Sorry for my brief break, real life intervened in the form of a series of decisions that must be made right now.
The fighter in the blue gi is one of the instructors that I trained under for most of my formative years in BJJ. The story is slightly more complicated than that, but to be honest, I try not to get involved in inter-gym politics as much as possible, and when the real drama happened, I was far too young to really be fussed about it. I don’t know the whole story of my American gym(s), and I prefer it that way. Regardless of all that, my point here is about style and the evolution of style.
I watch Marcelo fight in this video, and I can’t help but see myself reflected in his style. That, in and of itself, is kind of an interesting thing to me. My mentor in BJJ is a different instructor with a completely different style (he’s long and spindly, so I got my spider guard from him), but somehow I absorbed much more of Marcelo’s style and developed it into my own.
I’ve been watching some of the guys at the gym, and none of them seem to have acquired our black belt’s BJJ style. Maybe because he’s not the type to impose himself on us, or maybe because he has such an individually-tailored style that it’s hard to mimic. I don’t know. Instead of following him, they seem to watch YouTube or develop their own personal style out of the scraps of what they pick up from us. His favorite thing to say is “you must find your own way.” And it’s infuriatingly passive in the way that only the Japanese can be.
As a result of his hands-off approach to BJJ, I get guys asking me a lot of questions about how to develop a style. I think other people’s style is one of the first things new white belts begin to be aware of as they piece through all the information that they are learning in the first few months of BJJ. They start to realize: “Oh, Leaahh always puts me in spider guard, I should try to avoid that,” or “Sake-man has really good guard passing, I should not be on my back with him.” In the beginning, everyone is defensive, trying not to get submitted, so it’s understandable that they should look at style in an avoidance sense. This avoidance is the easy and natural part, I think– it’s harder to coax out your own style from the mess of techniques that you learn as a white belt.
I, unfortunately, do not have simple answers for people who come to me asking me how to develop their style. My normal response is “spar more, it will come,” but it’s more complex than that. People’s bodies and minds are going to naturally gravitate towards certain types of techniques. It’s the job of an instructor to see what they are tending towards and steer their game in that direction. I recently took a seminar with Luanna Alguizar, and she said something to the effect of this: everyone has a technique that is their go-to technique. To win a fight, you have to shut it down and force your opponent to play your game. Essentially, if all else is held equal, a fight is decided by the individual who can maneuver their way into their own game most effectively. As an instructor, I try to give my students a variety of different options so that it becomes increasingly more difficult for other players to shut down their game. You can do this on your own, though– all you have to do is put some foresight and thought into planning your BJJ game.
I am amending my advice, guys and gals. Spar more, and your “style” will naturally emerge, yes. But for those of us who are more inclined to the intellectual side of training/BJJ, I can also offer you this: pick out your go-to moves from every position, and work on those. I like to take those core aspects of my game and work outwards– how can I get into the bow-and-arrow choke position from mount? How can I get it from closed guard? From turtle position? It boils down to this: I want to have an option from every position.
Once I’ve done that, I move on to other go-to moves. How can I get into my magic arm bar from spider guard? From mount? And so on and so forth. This will necessarily cause your style to emerge from the chaos. Unfortunately, this takes forever and it never stops, because your game is always changing and evolving– but I guess that’s why we do BJJ.