The thing about jiu jitsu is that it is calming. It is a no-holds-barred way of simultaneously ridding yourself of stress and angst while perfecting an art – an art and journey that never stops – not until you die.
You could say that the most desirable part of jiu jitsu is learning submissions, but that is like saying the best part of the cake is the icing. Is it? Probably, but without fundamentals, you’re just eating a giant puddle of pudding which will taste good until the stomach ache hits you. There are so many comparisons to jiu jitsu fundamentals that it is almost sickening. “It’s like the foundation of a house”, “you have to walk before you can swim”, and “Position before submission”. They all tout that you will be better if you work on basics, and I believe that. But with the evolution of BJJ now, what exactly are the basics?
Control the hips – well what about the inverted guard?
Passing the guard – is this even needed as much anymore?
Don’t cross the feet for armbars – I know why, but really, why?
Obviously those questions will have different points of view, but it does bring in the question – should the basics still be the basics, or should they alter to keep up the different jiu jitsu we are starting to see? I don’t mean this in the sense that “do guard passes work?”…of course they do, what I’m getting at is if they’re as necessary as they used to be. Let’s face it, if nobody plays closed guard, your need for a closed guard pass isn’t as important, thus, evolution.
When I started jiu jitsu only 5 years ago, the guards that I knew about were closed, spider, half-guard and De La Riva…that’s it. Is that all that existed? No, it’s just that I didn’t know at the time, nor for my experience level. I concentrated on escaping and passing. However, now it seems every week there is a new guard making its rounds. If you were to do a quick reddit.com or youtube.com search, you’ll find worm-guard, lapel-guard, butterfly-guard, deep-half-guard, reverse-De La Riva, cross-guard, x-guard, grasshopper guard and on and on. Some have been around, some are brand new…take your pick of specialty. I’m by no means an experienced all-worldly jiu jitsu player, but I know enough to know that nearly every time I search jiu jitsu on the computer I see a new kind of guard.
Couple these guards with how often you’ll encounter them, and you’ve taken the next step in jiu jitsu evolution. I encounter white belts now that know one closed-guard pass, but are currently working on counters to the De La Riva guard and berimbolo sweep as a priority. Is this necessary for successful tournament results? If you don’t train these different guards and counters, is it even possible to win in a competition and if you don’t start until you have the “basics” down, are you behind the curve?
From what I’ve read and heard, proponents of learning these open guard techniques and counters will say that it’s evolution of the art and learning them early is a necessity. They’ll say that in order to be competitive you have to train what you’ll encounter – and that makes sense. This is the same reason people expose their kids to sports at young ages – to be ahead of the curve. Detractors of this usually use the self-defense side of jiu jitsu…an area where inverted guard and De La Riva will only succeed in getting your face pounded in, but the basics of controlling hips and passing may save your ass – and that makes sense as well.
So where are we at on the basics? Does it depend on what kind of jiu jitsu you’re aiming towards? We all know basic guard passing (or a variation of), so let’s look at competition…
The open guard gives you this. That’s Rafael Mendes and Paulo Miyao…two very successful jiu jitsu practitioners that – depending on who you talk to – just “sit there” during the fight. Some say it’s a technical battle and some turn it off at the 4:00 mark because, well to put it bluntly, it “sucks to watch”. I’m of the latter opinion. I’m also of the opinion that if matches keep ending in draws and there are guard pulls every match, jiu jitsu won’t gain much more ground than it already has. You may agree or disagree, but IBJJF knows there’s a problem already with their new “guard pull” rules. For the record, yes, both of those guys would annihilate me.
Is sport jiu jitsu evolving into a corner? Are we going to a point where open guard and pulling guard is so common and practiced that when someone gets caught in a closed guard nobody will know how to get out? Of course not. But concerning defenses, positions and tactics, you have to ask yourself which becomes a priority and fundamental when you encounter one more than the other….and so we evolve.