Postulate: Perfect jiu-jitsu is doing the right thing at the right time.
Can this be negated? If so, how? If not, what does it imply?
There is no single set of techniques that compose jiu-jitsu. There is no complete encyclopedia or end to the scenarios that may be encountered. This implies that there is no perfect and complete version of jiu-jitsu. While this is a true implication, that does not prevent us from exercising our imagination and defining what perfect jiu-jitsu would look like if we could see it.
There are certain things we know and accept about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Helio Gracie is quoted, “always assume that your opponent is going to be bigger, stronger and faster than you; so that you learn to rely on technique, timing and leverage rather than brute strength.” Caio Terra says, “Technique conquers all.” Marcelo Garcia enjoys the thought of someone trying to get into his game because he knows his game better than they ever could. A similar pattern of technique over physical attributes echoes through all of jiu-jitsu. On the other hand, it’s easy to say that given equal skill, a difference of strength, speed, or aggression can make the difference between winning and losing. Where does this leave pure technique?
Could perfect jiu-jitsu be raw technique? If we were to assume that exhaustive technical knowledge is the pinnacle of jiu-jitsu, how do we account for the coral and red belts that have a lifetime of knowledge, yet often a limited physical capacity to express that knowledge? If their knowledge is valid (and I assure you, it is), then we must accept that a theoretical perfect jiu-jitsu is more than a physical expression of technique. Otherwise, anyone past their physical prime could not hope to approach perfect jiu-jitsu.
To negate the initial postulate, we could try to negate it on a logical level rather than physical. Given the evolutionary physical complexity of jiu-jitsu, a logical attack would appear to have a better chance of negating the premise.
If a technique works, then it is good jiu-jitsu. If it works more efficiently than any other option, then it is great jiu-jitsu. Perfect jiu-jitsu would be unfailingly choosing the most efficient option and implementing it better than our opponent can react to it. This is, in effect, what we can take from the quotes above. However the quotes tend to assume superior technique over some other potential advantage of your opponent. What if skill and physical ability is the same between opponents?
Even in a contest of completely equivalent knowledge and ability, there is no knife edge of perfect balance where nothing is to be gained. Calculated risks and counters create imbalance, and attacks create openings. As the situation changes, natural reaction time dictates that someone will get ahead of the other person. Perfect jiu-jitsu would create an imbalance, then capitalize on it, similar to the off-balancing kuzushi of Judo.
This means that to negate the premise that perfect jiu-jitsu is doing the right thing at the right time, we have to assume that either there isn’t a single most correct thing for a given scenario, or there is no right time to execute the ideal technique. To eliminate time, we would have to assume a completely static and unchanging system that removes the possibility of imbalance or timing of technique. There would be no right thing to do because the situation is unchanging. So if the situation is changing at all, there must be something you can do that maximizes the return on your actions. To eliminate a “right thing”, we would have to postulate that even with something happening, there are at least two equally productive choices for a given scenario. Like the knife edge of perfect balance, there can’t be a perfect scenario where there are two (or more) maximally productive choices. Negating the premise would introduce an impossible physical system.
If we can’t negate the premise, then we can explore the implications of a theoretical perfect jiu-jitsu. Look at the scenario from a different perspective. If we could alter our perception of time to give us all the time we need to analyze our opponents positioning, posture, and base, we would have enough time to devise the most optimal time to execute an ideal and efficient solution to the precise problem. That expansion of time is exactly what experience with specific techniques enables in us and allows us to recognize and capitalize on a specific scenario quickly. The sooner we recognize the correct thing to do, the more time we have to anticipate the optimal time to execute our technique. While our opponent can also anticipate these things, once we have initiated our approximation of perfect jiu-jitsu, our opponent is attempting to counter with a slight delay in reaction.
Let’s use a different time expansion thought experiment. Our jiu-jitsu is like playing a video game where your character is constantly dying and respawning. As you learn how to get past difficult levels, the game gets harder to compensate for your increasing skill. What if at the end of the game we rewound the game video and showed a spliced together replay that only included all the smart decisions that prevented your character’s death? All the analysis, repetition, puzzle solving, and countless deaths would be transformed into a single video that looks like a movie where the character only does the right thing at the right time, surviving and excelling from the first moment to the last. The shorter and more efficient that movie is, the more it looks like a perfected version of gameplay.
Although the time expansion concept is an interesting approach, we still have to deal with the fact that the initial postulate treads into non-falsifiable territory. Yet pure perfected jiu-jistu as a concept does exactly the same thing. That means for the postulate to have tangible benefit and not be just a thought experiment, we need to explain it a bit more.
“Do the right thing”: For any given scenario, static or dynamic, there will be one thing that uses less energy and maximizes our results towards the desired outcome. Through depth and breadth of technique, it optimizes both efficiency of effort and effectiveness of results.
“At the right time”: Given the perfect thing to do, executing it at the right time makes the difference between being able to make it work and working as effortlessly as possible. We should presume that our opponent is either good or lucky and that even with the right technique we may have to alter our decisions at the right time to compensate for their counters. After all, there can be no perfect offense or defense in a non-deterministic contest. Timing guides the technique and the decision points. Timing is both physical and mental capability.
The practical result of all this is our training should build technique above all else, then explore the timing of that technique. Our exact tactics have to deal with physical constraints such as inferior strength, speed, age (longer recovery time sucks), injury, or anything that puts you at a physical disadvantage. Timing is something that we can only build with experience and a good tactical understanding of our immediate goals.
On the mats, if something feels difficult to perform, we should first make sure it’s the perfect decision for that situation, then we need a level of sensitivity to the changing situation that lets us apply perfect timing. You’ll know you are getting closer to perfect jiu-jitsu when your sparring partner says things like, “It felt like everything I did was wrong and I couldn’t stop you from doing what you wanted.” Roll with any black belt world champion or world class instructor if you ever want to know what that feels like on the receiving end.
Off the mats, our research and study should reflect the concept that we have essentially stopped time to analyze a scenario and we are searching for the most efficient thing to do for that scenario, where efficiency is measured in technical application, effort, and results. We should be looking for small things that give us big results. Each technique should be completely justified and explained why it is the right thing for that scenario.
In essence, we have arrived at a derivation of SimpleBJJ, where we always want to do the simplest thing that can possibly work, both on and off the mats. That’s not to say that SimpleBJJ is “perfect” jiu-jitsu, but it is absolutely an ongoing attempt to approximate perfect jiu-jitsu. Sometimes the scenarios we encounter are complicated and more complicated maneuvers need to be used to do the simplest thing, but even in those situations, the most efficient thing (the “right” thing) *is* the simplest thing that can possibly work. All that is left is to optimize timing.
Identifying the ideal is the first step towards approaching it. By constantly asking yourself if you are doing the right thing at the right time, you will be forced to justify your decisions as well as gain a deeper understanding of jiu-jitsu.