Competition and Background


Teaching grappling techniques is a lot like passing on genetic material. When you show someone a technique, they copy it, but there’s always the risk for some mutations. A lot of the time, those mutations are inconsequential. Sometimes they’re advantageous. Still other times, they’re detrimental.

Mark had this story that stood out to me about this topic. Evan performed this technique that worked pretty well. Mark asked him where he learned it. Evan noted “from you”. Mark laughed because he’d never even seen that variation. Somehow, Evan had changed some of the details Mark had shown and the result was a submission that didn’t even look like the original, but was nevertheless effective. He’d comment on that a lot of times – how he’ll show us his way, but we’re ultimately going to have our own way anyway. I think that’s mostly true, though given enough time training with someone you’ll eventually be able to mimic all of their personal technical details.

Because techniques behave a lot like genetics, I think we can benefit from diversity. Learning a different kimura variation from each of Mark, Justin, Wade, Anders, Thales, Lesley, and Mike, there are different details I’ve acquired from each. My kimura isn’t the result of a single lineage and learning a single way, it’s seven instructors and countless training partners. Just because you know how to defend the setup for Justin’s kimura doesn’t mean you know how to defend mine. Having a diverse background as a grappler can make for a stronger and/or more well-rounded game because you’ve likely been exposed to a lot. It can also be problematic because you may end up learning a lot of variations without mastering any given one of them. Though, in general, I’d say you tend to first pick up the aspects of your instructor’s game that are the strongest simply by virtue of them being able to teach that aspect the best.

For those who learn to mimic only one instructor over the course of their entire grappling career, I feel that competition is important. Competition is a chance to metaphorically cross-pollinate. You get exposure to those other variations and it might even change how you train something. You also get to test what aspects of your game work, and what need help. If your gym has never taught you leg locks, grappling against a leg lock specialist will be an eye-opening experience. If your gym neglects stand-up, the first time a high-level judoka effortlessly throws you can make you question everything you know about how to start a match. Competition can, of course, only test how well your personal style works within the confines of the sporting rules, but it can often be a pretty good test of how well-rounded your game is, and how adaptable you are to different situations.

None of this is to say that if your gym is already pretty diverse competition can’t also be beneficial, but rather that if your gym lacks a diversity of backgrounds – if every student at your gym started under your instructor – competition is one of the only ways to find out if what you’re being taught works in other contexts. Diverse gyms already have the advantage of being able to test a lot of situations.


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