A while back I posted an article about different messages of why women should train BJJ. In it, I posted a really cool video called “Why Women Should Train Jiu Jitsu,” and it started a really great talk. It prompted me to contact Garden State Productions, the folks behind the video. They agreed to an interview! I hope you enjoy! But first, the video, in case you missed it.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8HFsyBG95rg]

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Please tell more about the video!

Mark Ward: This entire project was conceived literally the day we started training, sparked the moment we learned a cross collar choke.

Who are the people in the video?

MW: The actor, Shannon Meehan, is actually my co-producer and collaborator, colleague and muse. Along with a variety of other gushier, more nauseating things.

We started training on the same day, when, for her birthday, I blindfolded her, drove her down the Garden State Parkway, told her not to react the way I knew she’d react (loudly), took off the blindfold, and walked her into Ocean County Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. She was like a little kid walking into Wonka’s Factory.

Days later, we were spear tackling each other across the mats. That was over 3 years ago. Since then, she’s developed quite a smashing top game. And not “smashing” like British fancy smashing. I mean like Hulk smashing. My root canals weren’t as bad as her shoulder in my jaw. Not bad for someone whose family threw her a party when she finally broke 100lbs.

Shannon Meehan: Actually, I was thrown a party when I finally reached 5 feet tall.

MW: As for Doug, who plays the friendly neighborhood creeper, he was at OCBJJ when we got there. We walked in and were like, “Ok that guy’s big.” I consider him the unsung hero of this whole operation. His isn’t a role most would be willing to take on. And as a frightening amount of feedback’s indicated, people have difficulty separating fiction from reality. So I was afraid people might see him at a bar and head for the door. Or preemptively choke him out.

All three of us are four-stripe blue belts under Professor Tom DeBlass. And if my estimates are correct, Shannon and I may get our purple belts right around our six-year anniversary… And ain’t that just adorable. In fact, we actually filmed this on our five-year anniversary. Dinner and a movie? Nah. Let’s go to a bar at 1am and film our friend getting choked take after take.

“Tell us about your vision – how did it change from planning stage to end result?

 MW: Well, as I mentioned, the vision was born the second I learned a cross collar choke. One criticism we keep seeing is that collar chokes don’t work. Or that they’re not basic. Or too basic. Or that they’re ineffective against someone with experience (cough Roger Gracie cough). Basically suggesting Jiu-Jitsu doesn’t work. Yet how this started addresses that exact point.

When we walked into the school that very first time, I expected to check the place out, maybe watch a class. Literally within minutes of stepping through the door, we were wearing gis, learning techniques. And it was in that moment, in that choke, having my blood cut off like that for the first time, when the idea ignited. It was a revelation. Especially ironic that it took things going dim for me to see the light.

So to those who say collar chokes are ineffective, it was an effective collar choke that spawned all this.

I’ve also seen it mentioned that, after months or even years of training, some people have yet to learn collar chokes, as if to present that as evidence that they aren’t basic. For us, it was literally day one. But hey, some restaurants sit you down and give you tap water. Others, you get bruschetta.

“Did you end up with what you imagined or something quite different?

MW: By the time we got home that first day, what you see on screen was basically complete in my head. Foundationally, little changed. Some projects, I’ll do treatments, storyboards, etc. With this, it was done. Before we shot a frame of footage, I’d already watched the entire thing countless times behind my eyelids.

Except that toast at the end. Shannon ad-libbed that. And only in that take.

“What were your aims when you created this video?

MW: The initial motivation was simply to do something for the school, for the art. As soon as I experienced Jiu-Jitsu – what it felt like, how it could be used, who could do it – I couldn’t stop thinking, “People need to know.”

 “Did it change along the way?

 MW: The objectives did evolve over time, between conception and execution.

The short began as a basic 15-second TV spot. But that was way too brief to convey anything worthwhile. So fine, a 30-second spot. But that was still too limiting. Ads for other schools would come on during Bellator or The Ultimate Fighter and we’d get nothing out of them. Not enough screen time.

