“Never use the closed guard,” I tell my students, “unless you are stalling or waiting to die.” As I state this, I wonder about how this position became so fundamental only to be eventually thrown away so unceremoniously. Then I consider the never-ending stream of new techniques, positions, attacks, counter-attacks, and defenses generated in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and submission grappling over time. I think about some amazing technique I learned years ago as a blue belt and how it has been rendered ineffective and obsolete by the withering juggernaut of a thousand athletes pounding from all angles like velociraptors probing the electrical containment fences in Jurassic Park. I recall some fundamental progenitor move, originally defined in utterly simple steps, that have evolved into a broad category of richly varied options (e.g. the Rubber Guard). I reflect on certain positions, once considered inescapable by all but the most advanced, which are now easily thrown off by less experienced fighters. What’s happening here? Is this natural acceleration or the result of a slow evolutionary process? And where are all these great new moves coming from?
Weak techniques will not survive. We know intuitively that techniques are successful only when they help win fights. Winning techniques are constantly studied by students of the sport. We adopt them, tweak them, make them work for their bodies, and transmit them to others. That’s how we spend the bulk of our time on the mats.
A fighting sport evolves by the influences of social interaction and information theory. In his 1979 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Gödel. Escher. Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, author Douglas R. Hofstadter put a human spin on the mathematical concept of recursive enumeration. People come up with new ideas by watching the results of previous work and adapting. Repeat for a few generations, and some cool things start to happen. All of human civilization has developed using this process, gaining new insights from existing concepts. Over time, systems slowly evolve into more complexity and subtlety. Complexity is increased because past information and existing rules are applied to new situations.
On the mats, we take old ideas and challenge them repeatedly. The weak techniques die off or morph into variations that are more successful in different situations. The media, usually blamed for dumbing down the masses, expands our information horizon and accelerates the speed of ideas flowing through what I call the Jiu-Jitsu diaspora. As it flows through, it is interpreted, tuned, adapted, mutated, then reflected slightly improved, back out the global information channel. New ideas are literally created from old information. Like an infinite tapestry, we weave the fabric of Jiu-Jitsu every time we step on the mats.