A Rant About BJJ Loyalty

Hi guys

I just finished writing the latest lesson for my Beginning BJJ eCourse.  I started out nice and calm, but by the end of it I was all worked up. 

I think that a lot of people mis-apply the concept of loyalty when learning BJJ, and I wanted to get my feelings about this topic off my chest (and give you a sneak preview of what I'm sending out on that list).

Today I want to talk about something that might be a little controversial: loyalty.
Loyalty to an instructor, to a club, or to a team is highly valued in BJJ. Generally that's a good thing. As I hinted three lessons ago (in "Know This About Your BJJ Club"), you're not just learning techniques at a club. You're joining a social network, a family of sorts.
But some people get the concept of loyalty totally wrong. They think that loyalty means becoming a clone of their instructor. If he's a top player and prefers not to use the guard, then they become fanatical top players. If he prefers the knee mount with a certain grip, then they always use it too and insist that there are no other valid grips. If he uses only two collar chokes to finish from rear mount, then they close their eyes to any other submission opportunities.
OF COURSE your game should look different from your instructor's game. For one thing, his physical attributes won't be the same as yours. If he's super-flexible, and you can barely touch your toes, then his bread-and-butter techniques may not work for you. If you're 200 lbs of muscle and gristle, and he's 140 lbs soaking wet, then you'll be able to do things that he can only dream of.
I've heard of some martial art instructors who demand slavish imitation, and suppress any creativity on the part of their students. Maybe that has a role in traditional martial arts, where they're trying to pass on historical information and valued traditions unchanged to the next generation.
Suppressing creativity in BJJ is a different matter. If your instructor's ego is really so weak that he can't handle you exploring any new territory on your own, then you've joined a cult, not a school. My suggestion would be to find a new instructor.
If you and I start training at the same school then we might both initially learn the same techniques (and the same way to do those techniques). There's nothing wrong with that - everybody needs a place to start. With time, however, your game will be different from my game, and both our games will be different from our instructor's game. That's not a sign of disrespect - it's a sign of our games maturing.
Loyalty does NOT mean slavishly imitating your instructor's techniques. Listen to your instructor. Learn his techniques. Pay attention to his suggestions. But ultimately YOU decide whether or not you're going to add a specific technique to your arsenal.
I always find it interesting when a famous student has a very different game from a famous teacher. Among other things it means that the teacher was secure enough in his own knowledge to let his student go and find his own way.
Brazilian jiu-jitsu is an art of physical self-expression. The job of your instructor is to facilitate that development. He can give you some guidance, but ultimately the responsibility for your development falls on your shoulders, not his.
If you develop some unique techniques, combinations, strategies or tactics then your instructor should be happy with a job well done.
Stephan Kesting
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Tips for when grappling partners are hard to find:
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Grappling Breakthrough Stories

It's an interesting article, however, this is actually the first time I've heard about loyalty being discussing in the context of imitating an instructors techniques or game. I usually hear the controversy in situations which instructors attempt control a student's life or decisions, student's leaving for other instructors, students who stay with instructors despite unfair treatment, etc....

If you're a brown belt, say, at a 'real' school then you've probably realized long ago that you need to have your own game.  I think that the issue I'm discussing above occurs more among beginners, especially beginners who don't train at a school where they are told it's OK to think for themselves (i.e. at the McDojos that are teaching BJJ now).  

Of course all the control issues you mentioned are also valid.   I think some of those control and 'loyalty' issues tend to get MORE common as one moves up through the ranks at a school.  Nobody cares if a white belt goes and trains at another school, but if the second-in-command brown belt takes off and trains with a rival instructor, then it's a big deal.

I was really trying to focus on the beginner's dilemma in my rant.

Good series of articles, but as to the third article I don't think I've seen something like that in the context of a beginner's game (or for that matter, an advanced game). Not saying it doesn't exist, just that I can't think of a concrete example of it. The situations which Bolo is speaking for I have heard about.

If I could add my two cents, I think that beginning students should be focusing more on the basics, and really, the only place they're going to get that is through a qualified instructor.

