Sunday, May 15, 2016

Kit Dale's "The Art of Learning Jiu Jitsu"

These are some thoughts based on reviewing Kit Dale's recently released video "The Art of Learning Jiu Jitsu" with some reference to his earlier collaboration with Nic Gregoriades called "Beyond Technique".

KD's video is in two parts. The first is footage of a seminar he conducted in Melbourne. The second is of him talking to the camera about some concepts, and demonstrating them on a partner.

As most know, KD is not a fan of high repetition drilling as a way to become proficient at Jiu Jitsu. Instead, he prefers a randomised approach with lots of specific, live training.

While conceptually this is open to challenge, the results he has achieved (competing and winning at the top levels of sport BJJ, and going from white to black belt in less than four years) demand serious consideration of his methods.

I am not sure how much of this I agree with as yet, though obviously I wouldn't bother writing it up if I didn't think it had value. In any case, I think at a higher level the message is to discover what works for you, and that involves critical thinking about the material presented. I'd hope KD himself would agree.

Procedural vs Declarative  Learning

Procedural learning involves muscle memory. High repetition practice so that the body learns to reproduce a particular movement or sequence of movements automatically. 

Declarative learning is experiential training based on a concept, involving conscious thought and evaluation, trial and error.

Procedural Learning and Muscle Memory

According to KD to put a technique into muscle memory requires 3000-5000 repetitions. Opinions vary, but according to KD, if you took the many areas of Jiu Jitsu (takedowns, sweeps, guard passes, the various control positions, various guards etc.) and each of the various techniques from there and tried to drill an individual technique 1000 times every day, it would take over 500 years to drill everything to this level.

So drillers have to specialise rather than become well-rounded. Becoming a specialist means you become predictable. This then will require you to force positions and techniques to overcome strong defences, which leads to you having to do extra strength and conditioning, supplements, PEDs etc. All this training long and hard takes a toll on the body. KD says he hates S&C as he is naturally lazy and always looking for the easiest path.

Worse still, while putting a technique into muscle memory takes 3000-5000 reps, unlearning and relearning it differently takes significantly more reps, maybe 10000-13000 reps. So bad luck if you don't practice it right the first time around.

KD's Alternative approach

Most sports and martial arts are 10% physical, 90% mental. But most train 90% physical, 10% mental. KD suggests we spend most of our efforts on training the mind rather than the body and muscle memory.

Not thinking in BJJ is not BJJ, it is doing kata or dance routines. But - We are overcomplicating things in Jiu Jitsu (and most other MA).

We look for the basic concepts underlying all sweeps, all guard passes, etc.

Rather than learning to applying a specific technique from a specific position, we learn to apply these concepts from any position. The why is more important than the how.

We teach ourselves to dynamically solve grappling problems faster and faster through experiential learning. For example, we start in our partner's guard, and attempt to pass. Slow and easy at first. Our partner tries to counter our passing attempts, and we try to adapt to his movements and counter them in our continued attempt to pass. This is hard at the beginning, but it becomes easier as we continue to practice.

We train your minds to process the information more quickly and to becoming better and faster at solving grappling problems on the fly.

Think not "what did the professor show me from here?' but "what can I come up with, what can I create from here?"

Finite technique cannot control the chaos of jiu jitsu, especially when you add in different body types, different opponents with different ways of thinking, and different reactions.

Don't want a network of pathways you can navigate from A to Z. Want a 4WD to get anywhere from anywhere. (Me - not actually sure that is a great analogy).

Like maths, as the variables of the problem change so too must the solution. At a high level you rarely get the sweep or pass the first time, you have to keep adjusting as he tries to counter. Also, the faster you change the variables, the harder he will find it to keep up and you already have a solution to your side of the changed problem... (Me - in class, perhaps you can do this with a slow metronome and gradually speed it up?)

Experiential learning comes from trial and error and is to large degree unique to the individual.

Have students do position-specific training but make them change guard types or passing positions so they don't get too comfortable in one particular position. But don't tell what you told them to work on to theirpartners - otherwise the partners can just take positions that will nullify that particular guard, etc., If they know what their partner is trying to do, their reactions will not be honest.

Start unengaged (no grips, passer standing out of range) as this is more realistic.

The more mistakes you make, the more you learn. Lose your ego. Relax, experiment, do not get upset if something doesn't work. Try to work out why and fix it, or try something else.

There are significant parallels between this approach and Matt Thornton's concept of Aliveness.

An Example Concept

Every sweep has three important elements:
  • take away a post
  • control his weight/posture
  • use a leverage point

With a hooking sweep from butterfly guard:
  • overhook his arm and trap his wrist in the armpit (take away his post)
  • Grab his belt and pull him off his base (control his posture)
  • Use the hook to lift his leg and the other foot to push off the floor (leverage points)

To stop the sweep, take those elements away. If he gets my post, I'll take my weight away to the opposite side. If he gets both, stop his pivot point (in the hooking sweep, pin his feet together and keep them off the mat).

Relaxation, and Poker Face

If you tense up, he will know something is up, so relax. Relaxation means less telegraphing also.

Have a plan, but act like you are confused, indecisive and don't know what you are doing, look around, look at your coach, he will relax and plan an attack. Make him feel confident. Attack him between the relaxation and the attack.

