What Separates Good From Great?

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The IBJJF World Championships each year are a showcase of the absolute best Brazilian Jiu-jitsu has to offer. Not to say they’re not great practioners who do not compete but I think it is safe to say that the competitors each year fighting are cream of the crop. So what separates the black belt world champions and medalist from those who seem ordinary in comparison?


Photo: Caio Terra wins the 2013 Worlds Championship. Credits: Chrissy Winograd.

Jiu-Jitsu is Based in the Transitions

I cannot take full credit for this as my instructor constantly preached this to me as throughout my tenure in jiu-jitsu. The simple reality in many cases is that great practioners can transition seamlessly from one move to the next. Not only that but they can often pre-empt their opponents moves because they have been in this position many times before. In the movie Rounders, the main character Matt Damon says, "The trick to no limit is to put a man to a decision for all his chips." Jiu-jitsu is very similar in this regard! Essentially great practioners can put you to a choice, neither is appealing but you must decide which and they react accordingly. Combine that with hours of drilling the coordinated responses and this is why Jiu-jitsu begins to become more and more like chess.

Knowledge is Power

All elite Jiu-jitsu practioners share this in common: Technical mastery of their craft, an acute awareness of positions, conceptual understanding consciously or subconsciously. These all mean that they understand positioning and they are able to recognize and diagnose problematic situations immediately; some may not be able to tell you exact name of what or why they’re doing it and some can point to the theory of each position and break it down into its simplest and truest form. Think about it like this. You most likely don’t ride a bike every day, but once you learned to ride one, it is difficult to forget. Sure you wobble or even fall once or twice but at the end of day you understand how to control the bike and basic mechanics of it. If you listen to this interview with Caio Terra he speaks (3:13 mark) about how he doesn’t necessarily need to train a lot anymore because he already has such a deep understanding of Jiu-jitsu, he just needs to get the timing of the positions. Same as riding a bike right? Ultimately, I think the same can be said for most elite guys.

Practice Makes Perfect

The previous two ideas could be placed within this one but it is important to realize that the reality is there is no secret to becoming great at anything other than otherworldly dedication to your craft. Malcolm Gladwell states in his book Outliers that the key to becoming an expert at something is to practice it for about 10,000 hours. Now whether this exact number is correct or not isn’t relevant. What is important is to give you an idea of how much time and effort it takes to become truly good at something. Talk to any high level black belt and they will be very quick to tell you how much they trained their whole life, two sometimes three times a day.