If you have a look at the top level competitors and practitioners in any sport, you begin to notice that they have a style that is distinctly their own.
It is extremely uncommon for us to be able to draw analogies between the greats of any sporting field, especially martial arts. We see this distinctly within Brazilian Jiu Jitsu too; any of the highest level competitors are very distinct in their strategies, style and technique.
Originality (and your ability to be original) plays a major factor in your improvement. Here are two ways originality can impact on your Jiu Jitsu.
Firstly, it’s worth saying that imitation is not a bad thing. Finding a person whose style you like and employing their techniques is often a very fun way to train.
However, for those of you looking to be competitive in your chosen discipline, imitation can leave you with a very superficial understanding of technique (and how techniques are linked together), often leading to you being stuck in some very bad positions when you eventually run out of cool techniques you’ve seen someone else do. Just because I like the way Josh Hinger does a guillotine, or how Buchecha passes does not mean I have as deep an understanding of how they fit that into their overall understanding of Jiu Jitsu.
So, with that said, let’s continue.
1. Originality in your game.
We talk a lot about a person’s “game” in BJJ. This essentially refers to a person’s preferred strategy. Developing an original game is crucial for anyone looking to compete; the deeper you drag your opponents into it, the higher your chances of success.
Let’s be clear here though: when you are starting out no one expects you to be stylish or original. Your job is to practice what you’ve learned and focus on the fundamentals. Without strong fundamentals, you can never develop a style that is distinctly your own. Every high level practitioner is well learned in the entire art before they developed a distinct style. No one is going to be hitting you with guard work as complex as Keenan’s without first having an understanding of other fundamental guard techniques.
Don’t read this as permission to go try out those crazy cartwheel passes and berimbolos before you’ve learned conventional, fundamental techniques. The fundamentals are tried and tested, they work. Consider them a foundation to build upon; your safety rope. As you develop your understanding of fundamentals, you begin to find spaces to work & places where you can safely inject techniques you’re experimenting with. If they work, you can begin to add it to your game, if it doesn’t you can revert to the safety of fundamentals.
2. Originality in your thinking.
If you peel back everything about Jiu Jitsu, you are left simply with critical thinking. The entire martial art has been developed by those who critically evaluated every submission, position and detail to create the efficient & effective system we have today. Fostering your ability to think critically, to be original in your thinking, is to foster better Jiu Jitsu.
I am always trying to see new connections and interpretations within Jiu Jitsu, it’s the single most important reason I keep coming back to the mat every day. That constant nag of the “What if I tried this?” or the “Maybe if I put this there.” is curiosity that began in 2012 when I tried Jiu Jitsu and continues (even more so) today.
As soon as you start to question the why, how and what of your thinking and practice, you are committing yourself to critical thinking. Doing this, whether you are conscious of it or not, is inadvertently going to help your training and fast track your learning. We’re playing chess, not checkers when it comes to martial arts; your thinking should reflect that.
In competition, if I’m only thinking of my next move and my opponent is thinking of his next two moves, he is beating me. That sounds like some samurai level shit, but it’s simple theory. If I have a hammer and a screwdriver, but I only know how to use a hammer, I can only solve problems that a hammer can solve. If my opponent knows how to use a hammer and a screwdriver, then he has more knowledge of the tools and can solve more problems. Developing a deeper level of understanding is always going to help you. Being creative and original in the way that you solve problems is always going to be better than trying to beat it with brute force.
Originality can be challenging to foster. We can easily be original in a vacuum, but this is not the case today. In a time where we have unprecedented access to knowledge from every corner of the globe, many argue that it is no longer possible to be original.
I disagree. For us to develop originality, we have to diversify our own knowledge & understanding as much as possible. The more of the picture we can see, the easier it becomes for us to paint in the parts that have been left blank.
Thanks for reading.