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This website is about Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ). I'm a black belt who started in 2006, teaching and training at Artemis BJJ in Bristol, UK. All content ©Can Sönmez

25 December 2009

Article - A BJJ Christmas

Article #7, by Can Sönmez

You've woken up to shiny new DVDs and books on Christmas Day. The titles slowly shed their seasonal skin of wrapping paper: Saulo Ribeiro's Jiu Jitsu University, Roy Dean's Purple Belt Requirements, or perhaps one of the three volumes by Ed Beneville.

With the huge amount of BJJ instructionals on offer now, it is easy to slip into the mindset that you'll be able to overcome that stumbling block in your game through supplemental material. If only you could find the right submission, the right set-up, the right defence, you would suddenly transform into a dominant sparring machine. This is especially common with beginners: there is still so much that seems out of reach. Constantly failing to pass somebody's guard can swiftly become demoralising, so it may feel like a DVD could be a magic key to unlock the secret.

On a related note, it appears that many people prefer to turn to the internet or supplemental material, rather than their instructor (who in my view should always be your first port of call). This may be because some instructors are easier to talk to than others, especially given variations in class size. It is also true that there are plenty of schools with a 'sink or swim' mentality. Due to BJJ's lack of formal structure (a strength in terms of a meritocratic ranking system, but a weakness when it comes to standardisation and a clear syllabus), in some clubs a beginner may go months without learning a basic escape from side control. A well-organised DVD, like Blue Belt Requirements, can help towards providing that structure, as well as filling in the gaps.

There is also the fact that BJJ is incredibly complex, a sport which is constantly developing (except among those seeking preservation rather than evolution). Especially at the higher levels, there are always new ideas and strategies coming into play (I don't want to say 'new techniques' because – barring unfortunate circumstances – we all have two arms and two legs, so seeing as grappling is at least five thousand years old, it's unlikely anything is truly 'new' in that sense), or the resurgence of earlier tactics which had fallen out of favour.

That has been aptly demonstrated this year by the 50/50 guard: not only has there been a DVD set devoted to the position, but also a flurry of YouTube videos, where various camps battled to see who could counter the other's counter first. This is evolution at its best, a technique pressure-tested to force efficacy. Thanks to the rigours of competition, if there is any flaw in the technique, you can be damn sure somebody else is going to find it.

Personally, I use DVDs and books all the time. I think they're a helpful resource, as long as you don't forget to always check technical problems with your instructor first. Ideally, DVDs simply refine what you've already learned in class, rather than an entirely new technique you've never seen outside of the internet. When you've been training a bit longer, a DVD can provide an interesting new perspective, or perhaps a different game to what you're used to (e.g., the dynamic rotational style advocated by Yukinori Sasa on Paraestra Guard). Enjoy your presents, but don't forget, it's drilling in class under qualified supervision that really counts. ;)

I'm off to Wales in a couple of days, so until January: Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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  1. I find myself also browsing youtube or flipping through books in my down time. Even if I don't find a new move to add to my game, It helps me continue to think about jiu jitsu and visualize when I'm off the mats.

  2. I really enjoyed this post. For one thing, I have felt like it is kind of a sink or swim atmosphere at my school in some ways. Don't get me wrong. My instructors and almost all of the higher belts are willing to spend time before or after class or during class with me if I ask about something specific (which I do often) but I don't often see the basics. Most of the moves I learn in class are very involved and I do feel like I am missing a lot of the details because I'm still trying to grasp the basic concept behind the move, let alone the little detail that will make the move work well and quickly.

    I do have a question, though. I guess from what I have heard through conversation, people tend to look down on DVD instructionals where I am. I am too new to know the difference between solid BJJ and b.s. BJJ, so I've just stayed away from all of them. You mentioned the Blue Belt Requirements. Would that be a good series for a beginner looking to solidify the basics in detail? Also, should I be worried about learning a different style of BJJ on a DVD series and then coming into class and getting called out by my instructors. I've been told that it's frowned upon to train at schools of two different styles.

    Sorry about how long this comment is. This is something I've been wondering about for a while. Thanks for the post!

  3. Blue Belt Requirements is, in my view, the best BJJ DVD currently available for beginners. I can't think of a better choice for supplemental material to solidify your basics, with the usual proviso that this is always in addition to asking your instructor (they will be able to give you much more specific advice than a DVD).

    I wouldn't say it is frowned upon to train in two different styles, but rather in two different competing schools. I also don't think you're going to find that the way basic moves are done varies a great deal from school to school: I've trained at five different schools up until now, and fundamentals like escaping side control, armbar from guard etc all look the same (though set-ups for submissions can certainly vary, because each instructor will have their preferences).

    However, I'd be interested in what other people think: have others noticed much variation in the application of basics?

  4. I couldn't agree with you more slideyfoot. There is so much information out there. It overloads me some times. But at the same time without that supplemental information I would have been lost. When I watch DVD's and read books I pick things up that I wouldn't otherwise. I take them to my instructor when I don't understand and get clarification.