What is the Chinese Finger Trap? The “Chinese Finger Trap” is a thinly woven bamboo tube with openings on each end that are roughly the size of a human finger. An unwitting victim is asked to insert their index fingers into the openings, whereupon they find themselves trapped.
This sensation of feeling trapped elicits a stress response — the natural reaction is to pull the fingers back out again. But this will make the openings at each end of the tube constrict, gripping the victims fingers ever more tightly. The harder a person pulls outward, the smaller the circumference becomes, and the more decisively they are trapped. It is only by relaxing one’s efforts at escape, and by pushing the fingers further in, that the ends of the tube can widen, and the fingers can slowly twist out and be free.
The Chinese finger trap serves as a metaphor for problems that:
- Can be overcome by relaxing.
- Have a counterintuitive solution.
How does this relate to Jiu Jitsu?
High-level Jiu Jitsu practitioners highlight the very same principles as the Chinese Finger Trap. It is normal to panic and become tense when we feel trapped. If we feel one of our limbs is threatened, it is seemingly sensible to strongly pull it away from danger.
Yet effective Jiu Jitsu practitioners often do the opposite of these expectations. They react in ways that seem illogical to the untrained person. When engaged in a close physical struggle with a resisting person, most high-level Jiu Jitsu practitioners exhibit a mental calmness that is reflected in their breath and facial expressions. When their limbs are trapped, they might consider pushing deeper into the lock; and they know the details that separate an advanced student from a beginner are often not obvious at all.
The Chinese finger trap takes advantage of its victims hard-wired stress response in order to keep them fixed in a predicament. Skilled Jiu Jitsu practitioners operate in much the same way. By placing their opponents under pressure, they can predict and exploit their opponent’s instinctual reactions.
This is one of the reasons why Jiu Jitsu has such a steep learning curve. Our progression is largely based on overriding instinctual stress reactions, and replacing them with technique.
Conclusion. Not reacting to stress with panic will leave us better able to think critically and creatively. Not only does this help us conserve energy, it leaves us less vulnerable to common traps. Like the Chinese Finger Trap, higher levels of Jiu Jitsu require us to relax and see beyond the obvious.
“Become aware of what is not obvious.” – Miyamoto Musashi