Learning BJJ in a Digital Age

I recently did a remote interview with Marshall Carpenter from Lockflow.com on the topic of how the internet has changed the way grappling knowledge is transmitted, learned and modified. You can check out the interview at Lockflow, or in the text below.

Open Source Jiu Jitsu, Session 3 by Marshal Carper

Marshall says: In November of last year, I did two articles on the impact the internet has had on the way grappling knowledge is transmitted, learned, and modified. The first article discussed my humble views on the matter, and the second article was an interview with Björn Friedrich, the owner of Fighter Fitness, a championship grade grappler, and the publisher of multiple YouTube videos that have gained a following in the Jiu Jitsu community.

Just recently, I received an email from Stephan Kesting discussing the issue at length. Kesting owns the widely popular GrappleArts.com and has released some of the best rated instructional grappling DVDs on the market today. Though the articles are nearing a year in age, Kesting’s insights into Open Source Jiu Jitsu are relevant and too useful to keep hidden.

LOCKFLOW: On your site, you have a blog offering weekly grappling tips and you often link to YouTube videos and websites run by other grapplers. While your readers obviously learn a great deal from your posts, how much do you learn from producing these articles and videos?

STEPHAN KESTING: I learn a great deal from writing my articles and producing my DVDs and Youtube videos. Creating these things helps me to organize my knowledge in an organized way, so that it can be efficiently taught and easily learned. Like most skilled grapplers I intuitively do a lot of things without thinking about them. I can DO them but you can’t TEACH these things unless you’ve thought about them. Writing an article or producing a video forces me to take a specific topic and really, really think about it, and I always learn a lot in the process.

LOCKFLOW: How has the internet impacted the way you learn and practice grappling, if at all?

STEPHAN KESTING: The internet has helped my own learning curve in several ways. Occasionally I see a technique, or a counter to a technique that I haven’t seen before, and I then take it to the mats and try it out on a non-resisting partner. Usually it turns out that these techniques are either junk or not suited to my body, but a few of them have been keepers and I end up integrating them into my game.

Stuff on the web also helped give me a ‘big picture’, especially when I was starting out. It helped me place techniques I was learning, and training methods I was experimenting with, into a context. Having a context allows you to figure out what you know, and to identify what you don’t yet know.

A lot of my articles and videos are produced with this whole idea of context in mind. I recently had a three part article on the different kinds of guards published in Ultimate Grapplingmagazine, and now they’re online on my site. I wrote these articles to provide a context for learning about the guard position, and if I’d known what was in those articles when I started to grapple I think it might have accelerated my learning curve by about 6 months.

LOCKFLOW: Can you think of a specific example of how your grappling knowledge was impacted by the internet?

STEPHAN KESTING: Sure! I re-learned one of my favorite triangle choke counters from the internet, the first escape on this page.

I’d been shown this triangle escape years before, but then had let it completely slip from my arsenal. When I saw that technique series it reminded me about the escape, and I’ve since re-incorporated it into my game.

LOCKFLOW: How do you feel the internet has impacted grappling knowledge in general?

STEPHAN KESTING: The internet, combined with the availability of instructional DVDs, has hugely accelerated the learning curve in grappling. The skill levels of both competitive and recreational grapplers is a lot higher than it was 10 years ago. If someone invents a new guard pass and uses it to win the Mundials black belt division then everyone can see it on Youtube the next day and reverse-engineer that same guard pass for themselves. Things don’t stay secret for nearly as long, and that drives the evolutionary arms race at speeds that were unthinkable in the past.

LOCKFLOW: Do you see this impact as negative or positive? Why?

STEPHAN KESTING: Almost entirely positive. Some people complain that the proliferation of knowledge draws students away from working on the basics. There is a grain of truth to that argument, however most students eventually figure that out for themselves. In the final analysis, for 99% of grapplers this sport is all about fitness and enjoyment, not necessarily winning their UFC debut or medalling at the World Championships, so they should do whatever it is they enjoy. If that’s working on their upside-down guard, or the X guard, or whatever, before they’ve mastered the basic armbar from closed guard, then who am I to say that that’s wrong?

LOCKFLOW: What advice would you offer to students using the internet to supplement their grappling knowledge?

STEPHAN KESTING:Just remember that if you see something on the internet it’s only the first step in a 4 step process that some people call TRIG. Here is something I posted on my blog a while back:

  • T = Technique. First you have to learn the technique. Where do your arms and legs go? How do you develop power? What do you do if your opponent counters your technique.
  • R = Repetition. Now you have to go and repeat the technique until your body understands it as well as your mind does. This can involve doing hundreds of repetitions, so lets get to work.
  • I = Isolation. Now you use the technique in isolation. Maybe you are working on escapes to a particular position, so start every sparring session pinned in that position. Another example might be deciding only to use one submission, say the triangle choke, when sparring people of lesser skill than you.
  • G = Grappling. Now you can incorporate that technique into your grappling arsenal!

LOCKFLOW: Is there anything else you would like to add?

STEPHAN KESTING: Yes, I’d like to invite people to come and check my site at www.grapplearts.com. It’s getting to be a huge site, with a ton of articles, techniques, videos, blog posts and photos that are exactly the kind of internet references we’ve been talking about in this interview. When I started Grapplearts in 2002 as a venue to promote my first video I had no idea that it would ever grow to be this large a site and so well reviewed by the grappling community.

Stephan’s note: Thanks to Marshall Cooper for initiating this conversation!

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