I was listening to the Joe Rogan Experience with MMA pioneer and veteran referee “Big” John McCarthy the other day. He and Joe Rogan were discussing the jiu-jitsu of Rickson Gracie. Big John had been a student of Rickson’s back in the early 90’s and had direct experience of his style of jiu-jitsu.
“Basic” is the word Big John and Rogan used to describe Rickson’s jiu-jitsu. The basic techniques (takedown to mount, rear mount, and then choke) that you may have learned in your introductory classes in BJJ.
The talk moved on to my favorite jiu-jitsu fighter, Kron Gracie, who is noted his exciting matches despite having a simple style. Check out this snippet from his match against Garry Tonon:
The GOAT Roger Gracie is also a good example. Roger eschewed berimbolo and lapel guards for closed guard and cross choke from the mount when he was winning multiple world titles against the best in the world.
The basic techniques applied with precision, timing, pressure and all of the black belt details.
Like most of the BJJ addicts reading this article, I follow various BJJ accounts on Instagram, and every day I see videos of fancy and frankly, improbable technique sequences. The videos are fun to watch and entertaining. Some of the positions are highly creative to be sure. But do many of these fancy moves and transitions work against an opponent who is as experienced as you are in a live roll? The majority of the time the answer is no.
If you follow the world of competition jiu-jitsu, you know who the Danaher Death Squad is. The social media posts by head coach John Danaher are sometimes lengthy discourses on jiu-jitsu principles and theory. In one of Danaher’s conversations he gave his philosophy of concentrating the team’s training efforts on “high percentage” moves. Those are the moves that will work the majority of the time on athletic, skilled opponents while under duress.
We don’t need to look far to see data on what works at the highest levels of competition. A perfect example is found in the question “What is the most successful submission in the UFC?”
The answer is the rear naked choke, a basic move that even casual MMA fans are familiar with.
How can it be that the most basic jiu-jitsu submission is the most effective against professional fighters at the highest level of competition? Shouldn’t it follow that professional fighters know the RNC and can easily counter it? Are any of Demian Maia’s opponents caught by surprise when he gets them with a RNC?
That is not the only factor. Perhaps the best explanation for why the RNC from rear mount is so effective comes from Professor Danaher, who explains simply that the rear mount offers a high degree of control over the opponent and that the human body is poorly designed to defend threats that come from behind.
I used to think that, to beat highly skilled opponents, a BJJ fighter had to learn increasingly advanced and complicated positions. It seems logical that everyone knows the basic techniques and how to defend them.
But the examples of Rickson, Kron, and Roger Gracie suggest that we should look more in the direction of mastering the basics than crazy rolling transitions into fancy but low percentage moves.