Recently, on the site’s Facebook page, I had the opportunity to have a philosophical debate with Josh Vogel about Jiu-jitsu. It started in response to a post about curriculums, and the topic focused on how basic and advanced techniques are defined and if such a dividing line exists at all.
With Josh’s consent, I’ve included that debate here verbatim with some white space added for readability. Also I recommend that you check out his site and the Sloth Report. I learn something new every time I visit because it’s obvious how much time and effort he has devoted to the study of the art.
Josh Vogel Kenneth Brown
The idea of progression is important in all physical activities for these reasons. Learning X guard doesn’t make much sense until you first learn ways to get to x guard, such as learning how half guard or butterfly guard work. Learning the traditional straight ankle lock as a gateway leg lock is another example of this.
If you learn a straight ankle lock early in your Jiujitsu career, you can spar and compete with it right away. It prepares you for a lot of the leg, knee and hip work that you will use when you attack the legs in other ways like doing heel hooks, toe holds and sometimes knee bars. (which aren’t allowed in competition and some sparring until brown/black belt level, or Advanced/Expert divisions in No gi tournaments) and it gives you an understanding of some of the positional components of doing foot locks, but in a simplified manner. Hope that makes sense I’m still waking up haha
For example, for many years it was extremely difficult for me to do some techniques that are considered elementary. I had a specific range of motion issue that interfered with the performance of those techniques, but I was able to do techniques that were considered advanced.
For that reason, I consider all technique to be advanced. The basics are found instead in the concepts and movements that form the foundation of all technique. We teach concept to increase understanding and paint a picture of a Jiu-jitsu that is open to everyone no matter their attributes. Then we teach movement to lessen and remove the limiting factors that can inhibit the execution of technique.
For example, a lot of people lack the wrist and grip strength necessary to perform a solid x choke from the guard in sparring early on. By practicing the x choke from the guard, you start to develop this ability over time. It’s not a quick fix, like learning some other choke that might be easier to apply, but it’s a progressive development over time. This is not to say that you shouldn’t learn a game that works for you early on, but there are some techniques that should be put in place as developmental tools.
With the idea of teaching concepts, I agree to a certain extent. I am of the philosophy that the biggest enemy of progress for beginners is confusion, so it’s better to give a simple technique from every position with a brief explanation of the concept behind it at first. People tend to go over board with the conceptual stuff a lot and that can be very abstract for new students to absorb.
For example, what is the fundamental difference between a cross choke from guard and x guard sweep? Both techniques can be used as development tools. Both techniques have many levels of depth, and no situation on the street or in a tournament will start in those positions.
What I’m rejecting here is not the idea that certain techniques can be used as a foundational base to teach Jiu-jitsu. What I reject is the idea that those foundational techniques have already been set in stone.
The difference between the x choke and the x guard is that the x choke from the guard is predicated on movements that aren’t too far removed from familiar movement patterns that people have used or seen in some form in their own lives outside of the world of jiujitsu. I would teach an x choke from the guard to beginners much much more often than an x guard sweep because the closed guard isn’t too hard for new students to grasp, nor is it too hard to figure out how one might get there.
You get knocked down, you wrap your legs around the opponent. The legs don’t require any gymnastic feats to be able to cross your ankles behind someones back. Just cross and hold on tight. The x choke would lend itself well to beginners because it doesn’t risk anything positionally, so a beginner can try it pretty early on in sparring a whole bunch of times and if they fail, they can try again because you don’t open up much and in failing, you don’t expose yourself to a counter attack or a pass (the same way that an arm bar from the guard or a triangle from the guard will).
It’s fairly simple to get the gist of on a coarse level and not confusing to try. The counters are fairly simple at all levels, so it’s easy to track what happens in that game. The x guard is not a position that is familiar to beginners in any way. It doesn’t look like anything they have seen in a fight and it doesn’t look like anything they have ever used in any other grappling/ fighting/wrestling/tousling around as kids kind of situation. It is not a natural movement pattern. It’s not easy to relate to. It also requires a back ground in half guard, x guard or some other unfamiliar positions in order to get to the x guard in the first place. It requires more skillful foot and leg work than most beginners are capable of (it takes time to “educate” the legs for a lot of people) and it requires unfamiliar usage of the arms and legs to control another person.
