I love the following Travis Stevens quote, and I believe it’s worth sharing his insight over and over:
It’s hard to get athletes to grow to an extremely high level when you allow them to use tricks and they’re rewarded for it. Because tricks only get you so far.
Like, you can catch anybody once with a trick, but can you do it twice? What about the third time? What about the fourth time?— Travis Stevens
It’s from this podcast episode and around the 30:30 mark (the embedded player is set to that mark, but it may not work as intended).
Travis Stevens is an Olympic silver medalist in Judo and a BJJ black belt under John Danaher and Renzo Gracie. When Travis speaks about Judo and BJJ, we better listen to what he has to say.
You might say you are not interested in growing to an extremely high level. That’s fair enough. But if you are simply interested in becoming better at BJJ, then I believe following Travis’s insight will help you avoid getting stuck in learning pitfalls.
As I see it, the problem is that tricks can often get you treats — taps and whatnot, but the magic that comes with these tricks will go away rather quickly.
It’s hard to define what exactly counts as tricks, but surprise/novel attacks like the buggy choke are probably good candidates here.
And as you might be aware, some people love to collect and use these tricks as much as possible. You probably have such people in your gym. Or perhaps you are one of them. Some coaches are all about teaching random tricks, too.
Now, if you are a trick person, you probably won’t like what I will say, but from my experience, this “trick addiction” is often a common trait among people whose skills don’t improve much over time… because they are too busy collecting new tricks to use against their training partners.
If you try to win in sparring rounds or even in competitions, these tricks could indeed help you win.
But consider the following:
1) Tricks will stop working pretty quickly, especially against skilled opponents. And the thing is, there’s a good chance skilled folks will get immune to a trick once they are exposed to it a couple of times. So, once they get caught with the buggy choke by one person, they probably won’t get caught with it by most other people. In short, these tricks often expire very quickly.
2) Your time is limited. If you keep chasing new tricks, you will have less or no time to practice more important skills.
You could spend hours trying to catch people with a surprise attack or work on your guard passing skills. If you choose the former, you may get more taps and feel good about it, but your overall BJJ skills may not improve that much. Plus, you will probably exhaust your list of people you could catch with that surprise attack. If you choose the latter, you may struggle for a while, but I bet your guard passing success rate will eventually start improving.
I know this is a simplistic way to put it. But show me top competitors who win primarily because of their tricks — I can’t think of anyone, to be honest. Not at the highest level, anyway.
By the way, knowing tricks will help you avoid getting caught with them. So, I’m not entirely dismissive of spending some time learning these techniques. Just don’t get too excited about momentary treats that come with them.
Instead, work on learning core skills that can take some time to master. As a fruit of such an endeavor, you will get a real treat — continuous growth, which you could enjoy as long as you keep practicing BJJ.