The path to black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu is said to take 10 years by many high profile figures in BJJ. This is a generalization, there have been some professionals who receive their black belts in less than 5 years, and countless others who wait 15 years or longer to reach that level.
BJ Penn, given the nickname “The Prodigy,” was awarded his black belt in less than four years.
Penn is one exception to the rule, but his incredible physical gifts played a big part in his speedy progression.
The Hawaiian possessed extremely flexible legs and hips that 99.9% of the population would not be able to achieve.
He was known for using his legs with such great dexterity that it was as if he had an extra pair of arms.
There are others, such as Kit Dale, Lloyd Irvin, and Mike Fowler, that were able to reach black belt quickly. What separates those select few from the rest of the field?
Concepts or Drills?
Kit Dale dominated the BJJ scene in Australia for 4 years until he received his black belt. After taking a break from grappling to focus on his acting career, he is back and training for competition in 2016.
Dale has shared some interesting ideas about what helped him reach the elite level so quickly. Kit believes that it is not important to drill a technique over and over. Instead of drilling, he says that the most important thing is to understand the basic principles.
Timing proved to be more important than technique early on in his career. After understanding what was important, Dale was able to compete at a high level in BJJ through improvisation. This simplistic approach skyrocketed his progress.
Instead of memorizing hundreds of techniques, he relied on fifty or so principles to bring him success.
Caio Terra received his black belt in just 3 years. He credits a similar philosophy for his success. Terra does quite a bit of drilling, but he believes that what makes his drilling effective is that he focuses on a series of techniques. Doing a series of techniques helps him to understand the basic concepts and use them in other areas of jiu jitsu.
During seminars, Caio will only focus on one specific goal for the techniques, for instance, he will show 5 or 6 techniques on taking the back. The idea behind Caio Terra’s philosophy is that by doing so many different things with the same goal in mind, you will realize that most of the concepts remain the same.
Half Guard is the Best Guard?
It is not better by any means, but becoming great at half guard is essentially a “hack” for jiu jitsu. Basically eliminating full guard and focusing on half guard is a genius move for progressing, here’s why: There are thousands and thousands of techniques in BJJ, when you remove full guard from your game, you are cutting out almost half of the techniques.
This may seem like a bad idea at first, but if you think about it, most people have been taught that the half guard is more of a transitional position than anything else.
It is that place that you find yourself once somebody breaks open your guard and starts passing. You latch on to half guard and work to regain your guard.
It is even harder to get all the way back to full guard when someone is in mount or side control, you have to do all the work of getting your half guard, which is difficult enough against an equally skilled opponent, but then you have to continue working to get back to guard. By the time you have gotten back to your full guard, you may already be out of time or energy, and you still haven’t attacked yet!
What if instead of working back to full guard, you only have to regain half guard? What if instead of pulling full guard, you pull right into half guard? You would be making the full guard completely non-essential in your game.
At that point, you are free to eliminate that position completely. Instead of having two positions, you now have one. By eliminating all of the techniques from full guard, you will have more time to invest in other positions. This will boost your game in every area.