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 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.
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!