Monday, January 23, 2012

On Pareto and Jiu-jitsu.

I don't really like to blog about BJJ mostly because as a purple belt I don't feel that I've earned the right to have a definitive opinion on the more technical aspects of BJJ (yes I used to write about BJJ. That was to force me to articulate jiu-jitsu as I was learning it.) There have been a lot of talk around two blog posts (Aesopian and BJJ Lab) that contrast Pareto's 80/20 principle and BJJ techniques. In my opinion (only a purple belt, so that and 3 bucks will get you a cup of coffee) they're both wrong.. kind of.. and I want to take the time to articulate my thoughts on the subject.
The idea isn't wrong, just the application. The focus of both of the blog posts is on techniques. This focus is flawed. There are too many factors in technique: size, strength, length, flexibility, injury history, philosophy, aggression, etc etc. Case in point, from my guard I rarely armbar. A fundamental technique for most players, but with my injury history it's rarely appropriate. I know a number of players with similar prohibitions on seemingly foundational techniques.
The principal works just fine if you take the focus off of moves and put them on movements. It's the bridge not the upa. It's the hip movement, not the armbar from guard. In my hierarchy of BJJ there are Principals, strategies, tactics, and then techniques. Pareto fits nicely in there. If you have the principals of base, control, posture, pressure, movement and leverage (and probably a few more). Then you can implement strategies (gain position to get the submission/break posture in guard/regain posture to pass). Which lead you to specific tactics (sweep from guard/break posture in sagittal plane/ post hands and put your spine in line) Which allow you to finish individual techniques (flower sweep/grip lapels and pull with hands and hips/ hand to the sternum, other hand to the hip, hide both elbows) . If the fundamental 20% are sound then the other 80% will sort itself.
The reason people don't see this, is it's incredibly difficult to teach this way. Expressing a principal of BJJ is hard, we know when it's gone wrong, but it's hard to express what it looks like when it is right. So we teach from the bottom of the pyramid instead of from the top. Techniques allow us to build tactics, which we assemble into strategies from which we extrapolate (either intuitively or explicitly) principals. Because we learn this way, we lose the forest for the individual trees.
I don't doubt that David and 'Aesop' are smart guys. Very well could be smarter than me, probably better on the mats. I have had the benefit of having this discussion of Pareto before as it is applied to strength and conditioning, was fortunate to find Matt Thornton's blog very early in my jiu-jitsu life, and am just kind of a quirky dude who thinks this way about a lot of things. This is how I see it, and this is how it applies to my game, and it does allow the principles and data points they've outlined, and explains the outliers.. which to me seems more correct. This is a discussion of philosophy. Your mileage may vary.
However, there is no way to statistically analyze youtube/adcc/the mundials and get the "right moves." There isn't an answer here, only more questions.
Every time I learn a technique, I think what are the underlying principals? How does this fit in my strategy? How can I string it together with other techniques to create a tactical sequence? That thought process allows me adopt techniques earlier and break down people's games (including my own). It's helped me be a better training partner and coach. I don't know if it's made my game any better because frankly I can't divorce this mindset from my own abilities.
Please feel free to disagree with me in the comments.

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