Oct 25

A Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Thought Experiment

A Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Thought Experiment

Recently, I read a biography about Einstein, and one interesting thing was his use of thought experiments to work out solutions to complex problems and highlight scientific concepts. What if you applied that method to Brazilian Jiu-jitsu?

Let’s see what happens.

The Thought Experiment

Two twins develop an interest in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu at the same time, but they live different states. This means that that even though they started on the same day, they are training at different academies.  Those academies also have very different systems for sharing the art. It can’t be said that all the instructors at both academies aren’t top-notch though.

The main difference in the teaching systems is that one focuses heavily on drilling and helping their students develop a core game from which they can expand from, while the other focuses on giving their students a wide base of knowledge.

Time passes, and by some miracle both twins have trained for exactly the same amount of hours after one year’s time. Which twin will have improved the most?

Things to Think About This

This thought experiment was left open-ended because I’m really curious about how opinions can differ on this.

One thing to keep in mind is that all variables were held constant except for the actual training that went into each hour.  We’re assuming that both twins were identical in all other significant factors.

Also this builds on the question of whether or not all hours spent training are of equal value. You can also consider it a test of the 10000 hour rule popularized by Outliers vs Anders Ericcson’s deliberate practice theory which was highlighted in Talent is Overrated.

The Possibilities

There are three possible outcomes that can occur in the thought experiment:

  • Both twins could have improved the same amount.
  • The twin who was exposed to more technique could have improved more.
  • The twin who spent more time drilling and refining specific tools could have improved more.

Take a moment, read the thought experiment again and think about the possibilities. Which outcome is more likely given the scenario? Why? Also if there is a difference between them, what are some ways that you would like to model your training in order to improve results?


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  1. Bcp3

    It depends on learning style. Some learn better from technique, others from drilling.

  2. Kenneth Brown

    Well, in this case, we’re making the improbable but possible assumption that both twins are quite similar in their learning preferences.

    Also as a side note, one of my teammates highlighted the fact that the time may have a significant effect on the outcome of the experiment. She thought that the result might be different if the period of time training was longer.

    Something to think about.

  3. DeShieco

    Are these twins both right handed, or is one right handed and the other left handed…?

    If I were to apply the school of thought from the Psychologist Daniel Casasanto, with regards to how Left Handed vs. Right Handed minds think, then I would come away with the following: Changing how people use their right and left hands can cause them to think differently, suggesting that motoric differences between right- and left-handers are not merely correlated with cognitive differences. Body specific patterns of motor experience shape the way we think, feel, communicate, and make decisions.(Casasanto, 2009).

    Casasanto, D. (2009). Embodiment of abstract concepts: Good and bad in right- and left-handers. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 138, 351–367

    Arte Suave…

  4. Kenneth Brown

    Assume that they are either both right handed or both left handed. Imagine that they are the most identical pair of twins ever, by some miracle. The only variable that differs between them is their training environment.

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