When can you deviate from the path?

I was in Hong Kong once, following some silly kung fu dream, and I went to an art gallery. There was an amazing painting of a horse by a Chinese artist. The painting made such an impression on me that I completely forgot the name of it and who painted it, but never mind. However, I do remember that there was a note from the author under the painting, and I was so impressed with that, I copied the whole thing out in my notebook. Then I lost the notebook, but never mind.


Basically, what he was saying was the same thing that Bruce Lee used to say. To break the rules, first you have to master them. (Although, exploring some of his quotations, it might not be as simple as that… and I am reminded of just how much of a genius he was. I may have to write some more posts about the guy.)

But the general idea is, you need to get the basics before you can start improvising. You can’t just start training BJJ and invent a new move, or a new guard. Unless you are very very special.

So when is it considered “OK” to start innovating, or inventing? It’s a very tricky question. Obviously, as creative creatures, we do start inventing from day 1. We make things our own, which is why nobody’s armbar feels exactly the same as anybody else’s.

Eddie Bravo was a blue belt I think when he started Twistering everybody’s spines off.

I remember when I was doing kung fu, I felt that I had a lot of knowledge, and I decided that I would develop my own system based off this one move that I really liked. I had a logo for it and everything. Looking back on it now, that was really dumb. Putting the cart before the horse, so to speak.

I haven’t really invented anything in jiu jitsu, and I don’t plan on specifically sitting down and trying to think of something to invent. If I happen to stumble across something when rolling that I haven’t seen used before, and it works for me, I’m going to try and develop it.

Out here in Japan, I do need to improvise a lot. Sometimes I don’t understand 100% of the intracacies of a technique as they are explained in Japanese. And maybe it’s a language thing again, but I have difficulty recalling techniques in great detail. So I have to come up with ways to do things myself, and if they don’t work, I need to change them a little. But I have to be careful… are they not working because the technique just doesn’t fit me, or because I am not doing it properly? I have to be careful not to discard techniques to early in favour of innovation.

There are certain basic rules in BJJ that are there for your protection, and to discard them too early is dangerous. For example, don’t put your back on the mat. Don’t rest until you’ve passed guard. Position before submission. Etc.

I think as you progress through the belts, you can innovate more. I’m only a blue belt, so my innovations are very small adjustments to tried and tested techniques, to fit them to my body type. As people get more and more familiar with the game, and get a better understanding, then they can start breaking the more fundamental rules and putting things back together the way they see fit.