I recently reposted a video of a strange move on my Facebook page, and one of my Facebook friends. Michael Freeman, who is a BJJ black belt, replied to the move saying that it seemed like a silly move to him. We had a friendly conversation about the move in which I informed him that the move worked for the person who posted it on a fairly high level, thus making the move no less valid than other moves that some people deem “silly” to which he replied with one of the pithiest responses I’ve ever seen:
“Don’t drill holes in your bjj game.”
This response got me thinking about a few different things:
- What affect does drilling ineffective moves have on a jiujiteiro?
- What affect does drilling overly advanced moves have on a new jiujiteiro?
- What affect does learning and drilling moves incorrectly have on a jiujiteiro?
When I did my very first jiu jitsu class back in 1999, I found that my flexibility and build made me able to use what I’ve seen called the “backdoor escape” to get out of mount. Basically the person in bottom mount throws their legs up and puts them in the armpits of the person on top, or better yet wraps them around possibly entering a leg lock entry. For years I was told that this was NOT good jiu jitsu and that it would never work against a skilled practitioner but for years I didn’t listen and continued doing this fundamentally unsound technique. In recent years I found out that Andrew “Goatfury” Smith has a whole leg lock system around this escape and have incorporated it into my now slightly more mature and effective game. In fact, this series and ones like it have gained some notoriety in recent years, especially with the resurgence of submission only invitationals that allow for the heel hook (for example Gordon Ryan.)
Drilling ineffective moves is a hard way to go, and will result in a lot of heartbreak, failure and disappointment from your coaches. If you feel it’s your way, if you really want to, you may be able to make it work, or you may wind up simply being terrible at jiu jitsu as a result of it. I love finding really bad or weird moves and making them work for me. I also spend a LOT of time working on fundamentals to back me up when those fail me.
As for drilling overly complicated moves as a new jiujiteiro, here’s an anecdote. I once had a teammate who as a white belt learned how to Berimbolo very well, and as a result was able to beat upper belts at competitions. He however ignored a lot of fundamentals and as a result now as a purple belt isn’t as good as he could be and doesn’t do very well in competition against good opponents. He’s a gifted athlete, but his lack of fundamentals that he would have developed instead of spending all of his time on the Berimbolo has translated into a lot of failure.
Another anecdote: one of my current teammates became fixated on the Ezekiel choke because he was able to submit an unwitting white belt with it at a tournament from bottom mount, as a result for years this was the only move he’d go for. If someone didn’t see it coming he would get them with it but if they knew the basic defenses against the Ezekiel he wouldn’t be able to finish it.
It is important to learn moves correctly, it is important to have sound fundamentals because when the fancy fluff fails you, you need to have something there to back it up. People who are really good at jiu jitsu and come up with crazy variations and new moves tend to have a very solid base. Jeff Glover is a great example. Watch videos of him competing back when he competed often, and watch how he handles bad situations. The guy has amazing fundamentals and uses those to come up with zany stuff like Donkey Guard.
So follow Michael Freeman’s advice: don’t drill holes into your game. If you are still relatively new to jiu jitsu take the easy path and get good at fundamentals first, then once you have a mean shrimp, a phenomenal umpa, a scary arm bar from closed guard and other fundamental strengths you can start to add your own flavor to the game. Don’t drill holes in your game because if you do it won’t hold any water.