Learning Jiu-Jitsu Summarized

Have found myself studying more instructional footage over the holidays, with little urge to write.  In a lot of ways this is full circle, as from 1996 to 2007 received most information studying film.  There was a little bit of fault in this, as I could have used the coaches and fellow students around me more, but for better or worse, studying instructionals and tournament footage was ‘my thing.’

The problem with the above is during that time period I didn’t understand the principles that form the building blocks of BJJ very well, so was studying VHS, DVDs, YouTube, and Online Instruction from the perspective of some one ‘out there’ having ‘my’ answers.  In short, copyin!

The problems with such assumptions were numerous!

First off, we need to understand that all practitioners, even a legend like Rickson Gracie are individuals using Jiu-Jitsu to suit their particular needs (in Rickson’s case you could argue living out a role he was born into).  So the lesson here is taking the time understand an individuals journey, and likewise the context in which their art evolved.

Second, married with understanding people’s needs are YOU and your needs.  This is the ‘art’ part of Jiu-Jitsu, and probably a massive reason why I ended up blogging with English being my best subject in school coupled with personal needs.  To the point, the key is being open to possibilities as they relate to Jiu-Jitsu, and playing the most fulfilling way you can.

Lastly, as discussed previously, everything you see some one else teach is an application of principles.  So they key as a student is filtering information through a growing understanding of the ‘big picture.’  Also, never assume you’ve got or are learning the most efficient application of principles, as problem solving and understanding are processes subject to both personal and community driven evolution.

training forever

Cliff note summary:  “Understand yourself, understand your teacher(s), understand principles.”



Online Jiu-Jitsu Training Tip #1: Honest Copying

Online Jiu-Jitsu training resources are an awesome, natural progression of things.  Love the idea that a group of friends can now gather relatively anywhere to do Jiu-Jitsu.  Choice is a beautiful thing secure people embrace! =)

This being said, and partially because material is being taught within the confines of a purely visual medium, there’s a lot of copying going on!

Not to worry.  I have trusted sources I copy as well, but don’t usually list such things as I don’t people copying my copying. ;o)

Carrying on, the point here is being honest about where you are at in a progression…

Rather than repeat some one else’s words as your own, communicate it to yourself and others as Rener’s, Marcelo’s, or Saulo’s logic and thought process, understanding these as doorways to your own verbage, expressions, and direction.

When in doubt, make good art:


Study: Reverse Engineering Principles


Something a lot of practitioners miss in the below ‘fundamental chain’ analogy is Rickson Gracie could spoon feed you his fundamentals, but that’s not necessarily going to translate to an understanding Jiu-Jitsu.

The above is analogous some one teaching you how to take apart and reassemble an engine.  Yes, this is a necessary step in understanding engine construction conceptually, but it’s step one. =)

This is partially the reason why some students move from academy to academy in hope of greener pastures, completely missing that the ‘magic’ or ‘force’ is in them!

So, putting the ‘fundamental chain’ into action whenever we see a position or idea we think is worth exploring we really need dig into the mechanics of it:

How does it work bio-mechanically?  Does it have similarities to other concepts and positions I’m already familiar with?  What is the timing of the position and key structural points?  What are its strengths and weaknesses?  

Those are just a few questions of the top of the head, but this is the process that’s going to take us from a surface to principle based understanding from which we can begin to offer our solutions, modifications, and creations.

Tying this further into the essence of Jiu-Jistu, what makes one position ‘great’ Jiu-Jitsu while another is garbage?  A coach can point in the direction of how to distinguish, but no one can taste the food for you!


Study: The ‘Fundamental’ Chain

Something I strongly advocate is starting with the essence of Jiu-Jitsu, as this will give us skill-sets easily transferable to self-defense, MMA, Submission Wrestling, and Sport Jiu-Jitsu.


In other words the FOUNDATION of our game shouldn’t be built on positions that leave us open to repeated head trauma.

Back to the ‘essence’ idea, starting with this leads us to interlocking fundamental principles like distance management, leverage, survival, energy efficiency, weight distribution, and timing.

Fundamental principles in term lead to the most transferable applications which are probably what most people refer to when talking about ‘fundamentals’ like framing, bridging, shrimping, posture, as well as domination positions facilitating hip and limb control.

To close, while we’re never going to be perfect Jiu-Jitsu practitioners, we can take comfort  in the idea that the ‘essence’ always points in a direction that gives us the most bang for buck.



Training: Bankin’ It

This year has been the year of the routine, and while routines are great, began noticing I was becoming anal during summer.

The preceding insight evolved into three reference points: Optimal Gains, Gains, and Maintaince relative to personal direction.

You see the thing that was missed in my rush to excellence is doing enough to Maintain is a GIANT blessing.  For general reference that’s some form of training once a week, but I can get away with ten days.  As we age this time span decreases; which is another reason to get smarter. =)

Why a blessing?  Well in a savings account metaphor our balance isn’t decreasing.  This is huge accomplishment compared to an account that’s constantly bleeding or worse, hemorrhaging.

Further, if life gets in the way, which is highly likely for a practitioner doing Jiu-Jitsu over a lifespan, even if we can’t maintain, we can still minimize bleeding by training once a month.  The point being is we’re acknowledging ‘all or nothing’ thinking for what it is. Dysfunctional. Especially over the long haul.

Being able to train a couple times a week in various capacities gentlemen, is sweeter.  The bank account is growing, and if we can do it thoughtfully and consistently over a long period of time, we’re millionaires.  This is the Gains landscape.

one million

Optimal Gains relative to an otherwise balanced lifestyle are the coup de grace of training, but where I was joykillin’ myself.  Where you’re at is where you’re at, but optimal gains somehow became my standard instead of being content to maintain and/or minimize losses.