Not to mention they were bland and forgettable. That didn’t help. But watching them was as infuriating as it was enlightening. I find I learn just as much if not more by observing what not to do. And what we weren’t going to do was make some grainy, cable access commercial with phone numbers and URLs flying across the screen. “Come on down to OCBJJ! We’re right by Manhattan Bagel! Come in on Fridays and get a free gi! We got kids doing backflips!”

No. Just…no. It’s not a damn used car lot. And seeing those other commercials blaze by, we knew a different format was necessary. Thus it expanded into a short film. And gone were the limitations.

Gradually, more issues came to light that we wanted to address. The simple fact of the matter is that our training involves subduing, controlling, and immobilizing other human bodies.

There’s an edit with no onscreen text. The action’s slicker, smoother, and, to paraphrase my personal favorite YouTube comment, made her look like a contract killer.

SM: We learn what we learn because, should you ever need to use it outside the academy, it works.

MW: Sometimes Jiu-Jitsu gets ugly. “The gentle art” isn’t always gentle, which is necessary and appropriate for a world that can get even uglier. And it was important not to sugarcoat that.

SM: It’s much easier to execute a technique on your partner in class. They’re not resisting you. In fact, they very often go out of their way to help you perfect it.

MW: But ultimately, we train for worst case scenarios.

SM: I also wanted to portray this scenario well as a woman. I was excited to be part of something that shows women an option, that shows us there is something out there we can learn and use to combat these situations – because they are incredibly and unfortunately common.

MW: The Jiu-Jitsu community can also be pretty insular. Your team often becomes a second family. For some, it’s their first and only family. So it’s easy to forget that 99% of the population exists outside that bubble and has no clue what Jiu-Jitsu even is. “Hey you do karate, right. Lemme see you break some boards.” “Show me some UFC.” I’d say not to get me started but it’s far too late for that. The windows in here are getting fogged up from the steam coming outta my ears.

Kids in the states grow up throwing a baseball around or kicking a ball in the yard. Most guys watch American football knowing what it’s like to throw and catch that ball. But most of the time you say “Jiu-Jitsu” to someone, they think roundhouse kicks and Judo chops. Most people have no firsthand experience.

It quickly became tedious and disheartening trying to explain with words. “It uses technique and leverage rather than strength and speed.” Ok, that’s accurate. Along with vague and abstract. “It’s designed for small people to overcome larger opponents.” Well that’s cool. But how exactly? These are the things I wanted to address. Thus the practical, clinical, real-world application approach. And now, rather than clumsily try to put concepts into words, I can simply show them this. I can only hope it’s saved a few grapplers some unnecessary stress, trying to explain BJJ to their friends and co-workers.

Changes were definitely made along the way though, and the biggest alteration was the omission of dialogue. Just two lines. When Creepmaster 5000 leans into her, he says, “Fifty bucks says you wake up in my bed tonight.” To which she replies, after he’s trapped her and just as she’s sinking in the second grip, “Hundred says you wake up on this bar.” Eh, it was ok. Maybe not. But ultimately it was extraneous, and thus unnecessary. A distraction from the primary objective.

There’s also an edit with no onscreen text. The action’s slicker, smoother, and, to paraphrase my personal favorite YouTube comment, made her look like a contract killer. It’s also significantly less informative, which entirely negates the point of doing this. Hence the step-by-step walkthrough. Just like class.

“Do you feel your aims were met?

MW: I know for a fact that a number of people have started training as a direct result of the film. I can only assume that’s just a small percentage. And if that training caused even one person to stand up for themselves when they normally wouldn’t have? Well that alone makes this all worth it.

Beyond that, the fact that this sparked a fiery discourse on social inequality? Well that’s even better. People, some for the first time, are talking about something that sorely needs to be talked about.

I used to wonder why there were protest parades. Rallies for causes and whatnot. I’d be standing on College Ave at Rutgers, eating a fat sandwich, watching some feminist rally, and all I’d think was, “I shoulda gotten bubble tea too.” I never understood. I didn’t care. All their causes were obvious. Equal pay, duh. Gay rights, why not. AIDS? I love Philadelphia, but yeah, we should probably cure that.

