In my town, there is a small store that sells old, collectable toys. The few times I’ve been there I’ve walked the isles in awe looking at the things I would have killed for as a child. It was impressive seeing all of the rare toys in one place. There were some toys that I didn’t even know existed back in the day. Not surprisingly, the most expensive toys are the ones that are still perfectly preserved in their packages.
For example, there is one particular Star Wars toy that caught my attention. The box was in great shape. The person who bought that toy took great care in preserving its condition. But it was never opened. They spent good money at the time to only look at the box and imagine the fun safely packed away inside. For years, that box sat on a shelf, or tucked away in a closet, enjoyed superficially from time to time by the owner.
As I thought about it further, I started thinking how mindset can be seen in jiu-jitsu. There is a segment of grapplers who are more into ‘collecting’ moves than refining what they already know. Even as a striped-up white belt or blue belt, their goal is to collect as many varieties of a certain technique or position as possible. They are consumed by the newest guard variations or latest trends in the game.
These are the guys (and gals) that have literally hundreds of moves they have enjoyed superficially, just as the toy collector. And just as the toy collector never opened the package to enjoy the contents, the grappler with a mindset of a collector never did enough reps or pressure testing to learn the proper nuances and timing that make the move valid during sparring.
The Jiu-Jitsu Collector
There are some at the gym who spend all of their time trying to accumulate new moves. They spend large portions of their free time watching YouTube or surfing social media for the next “big thing” in jiu-jitsu. They speak of the worm guard or donkey guard as if they are mainstream, yet they struggle during live sparring against solid, fundamental jiu-jitsu. I’ve given a name to these people. I call them ‘jiu-jitsu collectors’.
I define the ‘jiu-jitsu collector’ as a practitioner who gauges his or her skill level by how many different moves they know rather than how well they do during live rolls. They don’t have time to drill or rep something from the previous day or week because they found something new on YouTube they need to figure out. They are convinced their game will jump to the next level if they could just learn more moves than their opponent. This is the classic jack-of-all-trades but master of none scenario.
And where the toy collector won’t open the box to discover the true joy inside, the jiu-jitsu collector will never spend enough time with a technique to learn all the little minutia that truly make it effective. They will not learn the proper timing, pressure and transitions that can only come through repetitions. I’m willing to be there are some purple belts, and probably even a few seasoned blue belts, that know more techniques than me. I’m a first-degree black belt with 20 years of training. But those same lower belts will get crushed with the fundamental moves they skipped over to get to the fancy stuff. It’s a superficial knowledge of jiu-jitsu that’s becoming more and more common in sport focused schools.
The Jiu-Jitsu Consumer
On the flip side, let’s take a look at the kid who rips open the packaging and starts to play with the toy. That was me growing up. I know when I would play with my Legos they became cars, space ships and military bases. They were played with in the family living room, in my bedroom, and even found their way into the bath tub. I made it my mission to know all the different ways I could configure those pieces to make whatever was needed at the time.
The jiu-jitsu consumer is the same way. They take the moves they know and they start to build their game. Then they rip their game apart and rebuild it a different way. I define the ‘jiu-jitsu consumer’ as a practitioner who is open to new moves, but would rather refine what he already knows. The goal is to find new uses for old techniques. He (or she) understands when a fundamental movement doesn’t work, it’s because of a mistake they made, not a failure in the technique. The jiu-jitsu consumer is tough to roll live because he/she has a solid game plan and sticks to what works.
That’s not to say the consumer is against studying YouTube or learning the latest and greatest tournament move. The difference is the consumer understands the new techniques have a time and place. They need to be built on a solid foundational base of fundamental knowledge. The race to understanding is not a sprint to the fancy high-risk, high-reward movements. The race to understanding is a slow, methodical marathon to a deeper understanding of leverage and body mechanics.
There is no doubt it’s important to learn new moves and continue to add to your game. But I caution you pace yourself. Take the time to really get to know a move before moving on to the next. Techniques should be drilled thousands of times relentlessly to make them second nature. They are meant to be done in a split second without thought. The collector will be slower because they won’t have the muscle memory of a consumer. They’ll be tentative because they’ll be thinking through options. The collector is also less likely to have a “plan b” if the first move doesn’t work because they’ve spent less time pressure testing the movements.
I’m sure you can sense the bias in my words. Take the time to learn 1-2 mount escapes really well than know 5-6 that only occasionally work. Take the time to learn 2-3 versions of armbar instead of 7-8 that only occasionally work. Develop a complete closed guard game before you start worrying about going inverted. Be patient, the advanced moves will come. Eventually as you get older you can become a collector, but first take the time to enjoy the toys.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are entirely my own and are not to be taken as official views from the city or law enforcement agency where I work. Any techniques that are demonstrated or discussed are to be done at your own risk. Consult with your local district attorney and your agency policy before implementing anything learned on this site. Federal law, State law, and agency policy always trump my opinion.
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