Basics, Advanced Techniques, and the 1 Leg X-Guard

What makes a technique “basic?” Conversely, when does a technique cross the boundary from “fundamental” into being considered “advanced?”  Are “basic” techniques simply labeled as such because of tradition (i.e., Hélio practiced and taught them), while advanced techniques have been developed more recently?  Or do “basic” techniques rely on fewer principles to correctly execute them than “advanced” techniques?

These are a few questions I’ve been pondering for a while, but they came to a head last night when I visited my instructor’s main academy which is about an hour away from my hometown.  At the end of class, my instructor asked me to demonstrate my favorite guard technique. I opted to demonstrate a sweep that is very intuitive, that I can execute with a high degree of success, and that I get a lot of questions about during training: the 1 leg x-guard sweep.

The 1 leg X-guard position.

The 1 leg X-guard position.

The sweep itself is quite simple and relies on a fairly basic concept: by locking your opponent’s hip and turning it outwards, they are unable to maintain a base on that side.

1legx2

1legx3

Most students were enthusiastic about trying it out (probably out of politeness to me), although I immediately sensed skepticism about the practicality of the sweep from a good fraction of the students in the class.  Somebody jokingly suggested that I should “demonstrate the technique about 20 more times,” implying that perhaps I had chosen an overly “advanced” technique.

And while my instructor said he thought it was cool (preserving my ego, thankfully), he also commented that he is primarily focused on improving his basics as opposed to learning less traditional positions like 1 leg X-guard.

I understand that some techniques don’t appeal to everyone, and obviously as a blue belt my fundamentals need a ton of work.  But why is the 1 leg X-guard considered advanced?  This is likely a sentiment held by many practitioners – not just my classmates.  True, the position is likely to be unfamiliar to many BJJ players.  The name alone sounds complicated and unfamiliar.  However, lack of familiarity doesn’t necessarily imply a technique is advanced.  Familiarity with a technique depends primarily on a school’s curriculum.  Indeed, many competition-oriented schools forgo teaching basic self-defense techniques (e.g., shirt grab, wrist grab, standing headlock defenses), and while even high-ranking students at some of these schools may not be able to properly execute them, standing headlock defenses are surely not “advanced.”  I have almost no familiarity with leg locks, and although they are rarely taught in great detail at BJJ schools before the purple belt level, I would hesitate to call them “advanced.”

Similarly, it is unlikely Hélio Gracie or other traditional Gracie Jiu Jitsu instructors placed much (or any) emphasis on 1 leg X-guard.  Perhaps since it isn’t a traditional technique it is considered “advanced.”  For example, I would be shocked to see Roger Gracie, the paragon of fundamental technique, use it in competition.  However, from what I have read, the 1 leg X-guard position is a staple at Marcelo Garcia’s academy.  I doubt Marcelo’s students would consider the position to be prohibitively complicated after it is broken down and drilled repeatedly.  It’s true that on Marcelo’s website the technique is listed under the “advanced” section, but I would be willing to wager that most white belts would at least encounter the position within the first few months of training at his school.

The sweep itself uses the same principles as many basic techniques, and the set-up for it only requires a few simple movements.  In fact, the concepts used for the 1 leg X guard sweep are almost identical to those of the traditional “handstand sweep” taught on old-school BJJ curricula (this video gives a general idea of the handstand sweep; though for a more in-depth look at the technique I recommend Saulo Ribeiro’s DVD set).

In this post, I’ve used the 1 leg X guard sweep as an example of a technique that (in my opinion) doesn’t necessarily deserve to be qualified as “advanced.”  But my question really applies more generally.  What makes a technique “advanced” as opposed to “basic?”  Familiarity? Tradition? The number of steps required to initiate a technique?  Baseline efficacy?  Prerequisite flexibility, strength, or athleticism?  All of the above, or something else?

In future blog posts I hope to revisit this topic, perhaps with more insight.  If you have opinions or insight on this topic, please share them in the comments section below!

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About Dave

Grad student in Ecology, Blue belt in jiu jitsu.
This entry was posted in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Gi, No-Gi and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Basics, Advanced Techniques, and the 1 Leg X-Guard

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  2. slideyfoot says:

    It’s an interesting question, which I’ve pondered myself. I’m very keen on keeping everything basic: when I teach, I stick to the six positions I see as fundamental, which are mount, the back, side control, closed guard, open guard and half guard. Naturally those sub-divide into more complex positions, particularly open guard, but in terms of open guard, the most complex I get is spider guard.

    I have never used x-guard, though I’ve been taught various sweeps from that position under various instructors (particularly that one where you pop their leg onto your shoulder and stand up). It’s something I put in the “overly complex” box years ago (same is true for deep half, though I’m being forced into giving it another look by the guy I take private lessons from, in the context of back escapes ;D). But I think you’re right: the name has a lot to do with it. Even without seeing the position, I would dismiss something called ‘single leg x guard’ as probably being too complicated for me.

    If I had to define a ‘basic’ technique, it would be difficult. I guess one definition could be “does not have many moving parts.” My reason for sticking to the basics isn’t so much philosophical as selfishly practical: I get confused if there are ‘too many moving parts’ to a technique. So under that definition, there is a lot more that becomes ‘basic’, probably including the single leg x guard sweep you taught.

    Aesopian has had some intriguing posts along your line of thinking for several years now, which you may already have seen. The gist of it is that the reverse omoplata was one of the first techniques he learned and he’s long had success with it: for him, that’s a ‘basic’ technique. For me, that’s ridiculously complex and I can’t imagine ever landing it, but partly that’s down the name, partly because I’ve only ever been taught it once and partly because I’ve never tried it in sparring, due to the previous two reasons.

  3. Pingback: More On That BJJ Blue Belt : JayGaulard.com Blog

  4. Great article guys, thanks for sharing, Gracie Jiu-jitsu is amazing!

  5. Pingback: More On That BJJ Blue Belt

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