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Developing Your Personalized BJJ Game
The longer you train BJJ and the more techniques, positions, and styles you are exposed to, you will notice an interesting phenomenon. And if you aren't noticing it, step back and take a look. Your first few months will be a blur of techniques, of chokes, arm locks, positions,etc. You will be learning so much that your head will be spinning. Over time, you will begin to start feeling more comfortable with certain moves, techniques, or positions. With relatively little practice or work, you may find yourself gravitating and finding success with particular techniques.
This could be because of the make up of your body, overall athleticism, or flexibility. It could also because your instructor or coaches favor a particular style of jiu jitsu game. The reason doesn't really matter. What is important is that you recognize and enrich the organic process and do your best to maximize the development of your individual style.
In the video below, 5 time world champion Bernardo Faria talks about how his love and expertise for the half guard position developed. Bernardo is well-known as one of the most dominant half guard players to have ever competed. What is less well known is the process through which he came to love the half guard and how many different positions and influences he went through to get there.
It's dangerous for the casual practitioner to try out a new position and not immediately find success with it and completely scrap it in favor of something new. Without understanding everything we can about our developing game and how a particular position can build on our strengths, we potentially miss out on developing a powerful weapon or position that could make us virtually unstoppable. Check out Bernardo's story below and we'll break down some key ideas after.
Learn as much as you can from others
Early on in your jiu jitsu training, it's important to absorb as much information as you can from your instructors and coaches. This will begin exposing you to the hundreds and hundreds of different techniques out there, but also, perhaps more importantly, it will begin to expose you to the individual style and flavor that people bring to the techniques when they have started developing their own games.
Your coaches will not only teach you a wide variety of individual moves, but you will also begin to notice how they apply those moves and string them together. Bernardo spoke of his instructor Ricardo Marques favoring spider guard, so this led Bernado to work as much spider guard as he could initially. Though he worked hard on it, there was something about the position that never really stuck with Bernardo, as he says, perhaps he wasn't flexible enough to utilize the position.
The key here is that Bernardo didn't try it once and then give up on it. He explored it and tried it over and over and ultimately determined that for his body style, it was not something that was going to fit into his game or style.
Start understanding your "style"
Once Bernardo saw that perhaps spider guard wasn't going to be a central position in his game plan, he moved on to closed guard and immediately fell in love with it. With his longer, strong legs he was able to trap his training partners and early opponents and this allowed him to develop a complete closed guard game.
You can learn more about this game directly from BJJ Fanatics here! Get all of Bernardo's well developed secrets he's been using since he was a young teenager and just starting out developing his world class game.
Know a position inside and out
Bernardo spent much of his time looking at every possible option that his opponents could present to him. By understanding every escape that is available to the opponent, his ability to retain closed guard and keep them within his control was increased.
At some point he was such a die hard closed guard player that when a series of opponents had prepared for his closed guard and kept him from pulling it in competition, his mind was blown, but it opened up the world of half guard for him. At this competition and in this moment, his unstoppable closed guard had been stopped which forced him to take a different path and begin his love of the half guard.
This love of half guard went through it's own evolution over time. As he started working his single leg half guard techniques, his training partners and opponents began to figure this out, which led him to working more deep half guard, and on and on over time until he had explored every aspect of the position and was just as adept at it as he had been with his closed guard.
Keep your mind open
Once you've begun to develop or solidify your style or game plan for BJJ, it's important to always keep learning and keep your mind open to the new techniques out there. Though spider guard isn't a major portion of his game, Bernardo is aware of it and able to address it if he finds himself faced with an opponent who specializes in it.
If we train with closed minds to other techniques, this close mindedness will be exploited by our competition and we will ultimately be defeated because we have no awareness of the other positions. If you enter a sub only tournament which allows leg locks and you've avoided leg locks your entire BJJ career, you are in for a very painful wake up call.
At the same time, it is also important to recognize that in Bernardo's opinion, specialization in a certain game plan is far better than trying to master ALL positions or techniques. He compares it to trying to be a doctor, engineer, and craftsman, rather than focusing on one area and being the best you can. Though it's good to be as well-rounded as we can, trying to master all positions is a daunting task that few practitioners or competitors will ever achieve.
There is no right or wrong
At the end of the day, for Bernardo Faria, there is no right or wrong when it comes to jiu jitsu. The art is here for you to make of it what you want and what you need. There is not one necessarily better guard than another. The key is to assess your game pragmatically and look at what is working for you and what is not. By focusing on your strengths and the aspects of your game plan that are putting you in the best possible positions, you can become unstoppable in those particular areas. Along the way, keep your mind open to the other techniques you experience, so that you have some idea how to address them when you need to.
Besides the closed and half guards that Bernardo is an expert at, he is also well known as a submission hunter and by far his favorite submission is the Omoplata. He recently released his 4 volume "Omoplata Everyone" here at BJJ Fanatics and you can take advantage of all of his secrets in these best selling On Demand formats.