practice, this translates into being able to survive uncomfortable situations, and submission attempts.  It is important to develop this mindset early in your career.  If you are able to stay safe in the worst positions, against the best opponents, it has a frustrating and exhausting effect.  It allows you to create an energy expenditure discrepancy, and your opponent will have to expose themselves more and more to create offensive opportunities, which is an underlying mindset and strategy of jiu jitsu.  If you are safe even in inferior positions, eventually you window for escape or reversal will open.  Your chance to become the hammer will present itself.

The Principle of the Hammer

If you are an anvil be patient; if you are a hammer strike hard. -German Proverb

As your survival skills improve, you will be presented with more and more windows of attack.  As you gain knowledge, technique and experience, you will get to play the role of the hammer more and more often.

As your jiu jitsu “game” forms, it usually forms along your personality lines.  Your game will grow and change with you, and can grow and morph with you throughout your jiu jitsu journey.  Your game as a young lion (or lioness) will look different if you find yourself amongst the more rare old lions that still find themselves on the proving grounds

With the power of destruction should come temperance.  The most common injuries in randori usually come from newer students that don’t have the control that they should.  It is important to take care of our partners whenever training live.

A good hammer can be used with varying degrees of pressure, and always with control.  It takes varying blows with the hammer to produce the results you want.  With proficiency you should be able to challenge lower ranks at their level.  Unless you are training for competition, it serves very little learning purpose to simply beat and beat on the lower ranks.

The Forge and the Sword

Iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. -Proverbs 27:17

Metal is worthless until it is shaped and tempered.  You will be put back into the fire time and time again, taken out and beaten and beaten, twisted and folded.  Over and over, getting stronger and sharper with each passing of the hammer, and each bath in the fire. It is the only way that a true sword can be made.

Eventually you will be made into a sword of your own shape and style, and you will be ready to be cooled and polished, and sharpened.  This only happens with the help of your training partners.

The only way to become proficient in Jiu Jitsu is to have good training partners.  Partners who will both push you to the edge, but not break you down.  After weeks, and months, and years of training, your body will break from time to time, but this is a long process.  It is important to find good training partners who will push you, but also take care of you. This is one of the most fundamental relationships in the dojo, and it is one of the most rewarding.  The friendships that are forged on the mats, and in the fire, is probably the best part of studying Jiu Jitsu.

Check out Ryan’s school website Forge Martial Arts

Go to Facebook and ‘Like’ his page here

Here is the video interview I conducted with Barry Fizer from the Valhalla Academy Youtube Channel.


Leave a Reply