I'm really interested in how different people both approach training, and express that training. As long as you just keep showing up, eventually your Jiu Jitsu will not only get better, more efficient, more effective and more fun, but it will also begin to better express your personality.
I love seeing this transformation happen. Yes, it's great to see the techniques start to work, and to see someone's rolling start to click for them but what really intrigues me is how each individual person's Jiu Jitsu reflects their personality.
Mostly I see this personality start to really come out around purple belt, but there are definitely hints about what it's going to look like much earlier. I started looking at my own Jiu Jitsu and that of my students and training partners in terms of two distinct paradigms: The Pathway and The Playground.
Initially, a player will be drawn to one of these two sides. This will be evidenced by the qualities they display in their expression, both in learning technique, and attempting to execute it. What I'm referring to here is their natural tendencies, not their competition gameplan. (Obviously in a competition, a player will most likely choose a strategy that will allow them to play to their strengths and avoid their weaknesses.) As the player gains experience, they will move toward a more balanced approach, drawing qualities from both sides.
On one side, we have The Pathway, which is direct, clear, fundamental, safe, simple, and strong. On the other side we have The Playground, which can be described as indirect, spontaneous, improvisational, creative, complex and flowing.
A Pathway player wants to impose their game, moving in a straight line. I like to think of a Pathway player as being like a fridge passing the guard; they're moving forward and you can either get out of the way or get crushed. Clear paths, minimal technique accumulation. As beginners, these players tend to err on the side of caution, which can limit their exposure to new positions. Some examples of more direct players would be Roger Gracie, Fabio Gurgel, Xande Ribeiro and Bernardo Faria.
Someone on the Playground side is more interested in the movement, often sacrificing good position in favour of exploring new possibilities and quite often, they make it work. At first, they may find it difficult to make anything work consistently, but eventually they come up with some really fun and unconventional positions and ideas. These guys improvise really well, and drag their opponents out into the chaos because they know they can find their way back, whereas their opponent may get lost. As beginners, they tend to get distracted when learning new technique; every option opens up 10 new possibilities. Examples of less direct players are Eduardo Telles, Roleta, Jeff Glover and Terere.
As a player evolves and advances in skill, they may begin to move toward balance. A balanced player draws on the qualities from both sides; fluid, complex improvisational abilites but also clear, well-defined paths. Strong and heavy but also quick and light. Their path is determined by what is needed in the moment. This is what I strive for in my Jiu Jitsu.
In the book Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere, which I'll likely refer to again in future posts, it says, "the attack itself contains the very elements which an Aikido defensive strategy will utilize physically, functionally and of course psychologically in neutralizing that attempted aggression". This demands that a player not be single minded, or close minded, or too committed to one technique in the moment but instead be always listening, always receptive and self aware, and only doing exactly what is determined by the demands of the moment. Of course, this type of flow is mostly impossible without a solid foundation of fundamentals, which must be ingrained into your body and mind through drilling and repetition.
In my opinion, both approaches, The Pathway and The Playground, are vital to having a complete Jiu Jitsu game.
In an art that walks the line between baffling complexity and utter simplicity, these two paradigms help me to express who I am, through my Jiu Jitsu.