Table of Contents
- Abilities of a BJJ Wizard
- Twin Pillars: 2 Key Principles of BJJ Wizardry
Introduction to BJJ Wizardry
If you’ve ever trained with someone significantly better than you at BJJ, you’ve experienced the feeling of being a few steps behind. Maybe at one point during the roll you felt that you were winning a little, only to find that you have walked straight into a trap. Or maybe you were being crushed by a heavy top game, and when you moved to relieve the pressure, fell into the exact position that they wanted you in. Maybe you didn’t even know you gave them that position!
There’s an unofficial word this kind of thing between a few of us at the academy. We call it wizardry. Yes wizardry, as in magic, or something unexplainable by logic. Now, we obviously aren’t serious. Unlike magic, there’s a very clear and logical answer to everything in jiu jitsu, but it really does seem magical when a high-level grappler completely controls you on the mat.
Not Magic, Logic!
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is like a language. Much like a language, jiu jitsu follows a tight internal logic that determines how it can be used. The more an individual understands this logic, the better they are able to use jiu jitsu. Elite grapplers are completely “fluent” in jiu jitsu. In other words, they not only have a deeper understanding of the logic of BJJ than most people, but also have the ability to freely improvise as they do jiu jitsu.
When you grapple against someone, the combination of your movements, your opponent’s movements, and your respective counters to each other shape the way that your jiu jitsu is expressed. In this way, a “roll” is like a conversation or, more accurately, an argument. Although there are many secondary goals one may decide to pursue while rolling (such as working a specific position, developing conditioning, to “just have fun,” etc), the primary goal of every roll is the same: to solve the problems created by one’s opponent.
This is no small feat. For one thing, your “solutions” to the opponent’s problems act as problems for your opponent to solve, and vice versa. In other words, while we are trying our hardest to solve our opponent’s problems, our opponent is also busy trying to solve ours, which in turn creates more problems for us to solve. Because of their fluency, elite grapplers can spontaneously come up with solutions at an extremely fast rate. This has the added benefit of creating more and more problems for their opponents to solve. They can also predict how their opponents will react to their solutions, which allows them to stay several steps ahead of their opponents.
Grappling against somebody who is much better than you is like debating against an expert in a language that you do not speak well. Most likely, they will not only trounce you in the debate, but also leave you with just the vaguest understanding of how they did it. Part of the reason for this is that their understanding of the internal logic of jiu jitsu beyond that which we can currently comprehend. They know things that we have yet to discover that we do not know. It is this gap of knowledge that creates the initial impression of logic-defying wizardry.
Becoming a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Wizard
While being destroyed on the mats isn’t much fun, the fact that everything that is happening to you can be understood in terms of the core principles of jiu jitsu is exciting news. It means that if you understand the principles, you can not only decipher, but also learn and integrate the movement patterns of elite grapplers.
This goes beyond mere imitation of techniques. Remember, BJJ wizardry comes from an intimate understanding of the principles, or logic of BJJ. If we can deepen our understanding of the principles, we too can begin to get our hands on some of this “magic.”
Okay, so we’ve established that mastery of the principles of jiu jitsu is the path to BJJ wizardry. However, there are dozens of principles that form the internal logic of BJJ. Additionally, not every principle feeds directly into the goal of becoming a wizard. There’s also the problem of “unknown knowledge,” which is just another way of saying that because of the vastness of information in jiu jitsu, no one can ever be sure that they know every single principle. Given these problems, how are we to know which principles to focus on?
With questions like these, it’s often beneficial to start at the end. Instead of asking ourselves which principles we ought to focus on, we could ask ourselves: “What are the abilities of a BJJ wizard?” If we can answer this, we’ll have a general idea of the principles that feed into these traits. Fortunately, we’ve already established these abilities earlier in the post.
Abilities of a BJJ Wizard
BJJ wizards are fluent in jiu jitsu, which means that they can spontaneously come up with creative solutions to “problems” during live rolling. Remember, your solutions to your opponent’s problems are their problems and their solutions your problems are your problems. The faster and more effectively you can solve problems, the more ahead of you opponent will be. As cool as wizardry is, it can be broken down into just two main abilities that massively boost problem solving.
