Jiu-Jitsu Letter


Here’s a fun article about competitive video game playing by David Sirlin, a game designer and writer.

A scrub is not just a bad player. Everyone needs time to learn a game and get to a point where they know what they’re doing. The scrub mentality is to be so shackled by self-imposed handicaps as to never have any hope of being truly good at a game. You can practice forever, but if you can’t get over these common hangups, in a sense you’ve lost before you even started.

When I was a fresh blue belt, I remember one time I was defending a straight arm lock and my partner simply transitioned to a wrist lock. I tapped. In my head, I (wrongly) thought, “That was cheap.”

A few months later, I understood that the “cheap” excuse is a lame one. If you get caught, you get caught. Because if you’re any good, you figure out how not to get caught with something “cheap.”

One time I played a scrub who was pretty good at many aspects of Street Fighter, but he cried cheap as I beat him with “no skill moves” while he performed many difficult dragon punches. He cried cheap when I threw him 5 times in a row asking, “is that all you know how to do? throw?” I told him, “Play to win, not to do ‘difficult moves.'” He would never reach the next level of play without shedding those extra rules in his head.

There’s a guy I’ve trained with for years. I met him when he was a purple belt and he’s a black belt now. In all that time, he’s specialized in about four techniques. They’re nearly impossible to stop, even though you know what’s coming.

He’s playing to win.

If you play in such a way as to maximize your chance of winning, it means abusing everything “cheap” that you can. It means frustrating the opponent, using bugs, and anything else you can think of that’s legal to do. When all this comes together, it gives you a deeper kind of fun than is possible at lower skill levels.

That said, it’s also fun to just mess around. It’s fun to explore new characters, new strategies, and to do silly things. This type of stuff is actually really useful even if your ultimate goal is to win.

Remember that if you want to train forever, it’s important to play for fun. Play the infinite game:

The more we are recognized as winners, the more we know ourselves to be losers. That is why it is rare for the winners of highly coveted and publicized prizes to settle for their titles and retire. Winners, especially celebrated winners, must prove repeatedly they are winners. The script must be played over and over again. Titles must be defended by new contests. No one is ever wealthy enough, honored enough, applauded enough. On the contrary, the visibility of our victories only tightens the grip of the failures in our invisible past.

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