Does your personality shape your BJJ game? I believe it does, and several things that I have been reading and questions by my students have compelled me to write this post.
Several students have asked me about them having problems because they have preferences for certain positions and techniques, but are having difficulty setting up and even attempting other techniques and submissions.
Furthermore, there is an interview by Ryan Hall, master of the upside down guard, who has won multiple medals with his triangles, who suddenly believes in giving up the guard completely!
Lastly, I was hearing an interview with Renzo, who got offended when one of his students went to train at Rorion's gym and was turned down because they claimed that Renzo didn't teach the real Jiu Jitsu
Renzo Interview (audio interview)
He was also a bit pissed that Relson claimed Roger Gracie, although trained in Gracie Barra is the only one from there who practices pure Gracie Jiu Jitsu, because he only uses the conservative moves like Helio did, and none of the fancy new stuff.
Personality and your game
I watched this TED video on Youtube months ago, on personality and why some people will be conservative politically, and others liberal:
Though not directly relevant, the gist is that all of us are not born with a blank state. Some of us are more conservative, and others are more risk taking
This will be noticeable in your BJJ game as well, which was my answer to my students.
The risk takers are the ones whose main game is their open guard, and have a preference for armbars, triangles and oma platas.
On the other hand, the conservative BJJ players are the ones who prefer to be on top at all times, is very conservative positionally and would rather go for submissions that do not give up position like chokes, figure fours (americanas and kimuras) and ever wristlocks. Even if they do go for armbars, it would be when everything is fully secured, no room to escape. If they do have to go to their guard, it will be a closed guard, snug and tight.
This is especially noticeable at white belt and blue belt level. As this is the point where everyone starts building their game from scratch, and whatever they are comfortable with based on their personality, will become their A game.
As most BJJers hit purple belt, this is where they either round out their game or become extremely focused on their A game, and hide their weaknesses.
But when two purple belt or higher grapple with someone of equal level as them, their A game comes out again.
Ryan Hall's Change of Heart
This is how I interpret Ryan Hall's BJJ midlife crisis as well.
Firstly, I do agree with him that top game is best if both players are equal. However, I am not certain if it is the best for HIM
He is obviously a superior player, with a high risk taking style. But by changing his game may not be suitable for him, as he might not have the attributes for it, but more importantly, he may not have the personality for it.
He might end up a mediocre black belt who specialises on a top game that doesn't suit his personality.
On the other hand, it might very well be that like most of us, we were liberal politically as a uni student, but grew more conservative as years go by, and this really is the style that would suit him after all.
Who knows, but he is a top notch competitor, and I for one am curious to see his transformation, for better or worse.
What about the World Class BJJers then?
Yes there are BJJers who are world class, but apparently have no preference. They can do it all, like Rickson, Rigan, Jean Jacques, Roger, Marcelo Garcia etc. How do you explain that? On the other hand there are other world class BJJers who only specialize and play a limited and "safe" game, the ones that fight like Helio ie Rorion, Royce etc.
First and foremost, most of us are not Gracies. We havent' been training since we were kids, and will probably only have one game all the way to black belt. These guys have been doing BJJ since before they could walk.
Thus we only live ONE lifetime doing BJJ, while these guys have lived several lifetimes worth of BJJ by now. They have built their game, broke it down and reinvented it many times over, while we are still working on our first game.
But how come some of these legends are so versatile but yet remain world class in all games and positions, while others only specialize in a very limited way? I believe this can be explained by looking back at the history of the different gyms and their philosophies
History and Style of the Gyms
I believe that the original game that was thought by Helio and his brothers is the exact way Royce and Rorion fights. The style is very safe, very conservative. It is said that Helio doesn't have all the fancy guards, only a closed guard!
Then Carlson came along and started emphasizing on strength and endurance on top of technique. His gym split from Helio's and he went out on his own developing his own champions. His philosophy of Jiu Jitsu continues today through his students in the Brazilian Top Team and American Top Team.
Then came Rolls Gracie. He was the first that went cross training with wrestlers, samboists, judokas etc. He was the first to introduce the triangle to BJJ and the first to start playing with the open guard. His influence cannot be understated.
The people who were thought by him and influenced by him include Rickson, the Machados, Carlos Gracie Jr, Jacare (founder of Alliance), Mauricio Gomez (father of Roger Gracie) etc.
When he died, his school was continued by Carlos Gracie Jr and Gracie Barra was born.
Thus Roll's influence and philosophy of Jiu Jitsu can be seen by their variedness of their students
From Gracie Barra, you have all 5 Machado Brothers, Renzo, Ralph, Pe De Pano, Roleta, Nino Schembri, Ricardo Almeida, Braulio Estima and Roger Gracie
From Alliance you have Fabio Gurgel, Cobrinha , Leo Vieira and Marcelo Garcia
From Rickson you get his own guys and Royler's guys through Gracie Humaita.
Of course these are all great champions, many of them are so varied and they are known by certain aspects of their game.
But there are some, like Rickson, Rigan, Jean Jacques, Renzo, Roger etc who seem to transcend games based on personality. This is again, because they have experienced many lifetimes of Jiu Jitsu. They no longer have a conservative game, nor a risk taking game. Its all the same to them.
But for the rest of us mere mortals, we make do with the best we can that hopefully fits our personality type.
Sam Wee is the head instructor for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) at the KDT Academy (www.kdta.com), Malaysia and has been teaching BJJ since 2003.