What I didn’t appreciate is that their function is to make people aware, to get people talking. Positively, negatively, the fact that they’re talking is enough. They’ll ask questions. They’re engaged. And if even one light goes off in someone’s head, then it was worth it. There are things happening all over the world that people need to know about. And that’s why we made this. People need to know. About Jiu-Jitsu, about not being a jerk. People need to know.

And according to the feedback, victims are feeling vindicated, new people are stepping on the mats, and in attempting to defend their actions, creepers are outing themselves, loud and proud.

“Who was the intended audience of this video – jiu jitsu women or non-jiu jitsu women?

MW: To quote George R.R. Martin, “I’ve always considered women to be people.” And that’s who this was made for. Not Jiu-Jitsu women. Not non-Jiu-Jitsu women. People.

Jiu-Jitsu is for everyone. And that’s who this is for.

Yes, the protagonist is a woman. In a situation women frequently find themselves. But that’s mainly because the intent was to focus on a basic technique, and I thought this specific scenario provided a perfect opportunity for that basic technique.

“What was the overall reaction to the video?

SM: I would say the overall reaction to the video was incredibly positive.

MW: Granted if you went solely by the YouTube comments, you’d think everyone hated it. Then you see the ratio of Likes to Dislikes, and they tell a different tale. To quote one of the songbirds of my generation, “Arrogance and ignorance go hand in hand.” Those with little to say tend to say it the loudest.

“What reactions were the most surprising?

MW: The geniuses that need a disclaimer. I expected them though. They didn’t surprise me. What surprised me, and it was really more of a deep disappointment, was how many martial arts instructors found the film dangerous or irresponsible.

If your martial art doesn’t involve blood chokes, or you have no experience with blood chokes, your opinion is invalid. I don’t actively participate in discussions on subjects with which I have little familiarity, and neither should you.

SM: I obviously didn’t expect everyone to like it. I expected some to love it, but I also anticipated that the realistic element of it would be too dark for some people. You know situations like this happen, but it’s different when you see them portrayed on screen, even if it is scripted. What I didn’t expect, and what I find not only surprising but also deeply disturbing, was just how many people sympathized with Doug’s character and even went so far as to view my character as the aggressor.

MW: YouTube commenters have christened him the martyr of the piece.

SM: That disturbs me. Look, I’m 25 years old. I’ve been to bars. I’ve been to clubs. I’ve been to parties. I’ve been in situations very much like the one we portrayed, and I’d be willing to bet that just about every other woman has too. Every one of those situations had a common thread – they made me feel threatened in a very real and immediate sense.

MW: If life were a video game, “straight white male” would be the easiest difficulty setting. I’m not a gay Ugandan man or an outspoken woman in a radically fundamental Islamic society. I’m a straight guy from Jersey. I’ve got it made. And I believe that that amount of privilege carries with it an inherent sense of responsibility. And that responsibility involves doing right by those who don’t have it as easy.

SM: Even when you know how to take care of yourself, it’s still frightening when someone willfully invades your personal space. To see so many people express the idea that there was no real threat, that choking him out was somehow unprovoked, that he was “just flirting”… It blew my mind.

“Did the reactions differ greatly between jiu jitsu folks and non-jiu jitsu folks?

MW: Very much so. Obviously, if you don’t train, you don’t understand Jiu-Jitsu. You might think you do, but you don’t. And I think a lot of dissent comes from that lack of understanding.

SM: If you don’t actually train, you shouldn’t think that watching a video on YouTube suddenly makes you competent in Jiu-Jitsu. I think that’s fairly obvious to anyone with half a brain.

MW: You thought wrong. And most of that comes from misplaced entitlement. Their anger can be reduced to one word: fear. They see the man and project themselves onto him, subconsciously envisioning them in his shoes. Possibly because they’ve done exactly what he’s doing.

And then he gets choked out.

Cue the angry mob.

