Fundamentals & Efficiency in Jiu Jitsu
When you begin on your jiu-jitsu journey, you will likely hear the word “fundamentals” a lot. Many instructors swear that the core of the martial art really comes down to the perfection of just a few key fundamentals and enough expertise to know when and how to make minor variations to these fundamentals. True, championship jiu-jitsu fighters may rely on a larger set of moves and techniques, but the vast majority of situations, from rolling with other jiu-jitsu fighters to defending oneself in a street fight, will draw solely from jiu-jitsu fundamentals.
Matt Thronton of Straight Blast Gym International is one of the most well-known proponents of this view. As he says in the below video, “There’s a logical fallacy that runs through a lot of the community, where they think that whatever the top-level players are doing at the moment must be the newest, most powerful jiu-jitsu, which is not true.” According to Matt, beginning, intermediate, and even advanced students shouldn’t be trying to mimic the style of the most dominant fighter in jiu-jitsu at any one time. They should be focusing on fundamentals and developing a style that works for them.
What Are Jiu-Jitsu Fundamentals?
For Matt, there are three properties that make a jiu-jitsu technique a fundamental. They are all universal, repeatable, and efficient.
Fundamentals are universal in the sense that virtually anyone can do the move, regardless of age, weight, or body type. These techniques do not rely on strength or speed or weight advantages. A person who is 120 pounds will be able to perform the move against a person who is 100 pounds heavier than them and vice-versa.
These universal movements are also repeatable. In other words, not only will people of all shapes and sizes be able to physically do the move, which speaks to its universality; it will also be effective no matter who does it. Like a science experiment, it can be repeated millions of different ways by millions of different people in slightly different circumstances and produce the same results.
Finally, these moves are the most efficient. According to Matt, “efficiency” means as “as little strength, as little explosiveness, as little speed, as little risk as possible.”
Why Is Efficiency So Fundamental?
Efficiency is not just a core component of the fundamental moves of jiu-jitsu. It’s also central to the entire philosophy of jiu-jitsu.
Jiu-jitsu is not about using brute strength or opposing force with force. It’s about survival. To survive, fighters need to conserve their energy, weather the storm, and expend that energy and explosiveness only when the time in right. Since the earliest days of jiu-jitsu, back when Hélio Gracie was staging no holds barred fights in Brazil decades ago, the key to his success was his ability to endure and wait for his opponents to make a mistake that he could exploit.
As Matt says, “The reason we want to use as little of those things as possible is so that when we’re outclassed in those things, when we’re up against someone younger, bigger, stronger, faster, our technique will allow us to survive.”
Repetition as the Key to Efficiency
Even if these fundamental moves are universal and virtually anyone can do them, you won’t be doing them on your first day as well or as efficiently as a black belt who has been practicing jiu-jitsu for years. Your technique is going to be less refined. You are going to expend more energy. You are going to make subtle mistakes.
Like any skill, from cooking to playing a musical instrument, having theoretical understanding of a practice and knowing the steps to compete a task does not make you an expert. You need a combination of theoretical knowledge, practical knowledge, and perhaps most important of all muscle memory. That requires repetition. Even if you fully grasp the philosophy of jiu-jitsu and know the steps to complete these moves, it takes hundreds, if not thousands, of repetitions to refine them to that point. Repetition is key to jiu-jitsu because you’re refining and improving, but also because you’re experiencing slightly different variations of these moves and learning how to adapt.
This process of refinement is where one finds the real artistry of jiu-jitsu. As you refine your style, you will learn how to use the same techniques as everyone else, but in a way that suits you best. This is also the part of jiu-jitsu that is the most fun since you are discovering new and creative modifications to become the most efficient fighter you can be.