I guess what I’m getting at is that I believe that the techniques that beginners should learn are ones that are closest to natural movement patterns. Covering your face and clinching when someone is hitting your. Under hooking and doing trips, or doing tackles/double legs rather than learning complex gripping patterns that lead into nuanced throws.
If someone knocks you down on the ground, wrap your legs around them rather than trying to manipulate their body into such a position that you can hook both legs perfectly on the insides of their thigh while controlling their opposite leg with your arm, keeping them stretched out, etc…Gross motor movements before finer ones. Stuff that people can try right away in sparring under the adrenaline and stress that beginners usually experience.
I don’t think the techniques have to be set in stone, but I think that the guideline of following naturally occurring movement before movements that are not found as often in natural settings is important. Grabbing someones head in a guillotine like movement is pretty universally understood. Perhaps that’s a better example than an x choke even. If there is a technique even more natural and simple than that, then that’s the one I would go with.
But my current focus is on breaking technique down to its concepts and movements, and I consider movement to be the limiting factor on how easily technique can be learned. but once you conquer the movement the path to techniques that are considered advanced open up.
In my personal experience, a range of motion issue prevented me from sitting in posture on top of closed guard for many years, but I taught myself how to granby within two weeks. That meant that many closed guard passes were extremely difficult for me while I could invert quite easily and do many techniques that required that movement.
Also I’ve developed a very effective method of applying the ezekiel choke from mount. For sometime I’ve been trying to transfer that technique to others in full, and over time I keep finding little things that I do intuitively that must be communicated. The movements involved in that technique are simple, but there are many of them, and the adjustments are quite small. So I don’t consider it basic, even though someone somewhere does.
Then recently, I assisted with a class where the closed guard armbar was taught to class with many first day students. There were seven distinct movements in the technique, and the new students were having trouble with the hip movement and remembering the sequence. This is a technique that is considered basic, but I think that’s only because we view it through the lens of our own experience. I know personally I lost count of how many times I’ve done that armbar a long long time ago.
I’m saying all this because people have different attributes and different backgrounds. What’s natural for one person isn’t natural for another. I think that’s important to acknowledge as we try to share our love for the art with everyone that we can.
Also thank you for sharing your thoughts here. I consider a idea challenged to be an opportunity for that idea to be further developed.
I can see what you mean with your example of the closed guard vs the granby roll. Without presuming too much, I think that’s a good example of an extreme situation because most people that I’ve come across don’t have those range of motion issues in their ankles , knees and hips. In that case, I would teach a closed guard break that allows one to lean far forward and to drive off of their toes, rather than being flat on the tops of the feet (unless the issue is hip flexion).
I agree that everyone has different movement qualities because of transfer from prior sports/work activities, or from injuries or just mental preferences. However, I do think that natural movement is mostly the same for everyone. Of course injury or other limitations will alter which movements are accessible.
They are movements that don’t require extreme ranges of motion, are relatively safe, are patterns that an active person will have used or seen fairly often in their normal outside of jiujitsu lives. So a kneeling pattern, a standing pattern, a crawling pattern are all natural movements that you see in daily life, and are also part of most guard passing.
What you said about the armbar is interesting. I feel the same way in the sense that it has many moving parts and could be considered “advanced”. However, I think the difference lies in to who you are teaching it to. When I teach an armbar from the guard to a white belt, I teach a basic version with as few steps as possible. I highlight the most important elements, while taking care not to overload. I provide a template.
As they develop experience with the technique, I fill in technical details that they haven’t figured out to solve the problems they are coming across. I would still say that learning the template for an armbar from closed guard is basic because it’s one of the easiest ways to teach an armbar from your back, rather than say…teaching how to armbar someone from bottom of half guard, which would require many more steps.
All this being said, I think a basic curriculum with specific moves and positions is important for white to blue belt level, but after that I don’t think this model applies as rigidly. That’s when I think exploring your own style becomes more of a thing