Experimentation: Trial and Error

A huge part of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu’s continuing success as a martial art is an emphasis on creativity and experimentation.

No two practitioners will express themselves in the same way: some will prefer certain techniques and movements over others and develop their own particular style through a process of discovery, experimentation & trial and error. I’d like to explore the importance of Experimentation in this post.

Hold on, ‘cos we’re about to get scientific.

EIxyzix5DCtC-ix3NyGp2EpvRNxW6_IZQo54uugnNdgIt can be argued that Jiu-jitsu, at its core, is a physical manifestation of a logical argument. A person makes a statement, must respond to objections or resistance and predict outcomes before reaching a conclusion or hypothesis.

Strip away techniques and movement and this is what we are left with; basic logic and problem solving. As it is with any science, there is a process we need to undergo to find out what works. We may have an idea in our mind about a new technique or a solution to a problem, however we may discover later that it does not hold up in application.

This process is best explained in three stages: Discovery, Experimentation, Implementation.


This is the beginning for any practitioner. This is when we are introduced to a technique or concept for the first time.

Remember the first time you learnt a particular side control escape? Remember the first time you were shown a specific submission? This is the Discovery stage. This is the input; a statement we must now put to the test. We have to learn how to put these techniques into the broader concept of what we already understand. One technique or concept on its own does not a practitioner make. I cannot emphasize this enough. Of course, specialists are very proficient in one technique or set of techniques, but it does not mean that they do not understand that technique outside of the wider context that is Jiu-jitsu. A technique will fail you when applied without trial and error, Experimentation or Implementation into an already developed understanding of strategy and Jiu-jitsu.

As we develop a wider spectrum of understanding and our skill set grows, pure moments of discovery are harder to come by. However, the good practitioner will constantly scrutinize their skills with the aim to improve them. (More on this in the next two stages).

This is when we begin to say: “I just learnt this side control escape, now how do I get it to work?” or “That was an interesting submission, I want to try put that into my game.” What follows is Experimentation.


This is the “Trial and Error” stage.

Many grapplers beyond White and Blue belt will spend the majority of their time moving intermittently between this stage and Implementation.

The way that I have come to understand the transition between these two important belt levels is that by blue belt, a practitioner should be familiar with many, if not all, submissions and positions & the remainder of the journey involves less about Discovery, but more about Experimentation and Implementation.

This is the stage where techniques and concepts are put under the microscope. They are tested to see if they work, when they work and how well they work.

For a competitor, this stage is important for developing the foundations of a good competitive game plan. For the hobbyist, this stage is equally important for developing well-rounded skills that make you a proficient grappler that can hold their own on the mats.

This stage can be the most frustrating for some, as their attempts to get something to work are continually met with resistance. I think that this stage is often where people encounter the infamous “Plateau”. What I have found (and this is purely my opinion) is that this whole frustration can be avoided in two ways: Either by making experimentation fun, or by looking objectively at what worked and what failed. The latter is harder than the former; as being completely objective with one’s self about something as personal and emotionally demanding as improvement can be difficult to achieve.

Trial and error is what made Brazilian Jiu-jitsu the effective martial art that it is today. From both the sporting and street perspective, we reap the benefits of the Experimentation that our predecessors carried out as they went about testing what was effective before passing this down to the next generation through teaching and instruction.

What follows from Experimentation is Implementation.


This stage refers to the execution & use of techniques that we have experimented with, found to be sound, effective and that work well for us.

It’s at this stage where the competitor has developed a solid game plan, one that they have honed to near perfection: Their “A game”. This is also where the hobbyist has found what works for them, and has also established a hierarchy of techniques that they prefer to use on the mats for maximizing their own success and further learning.

Implementation is the realm of repetition; where endless repetitions and cycles of trial and error have yielded results for the persistent. At this stage, a practitioner’s timing in the execution of the move is their primary concern. They sharpen their favored techniques to a point where it is never a question of if the technique will work, but when

It is important to remember that Implementation never follows Discovery without Experimentation. Unless a practitioner is extremely talented, there is very little chance that they will be able to consistently implement a technique they have just learned without going through a stage of Experimentation. When a new white belt learns an arm bar from closed guard, they will still need to spend an equal amount of time (if not even more) finding all the places where it doesn’t work before they can execute the technique with the correct setup while accounting for any variables along the way.

This process is repeated infinitely as we undertake our path of learning in Jiu-jitsu. It never ends. Grappling, and indeed Jiu-jitsu, is not just a finite thing where once you gain amount of knowledge you’re done. It’s infinite, and we need a methodical way of approaching its broadness.

These 3 stages are just one interpretation. As always this is just my opinion, a look at Jiu-jitsu through my eyes and (often insufficient) mind, but I hope that it has maybe made you think about it from a different perspective.

Thanks for reading.




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