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Kit Dale wrote an article about BJJ concepts. He states that he prefers to learn general principles/concepts over specific techniques:

Instead of cluttering up the hard drive of your ‘jiu-jitsu computer’ by trying to memorise thousands of techniques, instead consider installing a ‘faster processor’ by understanding and internalising 50 or so principles or concepts.

Is this a useful approach? Are there any drawbacks?

Also see this video for more information.

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What a great article! Thanks for posting it. I'm sure this will get a lot of discussion here. It's hard knowing what Kit Dale really means, though, from the article. And it sounds like his approach made sense to him but might not be something that can be taught to others very easily. One of the more interesting things he mentioned was the topic of improving teaching methods to get better / faster results than using traditional methods. Maybe the advantages and disadvantages of this form of learning/teaching should be left for another question. –  Steve Weigand Jun 1 at 5:08
Steve, I though the same thing. This link may be of interest to you: Kit talks about chaining techniques/learning methods! –  RNI2013 Jun 1 at 11:30

2 Answers 2

Concepts are great

In general, I agree: concepts are the underlying part of all jiu-jitsu that works. Posture, base, leverage--these will be constants across all techniques that work. I think Kit goes off the rails by extrapolating from his experience to advice for the general populace, however. For instance:

One of the things I noticed early early on was that you didn’t have to drill something 100 times to be able to apply it during training. If I understood the basic principles of a movement and winged it, it would usually work.

I've experienced this too, with a certain small set of techniques. But I'd argue that a lot of students can't do this with most techniques. It relies on a lot of rolling time and a large helping of natural athleticism. I have sweeps that came "naturally" to me after merely seeing someone demonstrate it on video, but I also have sweeps that were total garbage until I drilled the hell out of them under constant supervision from a coach. The proportion of techniques that fall into one category or the other will vary according to each student's athleticism, intelligence, and learning style.

Techniques that "work"

I'd also like to hear some examples of what Kit speaks about here:

I remember using moves in sparring that I had never practised before and getting them to work. Even ones I had been told were “bad” by the instructor. My reply to him was always the same: “But it works”.

Were these strength moves, or techniques his instructor just hadn't seen yet? Marcelo talks a lot about moves that work against opponents smaller than you, or even your size, but that fail against someone bigger or stronger. Why practice those techniques?

Some techniques work, but are lower-percentage than other techniques.

Techniques AND Concepts

Rolling is always going to be the ultimate laboratory for finding truth in technique. But to advocate for no drilling is to throw legions of athletically cursed individuals into a pit of despair. I prefer instructors who teach specific high-percentage techniques as instances of general concepts. For example: "Here's how we're going to learn to pass the guard today. Notice my posture, here and here. Posture is always important and this position is a fundamentally strong posture. Notice how the important part of this technique is a particular kind of timing. This timing will work for lots of techniques Notice how this is one of five maximally efficient ways to pass."

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Dave, great answer and thanks for your edit! I think that this approach of concepts over technique is one that is especially useful for beginners? (like myself lol) This is because you have the chance to apply a concept a lot more than a technique. I.e good posture in guard, mount side control etc over attempting a kimura. What do you feel are the most critical concepts in BJJ? –  RNI2013 Jun 1 at 11:29
@RNI2013 Both those questions are way above my ability to answer! :) –  Dave Liepmann Jun 1 at 12:21

Through learning moves; getting taught sequences you should be learning and incorporating these concepts.

I.e. when I teach a half guard pass, I teach what is necessary for you to complete the pass. You can grab those tools and apply them in a different way to get a different pass, as long as you know how to use each of those tools properly and in conjunction.

If I teach the armbar from the guard; I'm teaching much more than just the armbar from guard; I'm teaching how to do an armbar; to isolate an arm, lock down on it, to hyperextend it, to control the head and posture of your opponent etc. These concepts will allow you to do an armbar from anywhere, but it requires some of your own inventiveness.

To stimulate that inventiveness, you get taught // you learn more moves, so you see; hey the armbar from mount is the same as the armbar from guard; maybe I can apply more of what I know from guard to the mount position.

I think he just tells more directly what people have been teaching for forever. He sort of lifts the covers on how teaching is done.

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