Global Training Report


From Brasil, Thailand, Japan, and Korea

Est. 2000


Movement versus Technique 

 Why Rickson, B.J. Penn, Marcelo Garcia, and Marco Barbosa are Good at Jiu-Jitsu

By John Frankl

Special to Global Training Report

October 26, 2010

I am sitting in my hotel room in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan, where I am having a lot of trouble finding a place to train. YouTube makes me think that Sapporo University has some good judo, but I am at Hokkaido U. If I had rolled today, I wouldn’t want to theorize so much.  Oh, well, back to our discussion. 

Okay, I realize the title is somewhat provocative; that is deliberate. Yes, truly good technique requires good movement, and truly efficient movement can be an effective technique all by itself. That said, for discussion’s sake, let us separate the two. I do this for practical reasons—because there are so many people, usually but not always relative beginners, who do not separate the two. Rather, they are lost in an endless search for more (and more complicated) technique. Of course, there is a phase at the beginning, when we have no technique at all, in which accumulation is not only important but absolutely necessary. But just like the ferryboat that is useful for getting you across a body of water, there is no reason to carry it on your back once you have reached the shore. (Okay, sorry for the trite Buddhist parable; my excuse is that I live in Korea and am traveling in Japan.) 

The more serious part of this discussion comes following nearly 17 years of BJJ, and about 17 more of various martial arts before that. I like technique. I know some techniques. And I still look for new techniques. I have been described as technical, and take that description as a compliment. But whenever I teach a private, I wind up focusing on movement—largely defined to include semi-static posture as well as active movement—much more than individual techniques. I am not hiding what I know. I simply find that when I get 10 questions from a student about a certain position or situation, nine can usually be answered with a single change in position and movement. 

Enter my BJJ heroes. I have long told those who cared to listen about my two groups of BJJ heroes. One is made up of normal human beings who simply have trained longer and harder than I. They beat me, but we are playing the same game. The other is made up of three people to date: Rickson Gracie; BJ Penn; and Marcelo Garcia. The all have very different games, and this only represents the chronological order in which I trained/sparred with them, nothing else. The also beat me (surprise!), but they were playing a totally different game. I could not really even get started with them. Before technique, per se, was applied, their positioning and movement itself closed off all my opportunities, while opening up all of theirs. 

Enough said about that. Enter a new hero. Some of my students have gone to train for extended periods of time with Marco Barbosa. One invited him to Korea for a series of seminars. He is now the foutth person in that other group. He weighs 65 kilos, moves slowly, gets into unorthodox—some would call them dangerous—positions, but solves every problem with position and movement. He has tremendous base and pressure, and, for those of you back in the U.S., 65 kilos is 143 pounds! His entire seminar was based around movements, as is his excellent DVD. He simple kept repeating “movement is more important than technique”; and, of course, his definition of movement is also quite comprehensive. In any case, he passed, pinned, and tapped me and everyone else multiple times using a surprisingly small number of actual techniques. The minute adjustments and transitions he employed to pass, stay on top, escape in those rare situations where he was put in danger, and finish, were the key. 

Of course, in some sense, this is true of all players, but I am differentiating him from fighters like Leozinho, Terere, Cobrinha, Jacare, and so many others, who, despite being super technical, also rely a lot on speed and acrobatics that your average guy will never have. Barbosa did everything in relatively slow motion, even when he was “in trouble.” And before you conclude that it was just because he was in a gym, watch tournament victories. They don’t look that different. 

Enter a new goal. Having watched a lot of footage of Robson Moura, I really want to train with him the very next time I am back in the U.S. for a long stay. Although some of his technique videos seem quite involved, and he is certainly athletically gifted, just watching him move and transition, even quite slowly, I learn a ton. He is a picture of efficiency and fluidity. It would be cool to hear some Robson stories, or anything else that relates to the above. 

Finally, Kano was a genius. Without randori, and, by extension, some form of competition, all of this becomes meaningless and useless. I wrote everything above under the judo/BJJ assumption that some form of sparring happens in every practice. But what in fact got me writing was this article: I was searching the internet for judo in Sapporo, and it popped up. The theory of movement versus technique is very sound, but I very much doubt it could ever be applied in “real time” by an aikido practitioner. Oh well.


About the Author: John Frankl is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt under Roberto Maia.

 (C) 2010, John Frankl. All rights reserved.





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