From my experience and observations, ALL beginning students (from whatever academy they come from) tend to play at the same level, have the same struggles, and make the same mistakes. Which is fine. You are beginner, you're supposed to make mistakes. When you stop making mistakes, when your basics become more solid, then you have the opportunity to advance.

So the problem I see the main problem with McDojo's as your article addresses them are schools that don't emphasize (or worse yet) don't understand the basics; students who progress without a solid foundation aren't going to amount to much. People who don't understand the basics and still teach are the big problem and the root of what you're ranting about I think. Instructors who don't understand the mechanics of a move and why it should be successful or not are going to get defensive or have problems, particularly when someone brings a move they don't understand. "Because it always works for me" may be usually be a good point, but it is not always the most valid one.

What do you consider a beginner? I am abit confuse with your article in that a beginner from my point of view would naturally have the same game as their instructor, it is only when they progress past the 'beginner' stage that they start to develope their own game.

I should add I am by no means past the beginner stage.

My interpretation of Stephan's article is that as a beginner, you should already be thinking about branching out from the preferred techniques of your instructor. Don't assume what he shows is the entirety of the BJJ game. It might sound kind of obvious, but if you really are a beginner with little knowledge of BJJ or martial arts in general, you might not think to look further than that.

im with mike jen on this one, i was thinking this was going to be about personal loyalty not imitating the instructors game.

at this stage of my bjj training, my philosophy with regards to bjj is minimum effort and looking for the shortest route (so to speak) with regards to rolling. ive reached a stage where i realise my game isnt about explosiveness (if i try to do a big bridge, i seriously think ill throw my back out), yet there r guys that train at our gym that r really explosive, im not one of them, so i look for the easy way out of bad situations. snaring half guard, turning to knees, stalling, etc. this isnt something that a lot of guys teach (although i took a lot of this from roy harris) and in fact, my instructor doesnt really highlight this style, but its something that i use.

anyway, in regards to loyalty, one thing that i want to ask stephan is, as an instructor, if u have a high ranking student, that trained with u for many years, and they moved away for whatever reason and getting to training was difficult (say over an hour travel one way), then would u be upset if they trained closer to home but at a different team?
thats my concept of the loyalty issue

I think a more important question on that loyalty issue is if a high ranking student thinks someone else is just simply a better instructor, how would you feel? That's going to be a reason why someone leaves, although I don't see it talked about very often.

IMHO BJJ is different for each people depending on their body type and build.

For sure if your body type and build is very similar to your instructor then his style should work for you.

If your body build and type is claerly different than your instructors then different type of game works for you better. You'll even have to do some of the very basics differently, in a away that suits your body dimensions better.


for a beginner (2-3 years of training) basing his game on his instructors may have it's benefits.

For one thing, the instructor would be in a better position to answer any questions the student may have about a detail or what to do against a certain reaction from the resisting opponent.

From my experience, it doesnt really matter what game or moves the beginner is doing as long as he playing a technical jiujitsu game.

And in my opinion to somewhat mimic your instructor for the first 2-3 years is a good way to do it. Then once you've got a good grasp of the fundamentals you can move on to whatever game you like.

Here's my quote from the "Write about your school's style" thread:

..." He tries to help you find your game. Now we have a lot of high level regular guys with a style of their own and they share their insights with everyone during open mats or teaching classes. "

I understand your point, that's why I thought this was valuable about my school.

thats where the art comes into martial arts. you find your own creative way to use what you learn. the moves are just tools like a paintbrush or a piano its what you do with the tools and how you express yourself with those tools that make it an art.

IMHO it helps to have an instructor that is a middle weight, so they have experience dealing with same size, larger, and smaller opponents. An instructor who is way at either end of the bell curve (really small or really heavy) may have a harder time understanding the difficulties/advantages of a student at the opposite end of the bell curve.

Everything that Stephan says, within the context of his essay, makes perfect sense to me, but I can also offer up a different context where the conclusion would be the opposite:

What do you do when an instructor is tailoring moves to a student's physical attributes and experience level, but the student wants to do the move a different way or doesn't want to learn that particular move?

