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.

  • 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. Jun 1, 2014 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, 2014 at 11:30
  • youtube.com/watch?v=zas8pgG_2F4
    – RNI2013
    Jun 1, 2014 at 11:31

6 Answers 6


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."

  • 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, 2014 at 11:29
  • @RNI2013 Both those questions are way above my ability to answer! :) Jun 1, 2014 at 12:21
  • 1
    +1 for sticking up for the people who aren't world class athletes! Concepts are great to understand but not everyone can get their reps in sparring!
    – Tussles
    Oct 11, 2014 at 0:02

Concepts offer mutiple opportunities:

  • they are general and widely applicable, and as such they allow to compress information in order for you to learn and rememeber more stuff.
  • they are a useful tool to discover, analyze and refine techniques; this ranges from pioneering a new technique to adapting certain techniques to your own body and fighting style.
  • they help you connect parts of your game, thus enabling you to spot and strengthen the transitions you need between your techniques, which in turn empowers every single technique in your game.
  • they can guide you through a fight; with experience and maybe external help you might find the path of least resistance through your opponent's defenses. In the "Art of War", Sun Tzu advocates for both techniques and concepts: "Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.".

Concepts also have some downsides:

  • as techniques are refined peaks of movement efficiency and effectiveness, it is hard to use concepts on the spot to create the technique you need: even if it works, it will slow you down. Best done in creative sparring/drilling sessions.
  • it is hard to find quality concepts. Mediocre concepts unfortunately abound; even though they still offer something, they usually end up being true but not-so-widely-applicable, or widely applicable but not-really-true. Mediocre concepts may also limit your creativity and conceal potential new ways; in short, they might make you narrow-minded.

Techniques are movement patterns, but when performed they are made of real movements. People have written about how your brain benefits from performing and completing a movement many times: this is why drilling is nice. Since it is hard to complete techniques in sparring, it is unadvisable to do sparring only. Moreover, another good reason for drilling is development of discipline.

Techniques can also be viewed as the chaining link between concepts and actual movements; in this regard, you might want to note that every time a technique is executed the actual movements end up being different, by smaller or larger margins. This is an area where sparring shines: it is a great testing tool to get feedback and make your technique more effective, efficient and applicable through a back and forth connection with your concepts and movement experience in an effort to adapt the technique to the ongoing situation. Skipping sparring is also unadvisable, see history of Judo and BJJ.

In the end, I think it is best to teach techniques and explain the relevant concepts that are related. I feel deriving techniques from concepts is too slow, and guessing concepts from techniques is too hard.


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.


Concepts are both broad and specific. Thomas made a good point by bringing up the armbar. Fundamentally there is a concept that applies to every armbar you do from every position. You have to control at the wrist and at the shoulder and then pressure right above the elbow, just to make it really simple.

From there, you can go more conceptual or more technical by either focusing on the concept that applies to all joint locks or delving into how to perform a specific armbar. I don't think that you have to choice. There are benefits to both approaches and you can merge them by focusing on the concepts but teaching techniques that use the same concepts as a group.

Also you can check out these relevant posts:




Having started in kung fu, where it's said every long form has 108 steps, I am awash in techniques. The problem is Hick's Law. Netting it out: the more techniques you have to choose from, the longer it's going to take you to choose, and therefore the longer it will take you to react. There's a counter-force, the power law of practice that reduces the selection/reaction time, but when you have hundreds of techniques to choose from--a number that sounds like a lot, but really is not--it takes a lot of practice to pull your reaction times down to acceptable or good levels. I drilled for years on technique, and I can still be too slow.

Training styles that focus on a few common movements, on the other hand, can be very fast to execute, because there are just a few simple things you can do. It's a lot faster to decide "advance-left!" than it is to compute "What was that cool Dragon technique again? Butterflies Scatter? No... Oh yeah, it was Sweep the Sea, Push the Montain!" Having just a few options (e.g. move forward, move back, move inside, move outside) is very quick. I hate to call these "concepts" because that sounds like it's back in the mental / intellectual plane, whereas you really want it to be more of an instinctual or reflex move. Something triggered by muscle memory and trained instincts.

I use the techniques as details of what I might do, or as alternatives if the first, second, etc. action was countered. But I find it much more important to focus on the pattern of movement--the concept, if you will--and let detailed technique knowledge follow. The flow drill popular in Small Circle Jujitsu is very useful in teaching this ordering of concerns.


Some people learn from instruction , others discovery , my favourite way is instruction on how to discover

This is often called concepts, it must be said however, that this is my way only and not the only way

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