What Everyone Gets Wrong About Learning in Jiu Jitsu

I’ve consistently weighed in on the longstanding “gi or no-gi” debate in the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu community, showing the case for training in the gi here, and the no-gi case here.  I’ll give you the TL;DR version, in case you don’t want to read my poetic diatribes from a decade ago:  it’s a silly debate.  Both have merit, and one tends to make you better at the other.

But what about gi-specific techniques, like this lapel guard section on BJJ Path I’ve been focused on lately?  A common refrain I get from subscribers (and students) is that gi-specific techniques have no merit for no-gi grappling, so why bother trying to understand such complicated techniques that won’t work (without the gi) anyway?

Here’s why I think this thought process is misguided, along with another way to think about training.  When you’re out there rolling, or practicing a technique, your objective shouldn’t be to memorize the moves in a technique so that you can repeat them mechanically at some future opportune time.  Instead, try to understand why the technique works.

At its core, jiu jitsu is a combination of Newtonian physics and anatomy.  Those two fields explain everything, apart from the psychological side (let’s leave that out for our purposes).  When you try to understand why a move works (or doesn’t), ask what physical forces are being applied, and how they’re being applied, and from what direction.  Next, ask how that force intersects with the underlying anatomy.

Take a quick look at the preview on the below video (and watch the video if you want to):

From the above image, you can see clearly that my right arm, with my right hand gripping the lapel, traps the outside of the knee.  If you practice the technique a few times, you’ll realize that my upward pull on the lapel allows me to bring counter pressure downward, against the side of my partner’s knee, creating a powerful trap that would be tough to make without that extra leverage.

When I practice this technique, I think about how I can keep their knee bent, for one thing.  I also think about how I need to have that counter-pressure (pulling up on the lapel in order to push downward to bend the knee).  This is a lot like finishing a straight ankle lock, shown below, where I need to step on my partner’s hip in order to create counter-pressure for my hips, which will keep their knee bent.

When you’re training in class, try not to think only about specific applications for the technique you’re working on.  Of course you’ll want to understand where you can use a technique and where it makes no sense, but you’ll also want to understand the much bigger lessons these individual moves can teach you.  This means thinking about the physics and anatomy of the moves, putting them into a much broader context… and yes, that means that you can learn a lot about gi training by training no-gi, and vice versa.

article by Andrew Smith 

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