Beginners in all training ventures of life often believe they can achieve greatness in just a few lessons. The bitter truth is that it takes heart and commitment in order to learn anything worthy to be learned. If that applies to most journeys towards knowledge, it applies even more to grappling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is not your regular martial art. Usually, there are four different types of students who join a BJJ school:
1. MMA or martial arts fans who want to give BJJ a try without even knowing that BJJ is a sport with no strikes and a sport often trained with no real relevance to MMA or self-defense.
2. Individuals with friends who train Jiu-Jitsu and are influenced or convinced by those friends to give it a try.
3. Athletes of other grappling arts like wrestling or judo, whose aim is to take their grappling one step further.
4. People who have experimented in different types of sports in order to get fit and decide to give BJJ a try.
TRAINING FOR SELF-DEFENSE
This article focuses more on the BJJ beginner who trains in order to compete in our great sport. However, self-defense is a big part of BJJ and I feel I have to address a couple of issues.
If self-defense is your goal for learning BJJ you must note this to your instructor. Some instructors focus only in sport BJJ, so you must clarify this before you join a school and get disappointed with the spider guards and the guard pulling.
BJJ versions for no-gi or MMA or self-defense generally employ curriculums that are significantly smaller than sport BJJ. Berimbolos, inverted guard attacks, etc. are not very functional when you get punched in the face and no-gi BJJ does not even use berimbolos, worm guard or spider guard techniques. My advice is not to limit yourself and work in all aspects of our great art. Even if you want to train BJJ for self-defense only, sport BJJ will make you sharp and there are schools that provide all kinds of training. BJJ is like a multifunctional tool that can be used in many ways.
Even if you are only interested in sport BJJ, if your instructor offers complimentary self-defense training do not neglect to train in these techniques as they are as important, if not even more important, than sport BJJ. Rolling with MMA rules that allow light strikes from time to time will keep your training honest and can also enhance your ability to apply your BJJ in self-defense.
THE MODERN BJJ CURRICULUM: ARIADNE’S THREAD
According to Wikipedia, Ariadne’s thread, named for the legend of Ariadne, is the solving of a problem with multiple apparent means of proceeding – such as a physical maze or a logic puzzle, – through an exhaustive application of logic to all available routes. A particular method must be used to completely follow through and trace the steps or take a point by point series of found truths in a contingent, ordered search that reaches an end position. It is the process itself that assumes the name.
What does Ariadne’s thread have to do with BJJ? BJJ nowadays is so complex one can get lost or discouraged and quit without a roadmap, an Ariadne’s thread that will lead him out of the maze.
Modern Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu requires more than 10 years training in order for someone to achieve black belt status and that happens for a reason. A modern BJJ curriculum has to utilize 200-350 techniques depending on the main objective for training in this art. Whether it is training for self-defense, sports competition, gi, no-gi or MMA or for all the above, the number of techniques you have to learn is frustrating.
If that was not enough, it seems that every couple of years somebody invents a new guard or submission adding more techniques to be learned, more counters and more options to explore. The 50-50 guard and the worm guard are now common terms in the BJJ vocabulary. Let us not forget that deep half guard and x-guard did not even exist 10-15 years ago.
I feel that it is tough for “old school” instructors to keep up with the plethora of new techniques that are being taught by younger instructors who are in their athletic prime. These are new techniques that require the athlete to be of lighter weight and flexible and are hard for a 50-year-old to practice and learn.
If you attend seminars by old school instructors you will notice that they hate it when their techniques are not appreciated and the only thing the participants want to see is worm guard or berimbolo variations. Sometimes instructors notice this in the school, when they teach beginners an escape from side control and when they turn their back the students try all these fancy moves without taking the technique being taught seriously.
And you even can see nowadays white belts competing and dropping directly to inverted guard or going for berimbolos. How can an instructor avoid teaching these techniques if his/her students will have to encounter them in competition? And probably lose as these techniques are hard to deal with. Unfortunately, the answer to that is that a lot of instructors are forced to add these techniques to their white to blue belt curriculum along with the side control escapes and the scissor sweeps from the closed guard.
Unless they are professional athletes who can train 2 times a day for 3 hours each time, 5-6 days a week, there is only so much students can learn if they train 3 times a week for a couple of hours each day.
This makes BJJ more difficult to teach. As a student, the temptation is always there to try new fancy techniques. And it is not wrong to try different things from time to time. However, do not neglect the basic techniques. The basics are being taught to beginners for a reason. Basics make the difference in winning against the elite in the long run.
TRAINING IN THE BASICS: TWO MAIN CATEGORIES
Old school instructors always stress the importance of “training in the basics.” However, the so-called “basics” can be divided into the following categories:
1. Basic techniques (armbars from the closed guard, guillotines, rear naked chokes, etc.)
2. Training in basic sport specific fitness skills and attributes. These are mostly enhanced by drills and exercises which in coordination with the basic techniques are designed to prepare your body for the advanced techniques which require a higher level of athleticism and a close attention to details.
In the past BJJ training was 90% technique training. However, as we now have more and more competitors who combine athleticism with great technique, this has started to change.
About the author: Kostas Fantaousakis is BJJ brown belt under professor Wander Braga and an MMA coach. He is the author of an ongoing series of articles that will be published in various outlets and will be archived online at http://www.embracingthegrind.com. Please share on social media to spread the love. https://www.facebook.com/embracingthegrind. Follow me on twitter to get the latest updates: @kostasfant. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The author would like to thank Kris Shaw and Deb Blyth for their help and his instructor Wander Braga for patiently answering so many questions during their training sessions
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