Principle or Concept Based Approach To Jiu-jitsu

There are innumerable Bjj technique videos on YouTube and we all love to learn a new move or variation to add to our game.

Many advanced instructors of jiu-jitsu say that the “secret” to mastering jiu-jitsu is NOT in how many moves you know, but in HOW you are applying the moves.
The are underlying principles or concepts behind HOW the individual techniques are applied against an opponent.

What does this mean? And how do you apply it to your jiu-jitsu?

Rickson Gracie black Henry Akins talks about “Technique Based” approach VS. a “Principle or Concept Based” approach to jiu-jitsu.

Q: Can you explain what is the difference between a “Technique Based” approach VS. a “Principle or Concept Based” approach to jiu-jitsu?
Why do you feel a Principle or Concept based approach is more useful in jiu-jitsu?

A Technique based approach can give you an answer to a very specific situation or problem while a principle or concept based approach
gives you a way of THINKING about a problem which you can then use to help you solve other similar problems.
For example I can give you the answer to 2 + 2 which is 4, but that wont help you if I ask you what’s 8 + 8.

If I teach you ADDITION though you can solve 8 + 8 or many other complex problems just by understanding the concept.

Q: How would you recommend students of jiu-jitsu look at in learning and applying their jiu-jitsu in terms of concepts INSTEAD of accumulating more and more techniques?
Can you give a specific example in say: passing the guard or controlling the back or applying pressure from the top position?

Yes It was always very easy for me to figure out concepts in jiu-jitsu just by thinking “What is it my opponent wants to achieve with whatever position we are in?” and
try to ask deeper and deeper questions to really get to the root of what’s going on.

For example with your examples above: Guard passing, the goal is to get closer to your opponent PERIOD!
Your opponents goal is to use his legs against you to keep you away, if he never allows you to get close you can never pass.
Then you can break things down further but that is the most simple understanding of what is happening when someone is passing guard.
You can test this just by having someone in your closed guard and opening your legs, allow them to lean their chest towards you, as they lean in closer you start to feel more uncomfortable and begin to have the urge to block them with your arms or legs or to create space.

Obviously things can get more specific too, for example now that I know the person’s going to use their legs against me and try to create distance to prevent me from getting close I know my job is to neutralize the legs and soak up space.
So I start to figure out concepts and ideas by asking very general questions about what’s going on.

Q: Can you share one or 2 of your favorite principles of jiu-jitsu?
How do you apply it in rolling?

One of the principles of jiu-jitsu that I strongly believe in is that it is a martial art first and foremost.
Of course now a days you see it expressed mostly as a sport but you can still train and apply this idea while rolling by constantly thinking…
“If this were a fight and striking were involved, what could my opponent do to hurt me? Where are his weapons and how would I protect myself?”

This starts to make you more aware in every position if your susceptible to punches, elbows, knees, kicks, head buts and so these ideas start to become part of your thinking.

Q: How does a student develop a deeper understanding of how the concepts are employed.
They can drill an arm bar for sets and reps. How does one train a concept to inculcate it into muscle memory?

Once you understand a certain concept all the techniques should align with it.
I believe all the techniques flow from the concepts and philosophies, that is why I think there is such a big discrepancy in sport and self defense jiu-jitsu.
The concepts and philosophies are very different so they allow different movements and strategies to come from it.

I think I spoke a lot about this in my last interview with you.
Read here: Off the Mat with a Bjj Black Belt: Henry Akins – part 1

Concepts go very deep and apply to all positions and all the movements in the positions.
Its really just ideas of…
What am I trying to achieve?
What is my opponent trying to achieve?
How do I do it?
What does my opponent need to do it?

Then How I can take it away etc. this is how you come to the deep level of understanding in jiu-jitsu. Question everything!

Once you start talking about concepts the rabbit hole goes very deep and the understanding of every single movement, hand placement and angle has a purpose.
The goal for the student is to understand all of it.. seems crazy
I know but it just takes us being conscious and questioning everything.

Henry Akins on “Invisible Jiu-Jitsu” Connection


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