In the digital age of jiu-jitsu, there is no shortage of training aids. You can supplement your training with private lessons, seminars, YouTube videos, instructional DVDs, books, magazines, podcasts, GIFs, and internet discussions. You can even take the premium route and subscribe to one of the many technique databases headed up by the likes of Marcelo Garcia or Saulo Ribeiro. Even with this myriad of resources at your disposal, you should take time to do your own research.
You should analyze competition footage because it will help you to:
- Inject new ideas and techniques into your regular training routine.
- Reverse engineer how techniques work through thought and experimentation, which will help you learn new techniques from instructors as well as instructionals.
- Uncover details and ideas that might not be explicitly covered in a lesson or video.
- Expand your horizons by forcing you to try new things and to be okay with failure.
For as much as you gain from breaking down the footage of a competitor, the process is unlikely to come naturally. For me, I had no idea where to start when I was a white belt. When I watched high level grapplers or fighters compete, I suspected that I should be learning something from their performances, but I would soon get overwhelmed and revert back to enjoying the spectacle of the incomprehensible magic playing out before me.
To get a handle on how to breakdown footage on my own, I started reading Aesopian’s (Matt Kirtley) Brabo choke analysis by sheer luck. The material is nine years old at this point, but even now it’s a great example of how to take a few seconds out of a video clip and distill them into something that impacts your training in a meaningful way.
In the time since 2007, other jiu-jitsu writers and content creators have started to share their process. By reading or watching their work, you can start to train yourself to see what they see and look for what they look for. It’s still not a total independent analysis on your part, but it’s a good step forward. Here are some worthwhile individuals to follow that produce content for free:
- BJJ Scout
- Ostap BJJ
- T.P. Grant's Judo Chop
- Jack Slack (more striking-focused but still a good resource)
Once you’ve familiarized yourself with what good analysis looks like, you can start to do your own. Eventually, you’ll have your own process, but try these steps to get started:
1. Find a question to answer. If you enter your competition footage analysis sessions with the amorphous goal of “observe and learn something new” you will struggle. Instead, try to define the question you are trying to answer. You can take inspiration from your own training—how do top grapplers address the spider guard grips when they are trying to pass?—or you can watch a grappler you admire until you notice a movement or technique that is at least somewhat new to you—how and why did that work? Once you have a specific question to answer, you will have a clearer structure for continuing your analysis.
2. Try to watch grapplers that have a large volume of available footage. There are a slew of talented brown and purple belts out there that are great competitors, but it won’t be as easy to find footage of their matches as say Keenan Cornelius or Rafa Mendes. If you start your analysis with top active competitors, you are more likely to see a consistent gameplan across matches, which will you help you to probe at the “why” of a technique’s execution.
3. As you compare footage from match to match, look for differences as well as similarities. If you took my advice from point two and are watching as much footage as you can from one singular competitor, you are likely to see them execute the same move in different ways. This is your opportunity to start identifying variations and counters for a particular position. If your chosen competitor likes the lasso hook, try to identify the differences in matches that might lead to them choosing a different variation. Are they responding to an attack? Is his or her grip different? Where is the opponent’s center of gravity and how is his or her posture?
4. Compare techniques between grapplers. If you figure out that two grapplers like the same basic position, you are likely to find that their technical approach will not be exactly the same. One might prefer different grips, different entries, or different counters. When you can identify these differences, you can start to guess at the pros and cons or one variation over another. Both grapplers are likely aware of the cons when they make a particular choice, so that means they really like the pros. There is bound to be an interesting insight down that rabbit hole.
5. Look for instructional footage that matches your competition footage. Depending on the grappler, you might be able to find an instructional video where he or she teaches the technique trying to analyze. That doesn’t make your competition footage analysis any less fruitful, however. By referencing the instructional, you can check your own work—did you notice the right details?—and you can start to pick up on things that the instructor might not have taught. Even the most thorough videos don’t account for every nuance or counter, so by watching competition footage you might see a scenario that the instructor didn’t talk about or better yet you might be seeing the most up to date version of the move.
6. Take notes and archive footage. Since you are likely working from YouTube videos, keeping a log of your observations and the links you view is in your best interest. Losing track of the perfect match is unfortunately very easy (the thumbnails on jiu-jitsu matches all look the same), and writing down your thoughts can help to foster more in-depth thinking. Also, it’s worth noting that YouTube videos have a habit of disappearing. While I don’t advocate pirating match footage, making a back-up with a YouTube download extension or plug-in might be wise.
7. Take your observations into the gym. All of your thoughts and insights are purely hypothetical until you actually try to apply them. This will not be an instant victory for your training. You will likely struggle to recreate the technique you were studying, and you’ll have to experiment with subtle variations in grips, movement, and positioning. This is actually a helpful part of the process that will deepen your understanding of technique if you don’t let it frustrate you too much.
Analyzing competition footage is the mark of a true jiu-jitsu nerd, but it’s also a powerful way to accelerate your development. I hope you find it as fun and rewarding as I do.