“With concept based learning you are able to acquire a much smaller number of core principles that govern physics and body mechanics and then learn that all the “moves” are just expressions of those principles.”
– Rob Biernacki
There are innumerable BJJ technique videos on YouTube and we all love to learn a new move or variation to add to our game.
Many advanced instructors of jiu-jitsu say that the “secret” to mastering jiu-jitsu is NOT in how many moves you know, but in HOW you are applying the moves.
There are underlying principles or concepts behind HOW the individual techniques are applied against an opponent.
What does this mean? And how do you apply it to your jiu-jitsu?
ATT black belt, Rob Biernacki of Island Top Team in BC, Canada talks about jiu-jitsu concepts such as a “Technique Based” approach versus a “Principle or Concept Based” and core principles that govern physics and body mechanics in jiu-jitsu.
Jiu-Jitsu Times: Can you explain what is the difference between a “Technique Based” approach versus a “Principle or Concept Based” approach to jiu-jitsu? Why do you feel a Principle or Concept based approach is more useful in jiu-jitsu?
Rob Biernacki: A technique based approach attempts to teach individuals an endless array of “moves”, which, aside from being impossible due to the endless permutations and variations possible in BJJ, puts a restriction on how practitioners are able to perceive movement.
Our minds use a mechanism called a heuristic to categorize information, and it strongly affects perception, so when we don’t have a heuristic for a movement, and we view BJJ as a collection of techniques, the consequence is that we can be rendered ineffective as grapplers by a technique we haven’t seen before.
It is difficult, even impossible for some people to create a response in the moment. They need to learn the specific counter before they can have a chance to react properly.
With concept-based learning, you are able to acquire a much smaller number of core principles that govern physics and body mechanics and then learn that all the “moves” are just expressions of those principles.
When you combine that understanding with the muscle memory of a short list of movements (about 20 in total) that, when combined, create all BJJ techniques, then you are significantly reducing the cognitive processing demand on your brain when faced with information.
This compresses what is known as the OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) allowing you to not only react quicker, but problem solve on the fly. I tell my students I’m trying to teach them an “adaptable problem solving algorithm,” a more efficient way to learn, and a better way to create skilled teachers in my opinion.
Jiu-Jitsu Times: How would you recommend students of jiu-jitsu look at in learning and applying their jiu-jitsu in terms of concepts INSTEAD of accumulating more and more techniques? Can you give a specific example in, say, passing the guard, controlling the back, or applying pressure from the top position?
Rob Biernacki: Well, the best way I can recommend is to procure the BJJ Formula App Series that Stephan Kesting will soon be releasing because it contains all the concepts I teach at my academy and how they relate to technique.
But now that I’ve gotten the shameless plug out of the way, I would have to say that rolling with an eye towards concepts is actually much easier than rolling and trying to spam random techniques because concepts create context that many practitioners are lacking.
Let’s take a simple concept like the force vector concept, which states that when you have force directed towards you, it will come at a specific angle (known as a force vector) and that your post or frame has to match the angle of the force vector.
This applies in literally every position, movement, and transition that occurs when your opponent is trying to put pressure on you. So when you are rolling, putting a goal in your mind of just monitoring the angle at which you can see or feel force being directed towards you, and trying to match it with the angle at which you place your foot, or elbows let’s say, is much simpler than trying to remember all the different escapes for side control or all the different counters to guard passes.
This allows you to focus more on feel, proper alignment, and proper movement, which has a secondary effect of removing the obsession with winning or at least not losing, that so many people fall prey to.
Jiu-Jitsu Times: I have heard you say that jiu-jitsu is all about frames and levers. Can you elaborate on that a little?
Rob Biernacki: Absolutely. Our limbs can act as frames or levers. That’s a slight oversimplification, but its explanatory power more than makes up for the lack of nuance.
Frames support weight, either our own, our opponent’s, or both. Attempting to support weight in any other way is inefficient.
Levers multiply the amount of force transferred into your opponent. They are not only more efficient than direct application of force, they are more powerful.
We want to use frames and levers against our opponent, and deny the use of them to our opponent. We seek to change frames into levers and levers into frames.
Again, as a principle that is simple and can be expressed everywhere, we now have a goal when rolling that is easier to achieve.
When we combine this with an understanding of alignment, we can see that BJJ is the art and science of utilizing frames and levers to affect our opponent’s base, posture, and structure, while maintaining our own. This leads to control, vulnerability, and ultimately submission.
Jiu-Jitsu Times: Can you share one or two of your favorite principles of jiu-jitsu? How do you apply it in rolling?
Rob Biernacki: The lever to the hip and the lever to the shoulder are concepts I love, they have allowed me to survive against people I probably don’t even belong on the mats with.
I apply them by constantly seeking the mechanical end of the lever, usually the elbow and wrist in the case of the lever to the shoulder, which affords me rotational control, and makes it incredibly difficult for my opponent to complete their goal, while allowing me to threaten with arm drags, arm bars or omoplatas from the bottom.
Jiu-Jitsu Times: How does a student develop a deeper understanding of how the concepts are employed. They can drill an arm bar for sets and reps. How does one train a concept to inculcate it into muscle memory?
Rob Biernacki: That is an excellent question! We have a series of games or situational rolling exercises with specific goals and parameters that we do at my academy to practice concepts.
I believe that to practice concepts, you really have to take winning and losing largely out of the equation. You have to take intensity out of the equation,too, at least for one of the participants, because intensity promotes acting on instinct, which is the opposite of learning.
Training has to teach you the difference between what you want to do and what you should do. When you are able to structure rolling in a way that encourages game playing as a mental exercise, you have an avenue to apply concepts.
The concept has to be simple, and ideally there is only one concept per exercise. For instance, you can allow your partner to set up whatever guard they like and then attempt to sweep you from it. You are not allowed to pass their guard, you can only fight off the sweep, but you can’t make grips.
This creates a scenario where both practitioners will learn effective use of the lever to the hip principle.
I apologize if that was too dry and technical, I am basically a giant nerd with no ability to figure out when I’m being incredibly boring.
I have something called the Visiting Student Program at my academy, anyone from any club anywhere in the world is welcome to visit us. I host them at my place at no charge, and training is free as well.
Since my podcast with Stephan Kesting at Grapplearts.com, I’ve had more inquiries and we’ve got people visiting from all over North America every month through September.
If the readers want to know more about it CLICK HERE