Oct 23

Reverse Engineering Technique in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu

We’re going to follow up on the principle of piecing it all together by looking at the technique equation from a different angle. So let’s start by restating that equation:

Technique = Concept + Movement

It’s a simple equation, and that’s why it’s useful as an intuitive framework for understanding how technique is learned and mastered. If you read the other post though, you’ll notice that I switched the equation around here.

The purpose was to highlight where the focus should be. So let’s begin.


What do you focus on when you feel that you can’t perform a technique the right way? Oh, that never happens? Psh, it happens to me all the time.

Look: Learning jiu-jitsu is filled with challenges that we all must overcome to improve. The first step is focusing your attention in the right place. So here’s a simple scenario for you to visualize and imagine.

One day, you step into the gym. It’s just like any other day. You bow in. You warm up. And then your instructor pulls out a technique that you’ve never seen before. It blows your mind. And you can’t wait to hit it in a roll, but when you try it, you run into a lot of trouble.

What makes it even worst is that your partner is performing it like it’s nothing. Man, he even started training later than you. How can this be!?

In that situation, there’s a reason that you’re having trouble. You may not know exactly what it is, but there’s a method that can be used to help with that. Let’s call it troubleshooting, just to play on computer repair concepts and terminology (because I used to live in that world).

When you troubleshoot, you isolate a problem by eliminating possibilities that can’t be the cause of the issue. By doing that, you start reveal the truth and eliminate wasted effort.

Use that process of elimination in combination with the framework of the technique equation. When you do that, you start from a really good position. With one move, you know that the problem lies in either your understanding of the concept or your current ability to do the movement.

For clarity sake, I’m going to clearly define these categories.

  • Concept: The concept is all about the question of why. Why does it work? Why do you have to do it that way? So when you have a conceptual issue with a technique it’s because you aren’t doing something like gripping in a certain place, moving in the right direction, etc. Basically, you aren’t doing the technique as you were taught.
  • Movement: The movement focuses on how. How do you make it work? So when you have an issue with movement it lies in the actual mechanics. For example, you’re trying to learn how to do an inverted guard triangle, but you just can’t do the granby roll. In your mind, you can see all the steps exactly right, but when you try something always goes wrong.

Now it’s quite possible that you may have more than one issue, and they may be in both categories. But the first thing you should focus on is isolating and addressing all issues in the concept.

Consider that to be the path of least resistance because conceptual issues are easier to address. It’s possible to address those issues immediately in some cases, so it’s always a good course to take.

Once you’ve done that, it’s time to shift to movement issues if they exist. The thing with movement is that more often than not, issues there can’t be addressed immediately. It takes time and focused effort but it all starts with identifying the problem.

I’ll give you a quick example of this.

When I was a white belt, there were some inverted attacks that I wanted to learn. Every time I tried to granby (rolling around like a ball) though it was not pretty. I would try, try,try, and try yet again, but it never worked out right. The sticky point of the movement for me was that last portion of it.

At the time, I had access to a great instructional on the position and drills for developing it, so I focused on those drills. I spent time working on them outside of class, and I even created a drill of my own to focus on that sticky point.

The result was that within a period of a few weeks, I learned how to granby roll. With that, all those techniques became accessible. Then I was able to amaze people.

 The Creative Process

How do you create technique?

It all starts with understanding the idea that inspiration is built upon the foundation of previous experience. So the creative process is less about creation and more about association and combination.

Anyway, let’s go back to the technique equation.

Concepts and movements are two categories for the components of a technique. So the more time you spend identifying the unique concepts and movements of any particular technique, the easier it will be to take those components and apply them elsewhere and in new ways.

Personally, teaching has helped me a lot with this because when you have to explain things it really focuses your mind on details.