I think in that situation, it is the student, not the instructor, being the bonehead.

I have seen this happen and have been really surprised by it. Basically the students start modifying or questioning a move the instructor is giving that particular student, right off the bat.

I can see the problem where a student really, really tries to make a move work and then drops it. It would be better if the student double-checked with the instructor to make sure he was getting it right, but at least the student tried.

Then on a larger scale, there are students learning middle of the road techniques in class who dismiss 50% or more of the moves being taught (not tailored to them) right off the bat. Unless the student is really different from his or her classmates, I don't get it.

I am just perplexed and amazed by how "independent" most BJJ students are.

On the one hand, they want to be "one of the boys" who can buddy up to, socialize, drink with, and joke with the instructor, but on the other hand they often act like the instructor doesn't really have a lot to teach that they haven't seen already, and like the instructor is mainly there to ref the training sessions.

These students really pick and choose which moves they like, from among those they are being taught. They don't spend the time to try to make the moves work for them. Admittedly, trying out a move that everyone in the class just saw, and is ready to defend, may not be the wisest approach, but you'd think some other time during the week or the month the students would try to make the moves work.

I think it is a lot healthier, and respectful, to work your hardest to learn how to use the tools your instructor is giving you. If you absolutely, positively keep coming up with dry wells on this approach - nothing works for you - then you need to seriously self-critique yourself, have a talk with the instructor, and if neither of those work, try to find a new instructor.

But give it the best you can, first.

BTW it's hard for me to learn new moves. I'm just a slow learner. But I notice that the academy's best students are the ones who take what they are taught and work the move until clicks for them.

A quote from Sherdog:

"Where I train they always teach 2 or 3 different ways to do a technique (variations in grips etc.) and accompany the instruction by telling us what works best for them but implore us to try the variations to see what works best for us. It's a Renzo Gracie affiliate so certain techniques such as rthe rubber guard are frowned upon hehe

However, I was in Sherbrooke visiting my sister for a few days and she trains bjj at a club there. I attended a class and they kept drilling the top game into their student's head. I discussed this with one of their instructors and he said "our school focuses on the top game and we teach our students to stay away from the bottom".

That bothered me because bjj was founded on the principle of the ground game and the bottom game is a critical component.

All in all our school is better ;)"

i used to be partners w/ a guy and we ran a school. i intentionally gave ownership over to him because he was by far the better teacher. he's taken guys in a few years to real technical levels. we have a 4yr. purple that crushes browns and catches black belts. solid blues, technical white belts. i've never seen him frown upon different games, but i like the fact that he nips shitty technique asap. someone will be hell bent on doing a move a certain way and will immediately be corrected by the instructor. it's never been along the lines of what the instructor prefers, it's just what is the right thing to do. yeah, there are options, but there are plenty of blue belts and purples out there getting by w/ shitty technique because they've been able to get away w/ it over the years... sometimes you need someone to say, "that sucks, don't do that. do this".

i've had these moments twice in my life. once when i was learning from Rob Kahn (royce bb). he really had me questioning things and revamping my game. second, w/ carlos machado... we were rolling and he flat out said, "oh man!" it didn't even sound derogatory. it was fact, the way i was doing a certain position (bottom w/ him on top side mount) was bad... he showed me the right way and spent alot of time correcting my flaws. yeah, i had the big picture right, but the details to a certain position, he corrected and it's made me a MUCH better player.

 At some point I'm going to write about a topic that could be (falsely) construed to be the exact opposite of what I'm talking about, namely that sometimes you just have to trust your instructor to know what's right for you.

That wouldn't be a contradiction, because listening to, and trying ot use, your instructor's suggestions comes from a completely different mindset than slavish imitation.

i assumed the topic thread was about creontes, not imitating your instructors game.

that thread would be "A Rant About BJJ Plagarism" me thinks.

A more accurate title might have been "A Rant about the misconceptions of what consitutes loyalty in BJJ", but I'm limited to about 40 letters by this forum

Well, the less accurate title has made for an interesting forum discussion :-)