Friday, December 9, 2011

Innovation, Jiujitsu, and You

This post has been forming itself in my head for a few days, ever since I saw this video from the ADCC Pro Trials:

In it the guy catches a very slick collar choke variation off of a scramble. He posted it over at JiuJitsuForums in this thread and we had a discussion about what it was called, and exactly how it was executed. This lead me to thinking about innovation, especially at the lower belts, and jiujitsu.

One of our white belts who has been training for a long time did something that as far as I can tell is completely unique to him. He made up the technique. I've never seen anyone else do it, or even indicated it might be possible. He hit an ezekiel choke on a guy that HAD HIS BACK. In the process he discovered a really solid way to block attacks from the back while threatening his opponent with a choke. Is this a brand new move? Who knows, but it's definitely new to our gym. More importantly, should he, as a white belt, be trying to make up new stuff on the fly instead of working on his established defenses? I don't have an answer to that and that isn't what this post is about.

This is about the creative process of JiuJitsu and how it forces innovation, as well as how that innovation is embrace by the community. Some blackbelts have been extremely innovative and everyone knows about it. Marcelo Garcia's X-Guard is widely studied and used, Eddie Bravo's Rubber Guard system is something that almost every white belt has dabbled with, Spider Guard, De La Riva guard, etc... are all relatively recent innovations as well, and Upside Down/Inverted/Tornado guard has been exploding across the BJJ world for the last few years.

This post is about where this stuff comes from. Again this is not about the specifics of how Marcelo developed the X-Guard, but you can read about that in his book if you're interested, this is about how innovation in general occurs.

Ok, so enough teasers. Innovation in BJJ happens when someone hits an obstacle that they can't overcome with traditional methods. BJJ itself is a testament to this process as Helio developed it largely because he wasn't able to use the traditional Judo style effectively because of his particular body type. When the white belt from our gym kept getting his back taken and getting stuck he was getting outmuscled by guys when he tried to escape, so his solution was to try to use something he's already really good at (His Ezekiel choke is pimp) to solve a problem he was having somewhere else.

My game has partially shaped itself around issues like that because I'm small, weak, and lazy. Sweeps not working on bigger guys? Well, what if I collar choke them at the same time? Oh hey! That works! And not only does it work, but I can't find video or reference to it anywhere. Did I just invent something? Nope. Someone, somewhere, is using exactly the same stuff I'm using. Doesn't matter though. I discovered it within the context of my jiujitsu so for all practical purposes I "invented" it.

This will happen more and more as your game develops because your instructor can only teach you so much and most of it will be out of solid, universal, fundamentally successful techniques. Much of what you discover or invent  will be techniques that fit uniquely into your attributes or your game. Your instructor will have some of these things which he may or may not teach because they may or may not be universally applicable, but rest assured he does HAVE them. Everyone past blue belt will have at least 2-3 techniques that they "invented" that work well for them, but may not work well for anyone else.

Frankly I approve of this process. The sport develops because people try new things. Most of the new things you try will fail, but some will work, and some will work incredibly well. Don't listen to anyone that tells you everything in BJJ has been discovered already. That MIGHT be true, but one guy, in one gym, in Brazil using something doesn't do you any good if you don't know about it. That means we should all be trying to innovate, all the time. Don't try to innovate to the exclusion of your fundamentals, but don't be afraid to set some time aside every week to explore your jiujitsu.

I guarantee that all of the guys who have pushed the sport forward started exploring with their Jiujitsu WELL BEFORE they got their blackbelts.


  1. The two black belts in my gym will sometimes finish something that leaves me thinking "WTF was that?" Then they laugh and say, "I dunno, I just made it up." They also both have several of those that they've refined, named, and will teach.

    Justin especially will sometimes work with someone else and explore a position or grip (the fruit roll-up, for one).

    I think a lot of innovation can come when you know the basics and principles of movements, techniques, and positions.

  2. I agree completely. It's going to be far easier to innovate if you have a thorough grounding in the basics. It provides a platform from which to launch your exploration.

  3. We've done drills in class where we have to do, for example, 3 different chokes. Then our partners does 3 different chokes. Then it's our turn to do 3 other chokes. Doesn't matter if you have to make something up or even if it's ultimately viable; it just has to be different.

    Really makes you think about the underlying principles of the technique and also makes you think outside the small box of known positions and body parts.

  4. I like gi chokes a lot. I have to be fairly sneaky with them at this point, because everyone I train with knows not to let me near their lapels. So, I tend to make stuff up and see what happens all the time. I have no doubt that these maybe-chokes have names (especially the ones that work), but, I've certainly never been taught to do them. I just know how to create leverage to make people make that lovely gurgling sound. You know, sometimes. On a good day. Other days, they think I'm a dufus and clear the annoying material away from their neck (because I missed something), and we move on. It's my favorite part of training - finding new things that work, or that don't.

  5. I saw that ezequiel from inside the back and have been meaning to post my footage of it. I was very impressed. He was your guy??? NICE :)