No one likes finding out they’re the bad guy. Villains rarely think that they’re villains. So, of course, by process of elimination, she’s the bad guy.

Non-Jiu-Jitsu women on the other hand have had some of my favorite reactions. The tone of some of their feedback is one of vindication and vicarious vengeance. (Apologies for channeling Alan Moore.) They see themselves as that woman at the bar, perhaps even recalling personal instances. Except this time, they make a stand. Others light up in awe and wonderment, like when they open the vault in Die Hard and “Ode to Joy” starts playing. But almost all respond with some familiarity of the situation. They’ve been there.

Jiu-Jitsu people across the board, men and women alike, seem to get a big kick out of it. What’s gotten lost in the controversy is the humor element. Granted that humor’s pretty damn dark, but the Jiu-Jitsu crowd gets it. As soon as she sinks that first grip, as soon as the joke’s set up, they already know the punchline. It’s an oldie but a goodie.

Grapplers understand how effective this is. They’ve felt firsthand how quickly it works. That part’s not a point of contention. If there are arguments, it’s stuff like the intricacies of the technique. Not whether or not she did the right thing. That part’s obvious to anyone with an iota of respect or social acumen.

“Many speculate about the man in the video – did he actually put something in her drink?

MW: This has been a point of debate and my one main regret…

SM: To answer the question simply, yes, he put something in her drink.

MW: (Although technically he didn’t. I told Doug he’d be out of focus and to just mime the action. Suggestion and implication would connect the dots and get the point across. Movie magic!)

Anyway, as presented, the first shot shows him in the background fumbling around with a drink. That’s it. What we also shot but ultimately decided to omit was a close-up clearly showing one of the two drinks to be hazier than the other. Something she clearly notices in another shot we cut.

The idea of him trying to drug her was to quickly portray him as the unquestionable bad guy. It was shorthand for evil. There’s no defending that.

So why were those bits edited out? Because it’s enough that he grabs her. “No, it isn’t!” Yes, it is.

SM: What holds more importance is everything else he does. He could have offered me bottled water. But if he did everything else exactly the same way, it still wouldn’t have been even remotely acceptable.

He could have offered me bottled water. But if he did everything else exactly the same way, it still wouldn’t have been even remotely acceptable.

MW: Of course you shouldn’t drug girls. Although evidently, that’s not obvious… But what kind of conversation does that raise? What many people don’t seem to comprehend is that you shouldn’t physically invade someone’s personal space like that. You can disagree, but you’d be wrong. If you genuinely believe he was only flirting, then you have to reevaluate your idea of interpersonal conduct and social entitlement. Immediately. Don’t leave the house again until you do.

So to reiterate: yes, we had him try to drug her. But I wish we didn’t. It’s enough that he grabs her.

“Is he supposed to be drunk? Or is this intentionally ambiguous?

MW: He is not drunk. Nor is he there to drink. He is there to hunt.

“Some speculate about the woman in the video – why didn’t she ‘just say no or call over the bartender, or the like – what is your response to this?

SM: This is the response that is the most frustrating to me, but it also makes me curious. How do these people think situations like this pan out? The man here either can’t read even the most blatant body language, or he doesn’t care to.

MW: Clearly these people don’t subscribe to the notion that actions speak louder than words…

Her reaction to what he says is not annoyance. It’s not mild irritation. She’s disgusted. And anyone with an IQ higher than their shoe size recognizes that as a big, flashing, neon “NO”.

SM: If someone has so little respect for me that he would invade my personal space and physically restrain me from leaving, why should I think verbalizing the word “no” is going to suddenly garner their respect? Frankly, it’s naive. More often than not, the word “no” doesn’t change the person’s mind – the same way body language doesn’t change the person’s mind.

If someone has so little respect for me that he would invade my personal space and physically restrain me from leaving, why should I think verbalizing the word “no” is going to suddenly garner their respect?

MW: Ultimately, what was said doesn’t matter. What matters is how a person reacts. If someone responds to something you say by choking back bile, that’s when you stop and reevaluate. That’s how conversation works. Consideration for the listener.