Relax, he will relax. Act like you have no idea, he relaxes. Than attack. Attack him between his relaxation and attack.

Poker face - if he is attacking, act calm and like you are strong and in control. He may stop his attack because he thinks he is having no effect even if he is close to finishing or passing. If you start panicking or thrashing about, he will crank it on harder.

Sun Tzu - make him think you are strong where you are most vulnerable, and weakest where you are strongest.


Timing is more important than technique - an example is "lucky punch" ko's by inferior strikers. Gonzaga vs Crocrop.

Sound technique may not work if the timing is wrong. But even inferior execution can work if the timing is right.

We require lots of specific, live training to work these things out. Lots of in the hole drills from various positions with different partners.

Areas of Training

The Pareto principle says that 80% of results come from 20% of your actions - find that 20% and amplify it.

According to KD, Competition BJJ consists  using your guard to sweep or submit, or passing the opponent's guard. So a competitor should train way more of those aspects rather than mount, escapes, back control, etc.

KD claims that when he was rolling training in America and Brazil with top guys like Andre Galvao and Keenan Cornelius, he would do his best to keep the rolling in those areas to gain the most benefit from his training time with the best guys in the world. If his guard got passed, he would give up a submission ASAP so as to be able to restart on one side of the guard. He would save his training of other aspects of Jiu Jitsu (escapes, submissions from top, etc.) for non-elite level guys. 


The hardest part of passing is consolidating the finishing position, not getting through the legs.

When passing, try to get your finishing grips before passing the legs - using the hands to pass the legs and then switching to the upper body gives him time to recover.

With the toriandor pass if he blocks the upper body grips get the kneeride instead. When he pushes on the knee, switch to get your grips on his upper body.

Size-specific Jiu Jitsu

Certain techniques work better or worse depending on the builds of yourself and your opponent.

Toriandor passes work best  for the taller guy passing the shorter guy, same with spider guard foot on hip guard and closed guard.

Taller people have a structural advantage keeping the shorter opponent at distance. The shorter person may be unable to get decent grips if the taller person is fully extended.

Smaller people need to use close-in guards where they can get right underneath the opponent - hooks, half guard, X guard (single leg and double leg), and passes that keep them close to the opponent. The shorter person will find it easier to get himslef or his limbs into tight gaps that a larger person would struggle with.

Manage the distance to give yourself the advantage.

More Thoughts

Trying to apply this may take you backwards somewhat at first, you have to go from muscle memory to using your brain. Going from preset patterns and solutions supplied by others as opposed to coming up with your own solutions. 

You learn to analyse the situation, formulate a solution, attack with the solution. Observe, plan, attack. OODA loop (Observe, orient, decide, attack - look it up!).

You learn to "express yourself honestly" through your techniques, per Bruce Lee and Jeet Kune Do. Self expression as opposed to performing a prearranged dance routine. Feel the music, let the music move you.

To be an athlete, you can train hard, work S&C, drill lots. To be a martial artist, you need to create and innovate.

Do you know Jiu Jitsu moves, or do you understand Jiu Jitsu?

Most of these principles come from successful business models rather than any Jiu Jitsu instructor.

Predefined technique can be a base to get beginners started, but just show them the key points and let them innovate. Encourage them to relax and flow.

If you want to be better than the pack, you have to go outside the pack.

Industrialised vs organic education.

Learning how to learn.

The more info you have the easier it is to absorb new information. We learn and absorb and remember information by association with our other knowledge.

Part 2

KD discussed the following  concepts. I don't think it is right to try and write up the contents of the video here.

Movement and Posture
Block training vs randomized training
Attribute cycling
Structuring training for best memory retention - spaced training, interweaving
Acquisition of timing
Avoiding common mistakes by misleading actions
How much time to spend on certain positions
Psychological warfare
Enhancing memory
Game development
Dealing with nerves
Goal setting

Concepts from Beyond Technique

Transitional Pressure
The Fisherman
The Quadrant
Post, Posture and Leverage
The Porcupine
Nullifying the Guard Pull
The Corkscrew
Weight Distribution
Collapsing and Inserting Structure
Double-barrel Shotgun
Open and Closed Chain
Removing Leverage
Spinal Torque
Size Specific Strategy
Border Patrol
Loading the Spring
The Pendulum
Takedown Postures
Hip Centric Movement

My training bud, Lange's brown belt and pro MMA fighter Sonny Brown, did a great write up of these.

Do not attempt to systematize that which is organic - Nic Gregoriades allegedly quoting Friedrich Nietzsche (I couldn't find any such Nietzsche quote on the web - I'd be grateful if anyone can point one out)

Art is the expression of the self. The more complicated and restricted the method, the less the opportunity for expression of one's original sense of freedom. Though they play an important role in the early stage, the techniques should not be too mechanical, complex or restrictive. If we cling blindly to them, we shall eventually become bound by their limitations. Remember, you are expressing the techniques and not doing the techniques. If somebody attacks you, your response is not Technique No.1, Stance No. 2, Section 4, Paragraph 5. Instead you simply move in like sound and echo, without any deliberation. It is as though when I call you, you answer me, or when I throw you something, you catch it. It's as simple as that — no fuss, no mess. In other words, when someone grabs you, punch him. To me a lot of this fancy stuff is not functional. - Bruce Lee

1 comment:

Riaz said...

Hi are you still active?