I used to think that if I just learned enough ways to pass the guard, mastered enough submissions, memorized enough pin escapes, pick up enough guard sweeps, received enough tactics and just had enough techniques at my fingertips, then… someday… I would master the art of grappling.
Techniques, techniques, techniques! I was pretty sure that these were the critical things to learn. Well, guess what? When I look back on my grappling journey it’s obvious that my greatest successes and most exciting breakthroughs all had one thing in common.
And it was never about learning a new technique.
Instead the biggest leaps forward were those suddent insights when, all of a sudden, you see that a whole bunch of different and seemingly unconnected techniques are just different expressions of the same underlying principle.
Some people call these ‘ah ha’ moments. The light goes on, something falls into place, and you can never look at something in quite the same way ever again.
Breakthrough moments like these have been on my mind a lot recently. (In fact this is the main reason I put together my online Black Belt Concepts Course. In that course is distilling my most important ‘ah ha’ moments in grappling, and passing them on to you using and sharing tons techniques, tricks and drills.)
But regardless of whether you sign up for that course or not, today I want to talk to you about the power of concepts.
By the end of this email I want you to be convinced that concepts and principles are FAR more powerful than individual techniques. And internalizing these concepts is the single best thing you can do to become a better grappler.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then
A concept is worth a thousand techniques.
Why is concept-based learning so great when it comes to submission grappling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu? Here are five good reasons:
REASON #1: There are LOTS of techniques in grappling. Hundreds and hundreds of techniques.
First you’ve got your bread and butter techniques.
Then there are the techniques that are you use once in a while.
And then there are the techniques that you’ll never use yourself but that your opponents will try to use on you.
There’s no getting around it: you’ve GOT to learn a lot of techniques to get good at this grappling stuff. And that can seem overwhelming at times – memorizing all this can be hard work.
But guess what? Those hundreds and hundreds of techniques I was talking about – they’re made up of thousands of little steps that make the difference between success and failure for each technique
But the good news is that there are a lot fewer concepts than techniques in grappling.
And it’s much easier to remember a few core concepts than it is to remember hundreds of techniques with thousands of steps and details. Techniques are just applied concepts. A single concept can be applied to many different techniques, in different situations, and using different parts of your body.
REASON #2: A concept makes you understand WHY you have to do certain things in a specific order for a given technique to work properly. Concepts make sense of a technique, and it’s a million times easier to remember things that makes sense.
A concept also makes the techniques you already know more powerful. Once you understand the underlying principles of the armbar, for example, then you’ll also know how to tweak and adjust that submission for maximum effectiveness.
REASON #3: Another limitation of technique-based learning is that a specific technique applies only to a specific situation. And it’s completely unreasonable to expect to know a different technique to deal with each and every situation you might end up in on the mats.
If you’ve done any sparring at all, then you know that two determined grapplers can end up in some downright weird situations. In these tangled positions each grappler will be wondering what the heck they should do next.
Unfortunately the ‘dial-a-friend’ option ISN’T available when you’re in the middle of a grappling match. But most of the time you can figure out the right thing to do by apply the correct concepts. I know this, because going back to ‘first principles’ has saved my butt many times in sparring.
REASON #4: You can use the same concept in many different grappling arts.
Rules can change from art to art, but the laws of physics, anatomy and psychology stay the same. That means that the concepts you’ll discover when you did a little deeper are much more universal than the techniques of any given art.
The same concept can apply in Brazilian jiu-jitsu AND submission grappling, With the gi AND in no-gi. In mixed martial arts AND in self defense. In Judo AND Sambo AND wrestling
REASON #5: Understanding the concepts of grappling allows you to adapt and even invent techniques on the fly.
Just think about music for a second. Understanding the principles and underlying rules of music allows a musician to improvise and create great sounding music. In exactly the same way, knowing the principles and underlying concepts of grappling allows you to adapt and innovate new techniques as needed, and even ‘on the fly.’
This approach to the martial arts also frees you up to continue learning when your instructor isn’t around. The most important thing my instructors did was TEACH ME HOW TO LEARN!
Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a day.
Teach him HOW to fish and you feed him for his whole life.
You can probably tell that I really believe the number one thing you can do to improve your overall grappling is develop a ‘conceptual’ game.
So take a look at the vast number of grappling techniques and get serious about finding the universal themes, the underlying principles and the most important concepts that make those techniques ‘tick’.
Eventually I hope you’ll agree that a concept is worth a thousand techniques.