I guarantee you the people who wonder why she didn’t just say “no” are the same people who ramble on in one-sided conversations without ever noticing the listeners would rather be getting dental work done. She did say “no”. You just don’t know how to interact with people.

On top of that, if what you say offends someone so egregiously that they go so far as to get up and leave? Something happened. Who knows what, but it happened. Let them go. Drink your light beer, adjust your turtleneck and chain, and chat up someone else. What you don’t do is invade their physical space and bodily prevent them going in their intended direction. Then you’re asking to get decked.

SM: As easy as it would be to dismiss these responses as socially ignorant, in a way, they’re just the opposite. “Why didn’t she just say ‘no’?” is a reflection of a much larger problem that exists on a cultural level.

We have become so accustomed to the man’s behavior that we don’t even recognize glaringly obvious non-verbal no’s. Not only that, but it’s expected that a woman who wears a form-fitting dress to a bar is going to be treated this way. Often, it’s assumed that she even wants to be treated this way. Why else do women wear dresses, right? (Many commenters expressed as much, although usually in rather unsavory ways.) It demonstrates that we have not only accepted but encourage victim-blaming as an appropriate response.

We have accepted violations of personal space, particularly the personal space of women, as normal. And in doing so, we are failing to recognize very real and very obvious threats. It’s dangerous, and it does everyone a disservice.

MW: “Why didn’t she just call over the bartender?” Why should she have to? What if there were no other people to call upon for help? Are we that against self-reliance? Even worse, “why didn’t she just wait for someone to come to her rescue?”

SM: Why should she? I can tell you as a person who has been in similar situations and who has seen other people in similar situations: hinging your safety on someone else helping you, nine times out of ten, is a mistake. If I can rely on myself, I’m not about to sit around and hope someone else decides to be reliable for me.

Furthermore, in almost every real-life situation like this one that I’ve seen personally, regardless of how loud or verbal the person was being about their opposition to unwanted advances, outside help didn’t come from the bartender or security guards or a manager – it either came from friends who were there with the person or other women who saw what was happening and took it upon themselves to step in.

The sad reality is that very often people notice, but very seldom do they intervene.

MW: And that’s where this gets even more interesting.

We rehearsed the first half of this at different areas of the bar, trying to block shots, find optimal seats, etc. No lights, no cameras. Just action. In other words, all people saw was a big guy manhandling a tiny girl against her will. At length. Repeatedly. And after the first few run-throughs, not one person intervened.

We rehearsed the first half of this at different areas of the bar, trying to block shots, find optimal seats, etc. No lights, no cameras. Just action. In other words, all people saw was a big guy manhandling a tiny girl against her will. At length. Repeatedly. And after the first few run-throughs, not one person intervened.

Only towards the end, one person, a young girl, finally stepped up. She quietly asked Shannon if she wanted to go outside and have a cigarette. Not the bartenders, not the security, not other patrons. And this is common. Look up The Bystander Effect, which is something we’ll emphasize in a future short.

Moral of the story: it’s nice to have backup, but don’t depend on it.

SM: I also think the “call over the bartender” response is unacceptable, because it’s based, at least in part, on the idea that a woman either cannot or should not defend herself. If we had both been men, I highly doubt there would be so many people up in arms about the physical force used against this guy. If a man threatens another man in a bar, and they get into a physical altercation, how many of these people would be outraged? How many of them would say, “He shouldn’t have hit him. He should’ve called the bartender over for help instead. That was irresponsible.” I’d wager not many.

MW: Guys front on each other all the time. That’s fine. Posture up, stamp your feet, beat your chest. Establish your territorial dominance. But if one guy so much as touches the other, it’s on. Anything goes at that point. Not legally, of course. Although I guarantee the same people who talk tough about taking hits, all they’d slap back with is a lawsuit. But we’re not talking about law.

