The Orthodox & the Unorthodox: Thoughts on approaching unpredictable opponents.

In general terms, we can divide practitioners into two categories: Orthodox and Unorthodox. This is a categorization of types of Jiu jitsu practitioners and the way they express the art form.

Have you ever found yourself mid-contest with an opponent who, even though you know exactly what they’re going to do, still manages to finish you? What about the opponent that is about as predictable as a rabid vermin; throwing unpredictable techniques out at a rate that you are unable to contend with? This is a question of styles. Neither is wrong, but both present us with issues of predictability. 

Let’s explore this in more depth…

Predictability and problem solving.

At the core of this topic, we need to address the concepts of Predictability and Problem Solving. 

Predictability is the concept of anticipating what kind of problem we are about to solve. If I can predict what king of problem is about to present itself, I can begin to devise a strategy to best overcome said problem.

Problem Solving refers to the kind of thinking I need to apply to solve a situation in front of me. Predicting and Problem Solving interact in a very simple way; where anticipating a problem gives my brain sufficient time to develop a response, thereby solving the problem in front of me.

The problem with this equation is when we factor in Unpredictability. We cannot predict every problem we are going to face before it happens. In Jiu jitsu, we see this all the time. Practitioners set up traps for their opponents, concealing their intentions to trick an opponent into falling for a certain technique. Unpredictability prevents us from problem solving effectively and can have disastrous consequences in a martial arts contest, or indeed life in general. 

So, with the ideas of Predictability and Unpredictability established, I would like to explore two further avenues in which these themes apply in a martial arts context: The Orthodox (Predictable) Practitioner and The Unorthodox (Unpredictable) Practitioner.

The Orthodox.

I would like to use the term “Orthodox” to refer to the Predictable practitioner. This is the practitioner who is systematic and methodical in their approach to application. In other words, this is the practitioner who you know is going to apply a certain strategy, but are totally unable to prevent from applying. 

The Orthodox Practitioner, it can be argued, is the more praised of the two in the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu community. These are the Roger Gracies & Rigan Machados of BJJ: you know what they’re going to do, you even know how they’re going to do it, but you are powerless to stop them.

To be an effective Orthodox Practitioner, the emphasis lies in the fundamental principals of BJJ: Control, Pressure & Position. These values maximize the practitioner’s chances to achieve their desired objectives within any given exchange. The practitioner that best employs these principles will be the one to achieve victory in an exchange between two Orthodox Practitioners.

The Unorthodox.

I’m using the term “Unorthodox” to refer to the Unpredictable practitioner. This is the practitioner who will willingly sacrifice ‘favorable’ positions and take risks to achieve success. This is the practitioner who keeps you guessing and makes you ask “what the hell just happened?”, before finishing you into deep submissions or leaving you floundering in disastrous positions. 

The Unorthodox Practitioner is a less common narrative in the BJJ community, as they have often taken far longer to progress and develop a style that works for them. These are the Fernando Tereres or the Garry Tonons: creative in their application, frenetic and completely comfortable improvising mid-fight.

Being Unorthodox and effective takes a long time to develop. Practitioners must invest heavily in their ability to move through a wide variety of techniques and have an ability see complex links between techniques and transitions. There is a certain level of creative instinct that cannot be taught or even learned however, making the Unorthodox option inaccessible to some practitioners.

Interaction with Predictability and Problem Solving

Both types of practitioners interact with Predictability and Problem Solving in different ways. Orthodoxy is predictable, however enables large amount of times for problem solving issues presented. Unorthodoxy is unpredictable, but prevents opponents from problem solving effectively.

Both Orhtodox Unorthodox approaches have their pros and cons; interacting with central concepts in BJJ in unique ways.

I find it interesting to explore the “meta-game” of Brazilian Jiu jitsu and finding patterns between practitioners. We participate in an infinitely deep martial art; when we engage with the concepts behind the techniques, the rabbit hole goes deep. 

Thanks for reading.



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