Jiu-Jitsu Letter

BJJ and Progress

Recently, a kid’s parents asked me about how to prepare their son for a tournament. He’s in my Junior Grapplers (8-12 year olds) class, and it’s not a class that would get anyone ready for competition. That’s not the point of the program.

The kid is a natural athlete and I think he’d probably do fine, whatever that means. My advice was that since he’d be relying mostly on toughness, to prioritize his health and safety, above winning.

Later this year, we’ll add the advanced kids’ class, where they’ll spar and maybe get better prepared for a tournament, but I’d still ask them to keep the same mindset, since I’m not running a sport school out of Gracie La Palma.

It’s impressive when I see some friends’ kids do well in competition. It’s cute, seeing them in their gis, pulling off turbocharged takedowns and spazzy passes, and whirling around for arm locks. I’m curious what kids’ competition training is like at the world class sport schools. (I’ve seen what goes on in some hobbyist schools that push their students into competitions, and it’s highly questionable.)

In Gracie Bullyproof, we have games like Crazy Horse and Crazy Legs. Crazy Legs is a game that teaches guard retention and guard passing. Crazy Horse is about staying on someone’s back by developing strong seatbelt and hooks. These games weren’t developed to create world class jiu-jitsu champions. 1

In The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle writes about kids in Brazil playing futsal, a game similar to soccer but with a smaller ball, smaller field, and fewer players. They learn ball handling, passing, and receiving, and don’t worry about a large field or goal. On such a small field, players touch the ball 600% more often than on a large field, meaning they get a lot more repetitions.

In basketball, kids start on a smaller basket and court. This is good. They learn good shooting form because they’re not trying to shoot at a 10-foot basket. Think of Steph Curry saying he had to remake his shot as he got stronger because as a youngster he had to use bad form to get he ball up there.

In baseball, kids start with tee ball and lighter bats. They learn to swing efficiently first. The field is smaller too.

So what are we teaching kids in jiu-jitsu classes that they’ll need to relearn later? (Set aside the question of whether it’s even wise to teach a kid jiu-jitsu as it pertains to competition.)

As quickly as sport BJJ has evolved in recently, I’d say we’re still in the very early stages of what it can be. When I think about how much the sport of basketball has changed in the last few years, with the amount of money invested in the game, I have to think BJJ is barely getting out of the primitive age, considering the money in it is a tiny fraction of what’s in basketball.

How is it that Gordon Ryan can be so dominant?2 For years, he’s been beating legends of the game and making it look easy. He’s so far ahead of everyone, yet everyone has the ability to study his game because he and his coach John Danaher sell videos on exactly what he’s doing and how!

Sport BJJ is weird.

  1. But I wonder if they could be a start some day. Greg Souders is coaching his athletes to medals, using games instead of drilling. ↩︎

  2. Well, he did give his theory once: https://jiujitsuletter.com/posts/gordon-ryan-on-jre/ ↩︎

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