Jiu-Jitsu Letter

Skills Over Attributes

John Danaher was on Joe Rogan’s show the week after he appeared on Lex Fridman. There are several noteworthy clips to share, and here’s one about focusing on developing skill to shut down an opponent’s attributes, as opposed to developing attributes to match up.

This around the 2:06 minute mark:

John Danaher:

You asked a very interesting question in between that question? You asked something very interesting and date, you said, well, what if you took a look and Ryan, and you just made him more flexible? Wouldn’t he be better than he is now?

Yeah, he’d be better in some things, but you’ve got to ask yourself that comes at a price of now you’re investing in that form of training. That means you’ve got to. You got to stop doing other forms of training is stretching though. Let me, let me go further with my explanation. There’s things that I can do with technique, which will improve your sports performance much more dramatically in a given timeframe than any investment you could do in terms of attributes.

Let’s look at a concrete example because otherwise it’s going to just sound too vague. Um, Georges St. Pierre versus BJ Penn. BJ Penn had some of the most perfect jiu-jitsu flexibility I’ve ever seen in my career. Like he had these different kinds of flexibility, but the flexibility he had was literally custom made for the, for the application of jiu-jitsu technique, especially from bottom position, but also from back position as well.

Georges St. Pierre has good linear flexibility, has got good front splits, side splits, good for kicking, but he has quite poor jiu-jitsu flexibility for bringing your knees wide and feet in for guard position. Okay. So he has a good kind of flexibility for standing striking, but not a good flexibility for guard play.

When Georges went to fight BJ, everyone said to me, this was the second fight, they’d already fought one time. When he went to fight the second time, that was the mature Georges St. Pierre. When they first fought, George, I believe was only a lower purple belt and, uh, they’d had a close fight. And the second time, uh, George was a black belt and, um, a much more mature phase of his career.

And. The discussion was well, how do you want to fight him? And in the first fight everyone had said, uh, you can’t go to the ground with BJ, he’s a world champion in jiu-jitsu. If you go to the ground it’s suicide. And I was the lone voice saying, no, Georges should go to the ground with him, take him down.

And, uh, BJ is very talented, but he’s never actually submitted someone from bottom position. And as long as he doesn’t get on your back or get top position, Georges is going to be just fine. The best part of Georges' game is positional advance or staying inside someone’s guard, striking from those positions.

And that’s how ultimately Georges won the fight. Georges lost the standing game in the, in the first round BJ easily won the first round and George won the next two rounds, largely with take downs and ground and pound on the floor. So, um, when the second fight came, I was an advocate of the ground again. This time people were willing to listen based on what they’d seen the first time, but I wanted to go further.

I said, not only are you going to take him down to the ground, you’re going to pass his guard and everyone just laughed. They were like, BJ’s literally never had his guard passed in competition. Either jiu-jitsu or MMA, he’s got one of the best guards in the world. You’re never gonna pass his guard. And they, they all gave the same reason.

He’s too flexible. Literally this is a guy who you try any guard pass he can just take his foot and without even touching his foot, just thread it back in and go into place. And I agreed. He was the most, uh, flexible jiu-jitsu athlete I’d seen at that point in my career. And I also agreed that he had super guard retention skills as a result of that, but I was always…

Uh, I was also convinced that if you played a game where you shut down the mobility of his head and hips, you would render the flexibility inoperable. You wouldn’t bother to use it. And famously George passed BJ’s guard seven times in slightly more than 10 minutes in that fight. Now you might argue, well, some of that was because BJ took a heavy hit early in the fight and some of it because BJ got tired towards the end of the fight.

Yes, this is all true. But the fact remains. A man who’d never had his guard passed ever in competition suddenly had his guard passed seven times by a guy who is not even in the same realm of flexibility for jiu-jitsu as he did.

What made the difference? Would the smart thing have been to train Georges St. Pierre and BJ’s pain style flexibility in the time available? No, he got much better results, not by trying to change his own body attributes, but rather by the use of technique to shut down the attributes of his opponent. You get much more mileage out of shutting down the other guy’s attributes than you do, trying to, to build your own attributes.

Your own attributes don’t change that much, but your ability to shut down someone else’s attributes can be changed massively to the application of technique in very short periods of time. And so when it comes time to invest training time, because we all have limited time, we all have limited energy. And the question is always, how can I maximize my use of time and energy in my training program? I’ve always pushed towards the idea of favor, technique and skill, which shut down the other guys, attribute, attributes more than try to change your own physical attributes.

Joe Rogan:

Most certainly. I agree with you, but I do think that you’re talking about skills that aren’t mutually exclusive. And I think that if you do, stretch after training, you can still do it even if you’re training just as hard, it’s a matter of doing it or not doing it. It doesn’t take away anything from you.

It doesn’t exhaust you. It doesn’t blow you out.


This is all correct. But now you’re going to have to presumably use that form of newfound flexibility that you have and start to develop new techniques out of those. Why not just work with techniques that suit the attributes you already have and invest all of your training time in that? It’s pretty easy to shut down the other guy’s attributes with technique.

So why not just stick with what you’re already very, very strong at these? These are the attributes you have. They are paired with a certain skill set, which expresses those attributes best. Why bother investing large amounts of time in another set of attributes. Then you have to learn a whole new set of skills appropriate for those attributes.

Now you’re. You you’re, you’re juggling whole new skill sets at a time when you’re competing. You’ve got a competition coming up in one month. You’re not going to be able to bring those in, in that time period. So you see, as, as the body changes, you’re gonna have to change the techniques. Technical change takes a long time. Learning a new technique and applying it at world championship level is a big deal. It might take you six months to a year.


So do you think that this same, what you’re saying is because Gordon is at a world championship level. Would you have that same approach to someone who literally at day one? At day one you would say..


No, at that point they’re an open book and you can write the whole narrative from the beginning.


Right? So for Gordon he’s too far down the path.


Yeah. And at this point it’s no longer worth the investment and time to completely restructure his game, which has already winning. And especially given the fact that he’s in a busy competition schedule where he has to perform not three years from now, but next month.

The full episode’s on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/episode/3vFuyfMcitNK9Dl3CqZ1Dh?uid=89f42de6fa92ffb6187c

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