For a loose definition, optimal gains are more or less figuring out ideal work/recovery cycles. In a banking metaphor it would be continual savings parlayed into investments.  Professional athletes get sport-scientific about this as would a good stock broker, but for me running approximately 3x a week for cardio with two days rest is cherry.

Keep in mind I gotta balance this cardio with Jiu-Jitsu and other interests, so it requires a bit of perspective:  Enjoyment is the guide. If I ain’t lovin it something is off!




Training: Whole Brain Fundamentals

Shared recently I’m about 75% happy with my fundamentals, knowing this might not change and could even decrease as my understanding of Jiu-Jitsu increases (hopefully!!).

To the current day, one thing I’ve been working on is learning both sides of Jiu-Jitsu ‘essentials.’

rocky 3 ending

While there’s wisdom in mastering one side, the idea transporting me to the above path was:

‘If a position or transition is good enough to be considered ‘fundamental,’ shouldn’t I learn both sides?’ *keep in mind I have strong sides, and not learning both sides from scratch.*

Something cool is, an unforeseen benefit of this has been making the strong side stronger!


Well, to learn the weaker side, we have to go back and break things down step by step, which deepens our awareness of mechanics that may be taken for granted.  It’s the same concept as teaching for increased awareness.  Naturally, this lends itself to further possible micro-improvements.

Referring previous post and ‘play,’ it’s also just plain fun to drill 360 degrees of something.  I understand the importance of specialization for competition, but there’s a fine line there too in terms of muscle balance, health, and general coordination.

whole brain

Training: Balancing Fun & Method

It’s been somewhat of a weird year that’s garnered a healthy respect for both enjoying training and efficacy of method.

The problem is a methodical approach to training can be tedious and boring, especially for the non-professional lifestyle practitioner.

Still, I think any serious practitioner who wants to progress their Jiu-Jitsu needs to develop a methodological intelligence over time.

How do we do this while still remaining as fresh and enthusiastic about Jiu-Jitsu as 5th Grader on the brink of summer break?

Well, I think it’s good to have SOME direction, but to bring fun back into the fold, we do whatever the hell we want and notice the results. =)

Used to think having fun meant giving up some smarts, but was probably thinking shallow, escapist type fun versus a naturally creative, present orientation.  These are two totally different things, even though they’re often packaged together:

Deep play exists for the sake of itself being innocent and therefore free.  A free mind is a learning machine that can turn mess into method and method into miracle, while being bound by no-thing.


Training: Re-Thinking Speed

Still catch myself trying to ‘go fast’ to ‘beat’ my training to the next position.  This urge is probably the toughest to resist when a training partner is in competition mode and explodes to compensate for lack of timing and technique.

Naturally, not helping the situation by responding in kind! ;o)

So, a couple thoughts on speed are, the fastest movements are the relaxed ones we don’t have to think about.  In this respect ‘trying’ to move fast means we’re already behind on a couple different levels.

Secondly, trusting relaxation, we’ll deal with what’s in front of us in the moment instead of racing for 50/50 chances.  Call it ‘going behind to get ahead.’

Finally, to reiterate the first point, if you have to do something fast you don’t know it; otherwise it would just happen.  This is where drilling can come in handy!


Jiu-Jitsu & The Force Part 7: Common Sense

ali water

Something a bit counter-intuitive about the Force, maybe because it’s by nature intangible and therefore mysterious, is the Jedi are grounded in practicality and common sense.

For example, as powerful a Jedi Master Yoda is, he’s not going to take on an Imperial Fleet by himself.  This would be a tremendous waste of resources and poor strategy to say the least…

Where this long-winded metaphor relates to training, and last post specifically (Creed Factor), is if we’re exploring alternative or new training methods we need to be open to the strengths and weaknesses of a given approach, remembering there’s ALWAYS strength and weaknesses.  In this way we can lever the strengths as much as possible while diminishing the weaknesses through understanding.


As such, going back to common sense, being overtly critical of every approach we come across versus being open long enough to see if it appeals to us; and looking to make things work instead of pointing out every flaw will determine the amount of gold we mine.

Case in point, in the early days of MMA there was a lot of backlash against traditional martial arts and their training methods.  What was missed in our efforts to throw the baby out with the bathwater were that the problems weren’t the training, it’s that people got too ego driven/insecure to continue testing things.

The preceding de-evolution based on insecurity even happened in many JKD circles, and really has nothing to do with ‘traditional’ versus ‘non-traditional’ training methods. aliwater3

Well, this was a bit of a ramble, but the key point is being open minded about what you can get done using a variety of methods selected, tested and refined to fit your needs, while at the same time remaining grounded.





Training: Creativity & The Creed Factor



Realizing more and more how traditional BJJ was when I started training in the mid-1990s.  Secrecy was still at a premium in some camps back then (some individuals STILL have problems with Rener and Ryron selling lessons online 20 years later!!) and we would basically throw a person off the street into sparring with little or no training.

For the training itself, sparring WAS the training after 10-20 positional reps with varying degrees of progressive resistance during class.

Compare this with the dozens if not hundreds of ways Rocky and Adonis were able to get work done in the movie ‘Creed.’  What I took away from that movie more than anything else is that training and drilling are about creativity…

With a little creativity and imagination we can make anything work. So, the thought for the day is think about what you want to get done and realize there are a million ways to get there.

Have fun and play accordingly!

Sugar Ray Robinson with Jump Rope