Jiu-Jitsu Letter


You can go through the motions on a dead pattern, and it’ll build muscle memory. But there are a couple of problems with that. One, it makes you predictable. Two, it doesn’t help you get better at problem-solving, which is what advanced jiu-jitsu is all about.

Muscle memory is a kind of implicit knowledge. It’s good and useful. Drilling, whether absent-mindedly or even consciously, doesn’t help with gaining explicit knowledge. Explicit knowledge is knowledge that can be transmitted to someone else, which means you have a true understanding and can explain it clearly. To build that, you need to think. And when you begin to work on explicit knowledge, you are also working on principle-based learning.

In the Gracie Combatives (beginner) program, the structure is geared heavily toward implicit knowledge, and that’s OK. It’s OK because the point of the program is to quickly learn to defend against the most common attacks in a street fight. Students learn to recognize patterns (indicators) and build reflexes to react intelligently and efficiently. It makes sense to drill, and it isn’t as important for them to build explicit knowledge.1

In the Master Cycle (advanced) program, the structure is similar, but adds much more technique and plenty of sparring. It’s here that fresh graduates struggle. While sparring, they’re no longer getting clear indicators on when to do what, and they don’t recognize what’s happening.

Typically, the students aim to collect techniques. And that’s important, but not so that you can have secret techniques that’ll help you “win.” It’s important to collect them so that you can figure out how they’re related.

For example, by the time you’ve learned three or four sweeps, you should have the capability to learn all of them. That doesn’t mean you’ll have the skill and timing to make them work every time, but you should know what’s needed to sweep someone: take a post away and move them in that direction.

Finally, there’s tacit knowledge. This is knowledge that’s hard to explain. It’s built through experience. This is why sparring is necessary for improving your jiu-jitsu. There’s no substitute for it.2

  1. To be clear, we do also have “reflex development” drills, where several techniques are chained, so that there’s quasi-randomness training to make things more realistic. ↩︎

  2. … besides regularly getting into fights, but that’s obviously dangerous and unsustainable. ↩︎

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