Words by Dominyka Obelenyte
Most of us immersed into the world of BJJ idolize and obsess over specific “fighters” or athletes. Maybe it’s the way they smile or tie their belt, but chances are this adoration stems from one’s fascination with their technique. Articles spend pages poring over just how impressive that one world champion’s closed guard was this year, whole seminars and video productions are dedicated to those with an intricate manner of taking the back.
This athlete obsession is fine; in fact, it’s absolutely natural. A problem develops, however, when someone freshly introduced to the jiu-jitsu scene decides to devote themselves to following in the footsteps of their favorite fighter. They exercise, like said competitor, eat, like said competitor, even try to evoke a similar social or online presence as said competitor, but worst of all, they try to copy said competitor’s exact game.
“Hold up,” you may be thinking, “Where’s the logic in it being bad to emulate a champion? Isn’t it counterintuitive to say that using the same strategies they used won’t lead me to be like them?” Well, friends, as much as I admire Leo Hulseman’s invention of the solo cup, I will never attempt to re-create his product to reach his level of success.
The trouble with following in someone else’s footsteps is finding yourself wound up in the trap of using techniques completely unfit for your body and movement patterns. Bia Basilio’s lightning scrambles are her thriving end-all moments and may be perfectly slowed down by Nathiely De Jesus’ long-leg, spidery guard game. Roger would have a hard time berimbolo-ing Bruno Malfacine just as Bruno would have an even worse time trying to out-spider Roger. Each successful competitor finds the niche that works best for them, in a completely organic way. There is a pick-and-choose process at play: you study the fighters best at playing a specific branch of BJJ, and you select the moves most applicable to your own style of play.Once you have your arsenal of high-level movements drilled into your muscle memory, you can start creating chains of reaction. A grip lost in open guard will be supplemented by a foot in the hip or a hook behind the knee. A loose knee cut that leaves one open for an underhook will spur a quick run-around to take the back. Each go-to will have three or four differing and completely expected reactions that will breed into you a sense of direction. Once a position is compromised in your disfavor, and you instantly know what reaction is needed to reverse the situation, you have begun building yourself a game.
A strategy I always employ is the mapping out of my arsenal: I choose ten or so positions that are both effective and easy for me to execute. Once I have them down, I begin to branch out what paths an opponent can take to counter the move, and continue going down the list until I successfully lock down at least three counters-to-the-counter. It sounds simple enough but too many individuals rely solely on the moves directly passed on by their instructor to completely supplement their training.
None of us are built the same, I for one will never be a quick passer because of both my size and stature, but also because I feel too awkward jumping around, like Lo with his toreando. Instead, I try to reach the highest level of efficiency and effectiveness with my favored sweeps, passes, and submissions, and let my own style flow through.