Crowdsourcing Your BJJ

There’s never been a better time to get better at BJJ.

A sixteenth century samurai who wanted to improve his duelling skills had relatively limited options.  If he put up with enough hazing and character testing then, maybe, his sensei would eventually decide to teach him some good stuff. And hopefully he would have learned some things by watching, or participating in, the occasional sword fight.

But there weren’t a lot of people running around in feudal Japan freely sharing their sword fighting secrets.  Our samurai friend didn’t have Google, Youtube and instructional videos to help him keep abreast of the latest developments sweeping the kenjutsu or iado world…

By contrast the 21st century aspiring mat warrior has a ton of options for learning. You can basically crowdsource your BJJ problems because an incredible number of skilled grapplers are out there willing to share their knowledge with you in a variety of media.

It’s not just about learning the latest, coolest berimbolo or 50/50 guard variation.

Sometimes it’s about finding a single missing detail or movement for a technique you’re otherwise competent at…

For example, the other day I was sparring with a friend who was giving me fits with his modified spider guard.  Normally I feel pretty comfortable passing spider guard, but this time he took a non-traditional sleeve and collar grip and was breaking my posture by kicking his foot hard against my hip.

Bent forward like that it was extremely difficult for me to begin a guard pass and quite easy for him to sweep me and transition into other, even better, guard positions.

No posture, no guard passing, no glory.

Since that sparring session I’ve been on hunt for a solution to that one specific problem.

I started by going through my mental rolodex of techniques that I already know, and then I also dreamt up some new potential solutions to strip that damn hook off my hip.(Not all of them will work of course, but the key to having great ideas is to have a lot of ideas!)

Then I went to other training partners, had them put me in the same position and field tested my great ideas in a controlled setting.  Certain ideas got thrown out and others got retained for further investigation.

But no one person has all the answers, myself included. So I didn’t stop with the ideas retained by, or invented in, my own brain. Crowdsourcing the problem was the next logical step…

I started by picking the brains of my training partners to find out if they had any good ways to re-establish posture in situations like that. They had some really useful feedback for me.

And then I reviewed some guard passing instructional videos in my DVD library to see if they address this point

Plus I made a mental note to ask my coaches for advice on this particular topic the next time I train with them.

I haven’t had the time to scour Youtube for other solutions to the same problem yet – sometimes it’s hard to filter through so much crap to get the answer I want -  but I’ll probably do that too at some point.

The results so far?  I’ve got a grand total of two new potential techniques to solve the problem I encountered. This might not sound like a lot, but I only need one of them to work, so it’s a great start!

Now the truth is that I don’t yet know if they’ll work in a live setting against a skilled opponent.  I’ll have to go and field test it against the same person who was giving me the problem at some point.

I’ll give him the same initial starting position and then try out my two new moves.  If either of them work then I’ll be tickled pink.  If neither of them pan out, well, then it’ll be time for some more R&D.

Regardless of the outcome we’ll both become better grippers as a result of this grappling arms race, and that’s a beautiful thing.

The crowdsourcing process is a modern miracle, enabled both by technology and a culture of sharing information. Our 16th century samurai might have spent 5 years trying to figure out a new way to draw his sword, today we can improve so much faster than ever before. The availability of information is no longer a rate-limiting step; the only thing slowing us down is our ability to put our newfound knowledge into practice.

Sometimes it’s a world renowned black belt who shows you a critical detail, but you can also learn from the lowly blue belt at the club who is particularly good at doing one certain technique.  Or you find the missing piece of the puzzle in an instructional video, or competition footage, or an app, or on youtube, or in a book, or on a blog, or when it’s being discussed on a forum.

The bottom line is that I’m not picky about where I learn new stuff.  If a technique, detail or concept solves a problem then it doesn’t matter where it comes from.

The solutions are almost always out there – you just have to look for them.  It’s a good time to be training!


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