So let’s talk about the law: I don’t know anything about it. And neither do most people commenting on it. Everything I know about litigation came from My Cousin Vinny and Sam Jackson yelling about people deserving to die and burning in hell. Two words seem to escape these people waving the legal flag: fictional dramatization. I’m not sure how they manage to enjoy any movies at all without a willing suspension of disbelief.

A lot of people have also suggested that if positions were switched, if the man choked out the woman, then there’d be outrage. Well, I agree. There would be outrage. And that’s unfortunate. If you’re out of place, regardless of gender, you should be put back in it.

Another thing this brought to light was that a chilling amount of people simply don’t know that certain behavior is wrong. Not subjective, not circumstantial. Wrong. There are some things you just don’t do. Like grabbing someone who doesn’t want to be grabbed. Unless your goal is to piss someone off and/or get into a fight, don’t do it. And it’s apparent that a frightening number of people simply don’t know they’re the bad guys. Or don’t care. And the rest of us have to deal with them. To paraphrase John Custer, “You’ve gotta be one of the good guys…because there are way too many of the bad.”

There are some things you just don’t do. Like grabbing someone who doesn’t want to be grabbed. Unless your goal is to piss someone off and/or get into a fight, don’t do it. And it’s apparent that a frightening number of people simply don’t know they’re the bad guys. Or don’t care.

“Any more projects in the works?

MW: Always. And presently, quite a few.

Jiu-Jitsu related, Garden State Productions currently has in pre-production: three more of these real-world clinic-type shorts, a few others in different styles focusing on things like takedowns or conditioning, and a couple specifically for our school. There’s one I’m incredibly excited for but we need better slow motion gear. We can only do so much with our budget. Which is approximately zero.

Non-Jiu-Jitsu related: two longer shorts I’m working to get into production this year, a series of micro-shorts presently in various stages of production (all of which involve casting teammates, most of whom don’t know I have them in mind for roles), and two feature films written, one a musical possibly to also be adapted for stage. So we’re a bit busy. Though the best part about all this is that watching movies is technically research.

We also have a separate GSP branch, Garden State Photography, and frequently shoot our teammates’ competitions, among other things. That’s an ongoing thing. Each set typically eats up about a week of editing time, but the photography mainly serves as drilling for cinematography.

But the next major project coming up will likely be an instructional video for Professor Garry Tonon, our professor Tom DeBlass’ first black belt who made some waves this year at ADCC against Kron Gracie and Buchecha. He’s got a pretty unique style. And apparently so do we. So needless to say, this should be interesting.

“What is one question you’d like to be asked about this video? 🙂 (and please give your resulting answer!

MW: “Were you afraid to show this to anyone?” And yes, just one person. Our professor, Tom DeBlass. Not because I didn’t think he’d like it. I was pretty sure he’d dig it. But because I feared he wouldn’t want to endorse it. That is, let us bookend it with the OCBJJ logo. Some other martial arts instructors want nothing to do with this thing, so the fear was warranted.

See, I figured this video would get around. People ask if I’m surprised by the response. No, I’m not. At all. I knew it’d be seen. Even if you went solely by BJJ people sharing it with their non-grappling friends, I knew it’d get around. It’d have just been a damn shame if the eyes that saw it didn’t also see the OCBJJ logo.

Of course I’d still release it, just for the sake of the art, but not associated with any other academy. Renzo Gracie affiliations would be kosher of course, but no school outside the family. I sure as hell wasn’t gonna let anyone else put their filthy mitts on it.

What gave me courage was Professor Garry Tonon, who’d recently begun teaching at Brunswick BJJ, saying he’d happily use it if all else failed. Then at least I knew the opportunity wouldn’t be wasted.

So thank you for interviewing us! Not to mention watching the video, enjoying it, sharing it, and supporting it. Like I said, the whole point of this was that people need to know. You’re helping with that. And it’s greatly appreciated.

Jiu Jiu’s Question: If you’d like to ask Mark or Shannon a question, or leave your own thoughts about their video below, I’m sure they’ll be open for responding! Otherwise, I’m curious if knowing more about the background of the video changed your views about the video itself?

Reminder: the top commenter in March gets a free BJJ app!