The Art of Chunking

When you first were learning to read, you started with sounding out each constant and vowel of the alphabet.  Then came simple words: cat, hat, can,  that were easy to recognize once you understood how the alphabet was used to form words.   As your vocabulary began to broaden, you started to see patterns which made your reading and comprehension flow, as if it was already natural to you.

Now, with your learning complete, you can read the following:

I cnduo’t bvleiee taht I culod aulaclty uesdtannrd waht I was rdnaieg. Unisg the icndeblire pweor of the hmuan  mnid,  aocdcrnig to rseecrah at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mttaer in waht oderr the lterets in a wrod are

What you just did was recall and organize the data from prior experiences, formulate patterns, and perform the exercise to read the passage with little or no problems.  This is chunking: the efficient organization of information in your mind so that you may recall knowledge faster and store more information.

For us that train in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, chunking is a powerful concept because it accentuates what we are always striving for: efficiency.   Efficient, organized, technical training will help create the habit of chunking.   You must obsess over the minutia of every technique to understand its dimensions, cause and effect, leverage, and direction.  You must practice it over and over.  As time goes on, each characteristic of the technique blends together in chunks and the technique becomes fluid.   Speed, which at the beginning was slow, clumsy, and staggered, is now clean, unencumbered, and  faster then your opponent.  Accuracy, which once was almost always off the mark, is now on target, all the time.

Chunking does something else.  It takes time, but eventually, it gives you predictive powers.  The more developed your pattern recognition becomes, the faster you recognize what your opponent will attempt against you.

So pay attention to every detail of your training and master the the art of chunking.


It’s OK to be Mutually Exclusive

It seems that around major events in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu,  the World Championships for example,  pundits remind us that the sport of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has too many rules.  Some of these same pundits also argue that the point system has bastardized the ultimate goal of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu:  the submission.

We are spoiled with outstanding organizations of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competitions:  IBJJF, Copo Podio, and The Abu Dhabi Pro  that have a points system, and the Gracie Nationals,  Metamoris, and the  Eddie Bravo Invitational that are submission-only events.   Of course we cannot forget the ultimate hybrid event that combines submission only and points:  The ADCC World Championships.   Each organization probably feels that their rules of engagement are what truly represents and defines the sport of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

To argue that one form of the sport is better than the other is self-defeating.  It is okay for points and submission-only competitions to be mutually exclusive.

Each is an art in and of itself.  Does one need to be better than the other?

Maybe we do have too many rules.   Advantages, penalties, and time limits do create certain strategies that limit action and activity.  Conversely, no points or no judging does not provide us with a winner in the absence of a submission.  Both styles of competition have equal opportunity to provide some of the most exciting grappling available or matches that are unbearable to watch.

Therein lies the problem.   What we see as unappealing generates the most criticism.  It boils down to the quality of “spectatorship” of the match.   But, a 50/50 guard is difficult to watch regardless if it is with in a points match or a submission only match.   We must consider the fact that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, in any of its forms, is not a spectator sport to the general public.  It is a spectator sport only for those that participate.   Stop trying to create a set of rules to make it a watchable event for everyone.   Olympic Judo and Wrestling have struggled with this very same problem for years and they still remain a niche spectator sport.

We overlook what all of this variety of competition offers us: more opportunity.  Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is the ultimate art of self-expression.  Every single person who practices has their own individual beliefs, interpretations, and values as to what the art is, TO THEM.  Opportunity to express oneself within a variety of rules of engagement can only bolster one’s development within the art.  Why stifle growth of the individual (and of the art) by limiting exposure to only one set of rules.

 Lets embrace each aspect of our sport and not waste anymore time pitting them against each other.



Use A Ladder, Avoid The Stairs

I have never seen anyone skip a rung when using a ladder.  It is too risky, especially when the climb intensifies.     Going rung by rung avoids the obvious consequence if you make a mistake.  Additionally, your climb will be steady, consistent, predictable, and very easy to measure progress.

Taking stairs affords the very same benefits as using a ladder.  Like a ladder, it is a method of arriving at a destination.  But stairs affords the opportunity to be impetuous.  If you believe you need to get to a place faster, if you are impatient, or you are only focused on the destination, you will skip very important steps.

The distinction between a ladder and a stairs for training (and life) is metaphorical.   The approach that I want you to understand is methodical, mundane, step by step practice establishes the baseline approach for success in BJJ.  But,  there is an added benefit.  By slowing down and going rung by rung, your proficiency, speed, accuracy, and performance will actually get better.

Select any technique or series of technique and identify the steps (or rungs) to fulfill the technique.  As you learn and perform each technique, it may take some time to climb the proverbial ladder to get it right.  But, as you continue to go rung by rung, the time between each part of the technique shortens.  Eventually, it is impossible to distinguish one rung from the next and the technique becomes seamless.   Each rung was still used, but the gap between each is what changed.  Nothing skipped, nothing avoided.

This approach to learning and training does not address risk, however.  This is a different topic all together.  For now, in your training, in your development, even in your coaching and instruction:  Use a ladder, avoid the stairs.

How Psychology and Economics Relates to BJJ

The depth of your BJJ arsenal is extremely important.  Technical expertise is a requirement in The Art, especially if you want to teach.  The more you know enhances your credibility.

But there is a difference between how much you know and how well you execute.  Let me share with you, some psychology:

Hick’s Law, named after British psychologist William Edmund Hick, or the Hick–Hyman Law (for Ray Hyman), describes the time it takes for a person to make a decision as a result of the possible choices he or she has. The Hick-Hyman Law assesses cognitive information capacity in choice reaction experiments. The amount of time taken to process a certain amount of bits in the Hick-Hyman Law is known as the rate of gain of information. Given n equally probable choices, the average reaction time T required to choose among them is approximately (credit to Wikipedia for the extract).

What does this mean to us?  Simply put: the more options we have in technique increases our time in which to select and use them.   A catalog of 100 techniques takes far more time to scan and select than one comprised of 10.  Time that is wasted in this selection process poses the greatest threat to performance.

Watch any champion in their matches.  You will start to see a pattern that they use the same techniques over and over with success.  Most of what they use is not very fancy.  They have selected a small group of moves that they feel is most effective for them and do it over and over and over.  They adhere to the Hick-Hyman Law by realizing that they must eliminate any gap in time and performance that is be caused by thinking.  This is one of the cornerstones of winning.

This is not to say to abandon learning all techniques.   It is important to learn, experiment, and even fail with some techniques because you must decide what you can execute.  Over time, you will start to see your own pattern of what techniques fit best for you.

Here is more knowledge, this time from the field of economics:

The Pareto principle (also known as the 80–20 rule, the law of the vital few, and the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes (credit to Wikipedia for the extract)

In other words: you will achieve 80% of your success from 20% of your technique.

Fill your tool chest.  Work your technical mastery.  Develop your strategy.  But rely on your best 20%.

I leave you with this:

Bruce Lee famously said: I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.