Walk into any Jiu Jitsu school around the world and you’ll see the usual suspects on the mat: You’ve got the hobbyists, content with a few sessions a week just to get their fix; the mat rats who – despite a full time job and family of five at home – manage to get to the academy seven times a week; and finally the competitors, who structure their training in the same vein as professional athletes from other (more financially rewarding) sports. Now days, with more and more submission only and professional events popping up on the competition circuit, we are seeing jits competitors alter their training to cater for rulesets – doing all they can to ensure they’ve got an extra edge. Are we entering the era of the specialist?
The modern generation of athletes are, undoubtedly, bringing a new approach to developing as Jiu Jitsu fighters. As the art has matured, so has its catalogue of techniques; the open guard gi game has seen countless innovations in recent times, with athletes such as Keenan Cornelius pushing the envelope with his array of lapel controls and attacks. The diverse and effective range of guards available to study has helped dedicated students get better, quicker. How many of you reading this can envision someone at your academy who’s, say, a blue belt, but has developed the most amazing berimbolo that they catch almost everyone with it? The proficiency of the techniques being developed means fighters can, in a sense, take some short cuts. Why worry too much about learning to wrestle or escape side control when you can develop a spider guard that no one can pass? However, inevitably, students who spend all their time trying to specialise in one particular area – like their guard – will get found out eventually. You may be a blue belt who can hang with purple and browns because your guard is on their level, but this is short sighted when it comes to overall development.
Perhaps the most notable area of specialism we are seeing in Jiu Jitsu at the moment is a direct result of the increase in the popularity of submission only and ADCC ruleset events. Leglocks are all the rage (don’t you know) and that’s in no small part thanks to a number of elite athletes who’ve been using them to great effect at the highest level.
We are seeing more and more people choose this route of specialism; if your goal is to compete in ADCC or submission only events, why bother putting on the gi, or learning how to pass guard when you can jump on a leglock?
You could look a little further back and say that Eddie Bravo and his 10th Planet school was the first map of movement when it came to specialising in one area of Jiu Jitsu – ie nogi. The likes of Eddie Cummings, John Danaher’s Death Squad and Crag Jones have gone a step further in showing that unrivalled proficiency in a certain area – heel hooks in this instance – can reap (pun intended) plenty of rewards. Gordon Ryan is probably the most feared man in submission only, nogi grappling right now, but the verdict is out on whether we can say the same of his gi game.
Historically, Jiu Jitsu was a sport trained almost exclusively in the gi. The likes of Roger Gracie, Xande Ribeiro, Romulo Barral and Braulio Estima – all athletes with notable success in every facet of the art – say their training is mainly in the gi, but they’d switch in the run in to major tournaments. Marcelo Garcia is the only athlete from the previous generation who broke this trend, as he chose to allocate just as much time to gi training as nogi. This was, however, something he implemented when he created his own school and not the formula followed while training in Brazil.
The era of specialism does spawn an interesting question about the future of Jiu Jitsu. Professional tournaments shift their emphasis towards nogi matches because it’s more easily translated to the mainstream; while leglocks rise in popularity at academies as young athletes favouring the heel hook instead of trying to progress passed a difficult guard.
Whether you’re a gi obsessed spider guard player or a Danaher Death Squad leglock fanboy, it’s ultimately exciting to see so many areas of Jiu Jitsu you can fall in love with. Who knows what the future holds, but the likelihood of more academies following on in Eddie Bravo’s 10th Planet, nogi only mould seems likely.