In my last post, I wrote about what I believe to be the most difficult problem in BJJ: the conflict between knowledge and time. After some thought, I realized that defining this conflict as a “problem” could be a little confusing, and that we could all benefit from some further clarification.
The definition of “problem” is: “a matter or situation that is regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome.” This being the case, a situation can only be considered a problem if it negatively affects something else. In other words, problems do not exist in a vacuum, but only in relation to something else — the object of the problem. These objects usually take the form of the completion of a goal, attainment of an outcome, or the proper function of a system.
The only way to fully understand a problem is to also understand the object which it affects. In the case of the Hardest Problem in BJJ, the object is “mastering jiu jitsu.” The reason that the conflict between knowledge and time is a problem is that it stands between us and the goal of mastery.
Mastering even a single technique takes a huge investment of time (10,000 repetitions, give or take). Given the immense pool of total knowledge in jiu jitsu, the amount of time required to master every single technique exceeds the amount of time that any one of us has, which means that it is effectively impossible to learn every technique in jiu jitsu. This is the crux of the Hard Problem.
In a strange way, this is actually kind of a good thing. When I was a white belt, I experienced a fair amount of anxiety about forgetting techniques. Back then, it seemed like I needed to remember everything I learned in order to get better at jiu jitsu. We would learn new technique each week, so it felt like we were always moving on to a new technique before I had fully learned the ones from the week before. If I had known that learning every single technique in jiu jitsu was pretty much impossible, I could’ve saved myself a lot of unnecessary worry.
If it is not possible to learn every technique, we shouldn’t waste our time trying (or worrying). After all, the whole reason it is impossible in the first place is that time is limited. That said, we still haven’t figured out a way around the problem. If you’re anything like me, you aren’t just going to give up their pursuit of mastering BJJ because of this. We’re too in-love with the sport; too obsessed to stop trying despite the “impossibility” of the goal we’re striving towards.
If we’re not going to quit, we need to find a different approach — one that circumvents the conflict. But how?
Broad to Narrow
Well, we aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel. Whether unconsciously or consciously, people eventually figure out that they won’t be able to learn everything. As a result, most mature practitioners of BJJ have settled into systems of techniques that they have put together over the years. These systems, also known as “games,” are usually comprised of a select few techniques favored by the athlete. From this alone, we can observe that at least some practitioners shift their focus from every technique to some techniques. In other words, they went from going broad to going narrow.
The reason for this is self-evident. It is the most direct response to the conflict between time and knowledge. If everything cannot be learned, the focus must travel down, towards something. But to what? How do we figure out what that something ought to be?
This is where a lot of people stop looking. They realize that they can not (or don’t need to) learn every technique, but don’t know what to do about it. For many years, this was me. I knew I couldn’t learn every technique, but I didn’t have any way of deciding which techniques I would learn, so I did what most people do: I used some arbitrary criteria to help me choose. My criteria was whether I liked a move or not. I chose techniques based on what I thought was cool or enjoyed doing.
In conversations with training partners, I discovered that I was not the only one choosing techniques in this manner. I also found out that other people used different criteria, like whether the move was “high-percentage,” or if it worked for both gi and nogi. My overall impression was that most people who had been training for a while had some sort of standard that filtered for techniques.
This is extremely useful information. It shows us that we can use filters to help narrow down the massive amount of information in jiu jitsu. However, this only answers half of the question. We still do not have an answer for what we should be filtering for, and that’s a big problem.
It forces to pick our techniques based on imprecise criteria, or worse, with complete randomness. While an unclear filter still cuts down on what we have to learn, it does not guide a user in any clear direction. This inevitably creates a roundabout, meandering path towards mastery. There’s nothing wrong with this except the fact that it takes up a lot of time, and our time is very limited.
The Right Filter
Mastery takes a long time. This is true for any kind of skill. However, it does not mean that we need to move slowly. Our lack of time means that we need to be picky about what we spend it on. Filters create parameters for selecting techniques, which helps us eliminate information from the total mass of knowledge in jiu jitsu, but unless the filter we chose was designed with intention, it will fail to make effective use of time.
We cannot afford to waste training time on techniques chosen out of a hat. As such, our filters both cannot and should not select techniques arbitrarily. Our filters need to choose moves that, when trained, will produce a definite improvement in our jiu jitsu. The only way to choose techniques of this caliber is to design a filter with parameters specific to each athlete, taking into account factors like physical attributes, body type, build, and even personality.
This level of extreme specificity is needed if we hope to create an filter that effectively selects techniques that are best for each of us as individuals. The only problem is that the act of actually creating such a filter is not only difficult, but unreasonable to expect out of most people training BJJ.
Fortunately, there’s a way to create a filter with this level of specificity without actually articulating all of the parameters. I would even venture to say that many BJJ players already have all of the tools they need create this filter TODAY. I call this filter the “Tokui-Waza Filter” or TWF for short.
THE TOKUI-WAZA FILTER
“Tokui-Waza” means “favorite technique” in Japanese. It’s a term that originates from judo which was used to describe an athlete’s specialty. The development of “tokui-waza”is a widely observed phenomenon in all combat sports. For whatever reason, some athletes have a tendency to favor certain techniques over all others. This favoritism leads them to develop this technique to an extremely high level, often to much greater degree than all of the other techniques in their arsenals.
The idea behind the Tokui-Waza Filter is this: instead of starting at the beginning, figuring out your body, learning about its capabilities, and figuring out which techniques work well for you, start at the end.
Anyone who has a “tokui-waza” already has a “best technique.” It may not be the best possible technique for you, but it if it is truly your tokui-waza, it is the technique that you use most often, with the most success.
The best technique that you have is better than the “best technique in theory.” It’s likely that your tokui-waza is such because it fits your body type and personality anyways, so don’t worry. Instead of deciding how to filter for the best technique, use the best technique you have as your filter.
But how do you use a technique as a filter?
Start by focusing on your tokui waza. Drill it. Refine it. Use your it to your heart’s content. Sooner or later someone will stop your best technique. Great. This is what we’ve been waiting for. It’s time to put the filter to work:
Ask yourself the following two questions: (1) What went wrong? and (2) How do I fix it? Then, figure out the answers. Be specific. This answer will lead you to your next technique.
For an example what this might look like, let’s say that your tokui-waza is the triangle choke. Most of the time, it works well enough. However, sometimes your opponents defend in some unfamiliar way that prevents you from finishing the choke. For the sake of argument, let’s say that the most common way they defend is by wrapping their isolated arm around your thigh. If we answer the questions from before, we learn that (1) the technique failed because of the way they hid their arm, and (2) that we can fix this issue by defeating their defense.
Once you find the technique that counters their defense, congratulations, you have successfully used the Tokui Waza Filter to select a technique! The next step is to learn and refine this move until you can reliably counter their defense. When another issue inevitably crops up, ask yourself the questions again and go through the process to find the next move to develop. Once that move fails, apply the filter again. Rinse and repeat ad infinitum.
The Tokui-Waza Filter addresses both of the sides of the Hard Problem of BJJ. The issues in our games give this filter a direction. They narrow down the choice of techniques to just the ones that fix the problems. In addition, by choosing moves based on the solutions to tangible failure points in our jiu jitsu, you raise the chances that the technique you chose will produce a measurable improvement in your game. This helps ensure that you make effective use of your time.
By circumventing both sides of the Hard Problem, the Tokui-Waza Filter creates an alternative approach to mastery that integrates, processes, and eventually transforms problems into solutions. It sets up a framework that focuses your training in a clear-cut, definite direction. If you ever find yourself unsure of what to work on next, or overwhelmed with information, try implementing the Tokui-Waza filter.