- The ability of direction — which allows you to control the trajectory of the roll
- The ability of foresight — which allows you to see several steps ahead/predict the movements of an opponent.
The essence of BJJ wizardry (and the abilities that come with it) is superior understanding of the internal logic of jiu jitsu. Now that we’ve identified the two main abilities of jiu jitsu, we can shift our focus to the specific principles that build these skills.
Twin Pillars: 2 Key Principles of BJJ Wizardry
Movement flows towards the path of least resistance
Every position in jiu jitsu has a point of maximum and minimum resistance. The more resistance there is in a particular direction, the more difficult it will be to move towards it. The opposite is also true. As such, movement will always trend towards points with less resistance. If you can manipulate the position to adjust the points of resistance, you can effectively control the trajectory (movement) of the roll. This does not entail forcing any position. In fact, the exact opposite is true.
A jiu jitsu wizard “controls” the roll by strategically blocking off certain paths while simultaneously yielding in others. They position themselves so there is maximum resistance every direction except the one that they want their opponent to move towards. When done correctly, opponents will move themselves in direction that you desire. After all, it is the only option available. The more you can control the direction of the roll, the easier it becomes to react to the kinds of problems your opponent will throw at you.
For every action, there is a reaction
Because Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a partner-oriented sport, there are always two main variables to consider during a match. The first variable is “what our opponents are doing” or, in other words, the input of our opponents. The second variable is our own input, or “what we do” in the roll. For every action you initiate, your opponent will respond with an attempt to reverse or counter. The greater the initial action is, the greater the subsequent reaction must be.
This principle is what gives a BJJ wizard foresight. Every action and reaction simultaneously opens and closes up vulnerabilities in one’s position. A BJJ wizard uses this to his or her advantage by initiating actions that will provoke the reactions that they want out of their opponents.Because the human body is roughly structured the same way (with variations in weight, height, length of limbs, etc) there is a finite number of available reactions to any given action. Consequently, it is possible to anticipate and then capitalize on your opponent’s reactions to your movements.
Problem Solving Like A BJJ Wizard
Since being a BJJ wizard means you are an excellent problem solver, it’s only natural that the two main abilities of a BJJ wizard significantly boost problem solving abilities.
The ability of “direction” boosts problem solving by controlling the pace and trajectory of a match. In a given roll, the athlete who is controlling the direction is the athlete who is “ahead” in the roll. Being “ahead” in a roll means that you are the one inputting most of the actions in the roll, while being “behind” means that you are mostly reacting to your opponent’s inputs.
In the midst of a fast-paced jiu jitsu match, every fraction of a second counts. A slight miscalculation in timing can mean the difference solving or being stumped by a problem. The essence of “timing” is doing the right thing at the right time. By directing the trajectory of the match, you gain more control over when and where your opponent moves. As a result, whoever controls the direction has a massive timing advantage which, in the end, makes for more effective problem solving.
The ability of “foresight” boosts problem solving by anticipating how an opponent will react. The ability of foresight gives you the benefit of having more time to figure out what to do. This extra time not only allows you to be better prepared, but also gives you the leeway to set traps and plan counters to your opponent’s problems.
In jiu jitsu, the hardest problems to solve are those that you do not see coming. These problems contain the added element of surprise, which must be overcome in addition to the problem itself in order to produce a solution. On the other hand, problems that you can see coming are much easier to figure out. The more you can predict what your opponent will do, the easier it will be to solve their problems.
Everyone who has ever trained jiu jitsu has, at one point, gone against someone way better than them. These experiences can leave us feeling wonder, awe, and even a little confused — almost as if we had witnessed magic. But BJJ wizardry is not sorcery, it is high-level problem solving. Like a language, BJJ has a set of innate logical rules or principles. BJJ Wizards use their deep knowledge of the sport’s principles to produce quick and efficient solutions to whatever problems they may face.
In particular, there are two principles that greatly amplify problem solving. The first is that movement flows towards the point of least resistance, and the second is that every action has a reaction.
These principles give BJJ wizards the ability of foresight and direction. Both of these abilities make problem solving easier by controlling when and where they move as well as giving you more time to react when they do. If you want to become a BJJ wizard, improve your understanding of these principles. Before you know it, you’ll be cooking up some magic of your own.