How to find your style in BJJ

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

This guest UG Blog is courtesy of our friends at Evolve Vacation, which offers travelers the extraordinary opportunity of a lifetime to train under the largest collection of World Champions on the planet and to explore the hidden treasures of one of the most incredible cities in Asia.

Have you ever seen two BJJ black belts compete against each other in the Mundials? If you have, you would have noticed that each competitor has a particular way of playing guard or passing the guard. This didn’t come overnight – this took years and years of trial and error (in both competition and on the mats in the gym), going against different opponents of different skill levels and experimenting in class. Take BJJ World Champion Marcus Buchecha Almeida for example. Known for his explosive competition style, he will always attempt a takedown, pass the guard and fight with gusto until he gets a submission. Compared to other BJJ black belts in his division, Buchecha is considered to be more athletic, always moving and switching his base.

BJJ World Champion Rafael Mendes’ style is also similar. While he appears to be calmer and calculated in his attacks, he is always working on forcing the other athlete to attack and give him an opening. Unlike Buchecha who enforces his game, Mendes’ style is to take advantage of any openings he finds and attack from there. BJJ World Champion Bernardo Faria, on the other hand, one of the best heavyweights in the game, is known for his slow, crushing passing style and incredibly tight half guard. Regardless of his opponents, Faria will always impose his game and stick to it (and most of the time, win with it). If you’ve been practicing BJJ for quite some time and are looking for a way to develop your own style in BJJ, read on.

 

Your physiology

Whether you realize it or not, your physiology plays a big role in your choice of BJJ game. Big and strong? You’re most likely to pass the guard and establish top position, using your weight and strength to keep your opponent down. Long limbs? You’d probably prefer pulling guard and using guards such as the spider guard or lasso. With your long arms and legs, it’s easy for you to keep your opponents at a distance by pushing with your legs. Short and stocky? You’re probably better off as a half guard guy (ahem.. Marcelo Garcia). A good tip is to look at your favorite BJJ athletes and look at their physiology. You can then adapt the game of an athlete who has the physiology that is most similar to yours.

 

Your athleticism

While your size and shape can help define your style, your natural level of athleticism can play a role as well. Some BJJ practitioners are perfectly comfortable getting into scrambles, jumping for submissions, and using agility-based passes simply because they are well-coordinated and are confident in their athleticism. Others would prefer to use chains of techniques involving gradual and methodical progression from one position to another, such as over-under with stacking passes and tight half guard systems.

 

Your prior martial arts experience

Naturally, if you have experience in grappling arts, you would be starting with certain strengths and instincts that will help define your style. Wrestlers, for example usually favor pressure passing, aggressive transitions, and are much more comfortable holding an opponent down in side control. Judokas usually employ explosive styles, have a good sense of a partner’s balance, and already have some well-developed submissions.

 

Your goals

Some people are in BJJ to compete, some are in it for the exercise, and others for sheer appreciation of the art. Different people are driven by different things, and this can help define their styles. BJJ competitors are willing to invest the time to build cardio and strength, and study the highest percentage moves. There are styles and techniques that are competition-proven in certain weight classes and certain rule sets that you would have to master to either excel or at least counter them. Some examples are the spider guard and the berimbolo for lighter weights, the Lo guard for taller competitors, and half guard for heavier players.

Practitioners that train for sheer exercise typically choose more active and aggressive styles simply because they get a better working out this way. For example, instead of holding down opponents in sidemount, you may want to give some room so that you can spin to the back or sink a submission in when they open up. You may voluntarily open your guard and initiate attacks and force a mistake rather than wait for your partner to make them himself.

 

Your penchant for risk

We all know that the purpose of training is to improve and if you don’t attempt new things, you will not improve. But some moves are riskier than others in that they provide a partner more room to escape or counter and therefore have more dire consequences. Also, some techniques can be riskier because they are more unfamiliar to you than other techniques which may be slight variations of what you are already familiar with.

It is healthy to have a willingness to try new things, but every person has a different comfort level when it comes to this. And this usually defines the breadth of a person’s style and the relative ‘flashiness’ of their moves. Even if you may be unwilling to take big risks, continue to explore new techniques that can be connected to positions and moves you already know well.

 

Your choice of pace

In the beginning, BJJ practitioners find themselves falling naturally between an aggressive, fast-paced style, or a slow, methodical style. This is usually determined by a host of factors, but in the end, boils down to a person’s preference. Some find a slower pace is better so they can think through their choices and reflect on the spar while others prefer to go fast and rely entirely on muscle memory and instinct. At some point, more mature players are able to consciously adjust their pace depending on what’s appropriate for the roll and their objectives at the time.

Developing your style doesn’t come overnight. Like with all aspects of BJJ (and martial arts, for that matter), it takes time. When you train, make it your mission to spar with as many different opponents of different styles as you can. Eventually, our own style will shine through.

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