The Value of Training Non-Traditional Techniques in Jiu-Jitsu

Photo by: Blanca Marisa Garcia

Very often I hear purists and traditionalists decry unusual or unorthodox tactics used by athletes who attend jiu-jitsu competitions.

“Deep half will get you beaten to a pulp!” they say.

“If anyone ever tried to Berimbolo me I’d just kick them in the face!”

Why bother learning and becoming comfortable with these techniques if they are useless off of the competition mat?

It is important for any budding practitioner to learn fundamental techniques.  If you don’t have a good closed guard, your De La Riva and Spider Guard will ultimately fail you.  If you can’t elbow escape or umpa, you probably shouldn’t be spending time trying to hit Goat Hook’s from “Possum Guard”.

But there is some inherent value to these less traditional techniques once you have sound fundamentals to developing the less “standard” aspects of your jiu-jitsu game.

I like to use Donkey Guard as an example because it is so often pointed to as an instance of the devolution of jiu-jitsu techniques.  Donkey Guard, for anyone who doesn’t know, involves deliberately turning your back on an opponent and then waiting for them to approach, at which point you use their attempt to take your back to set up attacks.  How ridiculous!  Turning your back on an opponent to bait them to approach!  This is gonna get someone killed!

Here’s the thing: it would probably be really stupid to use Donkey Guard in a street fight.  But the coordination and dexterity that practicing Donkey Guard gives you can be very useful.  I think of a technique like Donkey Guard as being akin to kata.  Kata itself is useless in a fight, but the dexterity it develops may be useful.

Another example I like to use is deep half guard.  If done poorly, deep half will result in a fighter getting knocked out in an MMA or street fight.  But what if you wind up mounted in a fight and in deep half?  Knowing the position and being comfortable enough in it to attack is what makes jiu-jitsu special.

The real value of jiu-jitsu is that it gives us the ability to attack from positions where we would otherwise be vulnerable, and it gives us the possibility of reversing positions where we would otherwise be dead in the water.  We don’t train to be able to handle the expected, but rather to handle the unexpected. The more we place ourselves in weird, awkward, and bad positions and learn to work our way out of those positions, the more likely we are to be able to improve our positions to fundamentally sound ones.

Of course sound fundamentals are the groundwork for the more colorful and unorthodox aspects of the game, but ultimately an individual’s jiu-jitsu game is a complete package, and there are plenty of examples of more traditional games being beaten by unorthodox ones.


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