More butterfly guard work tonight. I never felt like I got the hang of the drill we were doing in class, so I asked Jeremy to work it after class with me. I can tell that the position is full of great sweep opportunities, but that doesn't mean I will be able to execute them. I was thinking about that on the ride home, and the topic of my post last night came into my head.
There is excellence, and then there is excellence. My instructor earned his blue belt under Rickson Gracie, and he told me a few stories about exactly how good Rickson is. 1) A few years back, a black belt on the tournament circuit was tearing through guys just how Rickson used to--nothing but submissions, making it look simple. My instructor's friend knew this guy really well, and told him that he should train with Rickson. So this friend drove the new phenom down to Rickson's place and dropped him off to train. He picked the phenom up 2 hours later, and could tell from the way he walked to the car the effect the training had on him. "How'd it go?" [Silence.] "He made me feel like a white belt, like I'd just walked in off the street and never done jiu jitsu in my life." And this was the new face of jiu jitsu at the time. 2) After worlds one year, Rickson gave a seminar for all the black belt champions. The seminar was about the cross choke, the basic cross choke that white belts learn in their first few weeks. Rickson could tell that the attention in the room was lagging--these guys were black belt world champions, they didn't think that they needed a seminar in cross-choking. So Rickson started with the smallest guy and told him to come onto the mat and mount him and get one cross-choke grip in place--but first, Rickson put his own hands in his belt. Then he said, "Finish it." Rickson escaped and swept--all without using his hands--and then passed guard, mounted, and finished with a cross-choke (he allowed himself the use of his hands once he'd swept). He went up the line, from the smallest flyweight to the biggest ultra-heavyweight. And he did the same thing to all of them. After the ultra-heavyweight tapped, he said, "Just so there isn't any misunderstanding...." and did it to each of them again.
Rickson has put in the time to be not only proficient at every position, he is excellent at every position. Bringing this back to my own training, becoming excellent at jiu jitsu will demand becoming excellent at a large number of positions--standing, opening & passing guard/half guard, side control, knee-on-belly, mount, s-mount, back control, closed guard, open guard, butterfly guard, bottom half guard, bottom side control, north-south, defending the back mount, defending mount, the list can go on. (I didn't even get into 5o/5o guard, rubber guard, any of the boutique games out there.) Development demands time spent in each of these positions, both succeeding and failing because that's the way you learn in this art. At least, that's the way I learn--it's usually not enough for me to see a technique and be able to pull it off it live sparring, I need to work it a handful of times or so before I can even see when the opportunity to use it presents itself.
And I remember that I wanted to get my blue belt before I graduate law school. I wonder now whether that will be cheating both my jiu jitsu and legal educations. I know that being a blue belt doesn't even come close to proclaiming you to be an expert at any one (let alone every) position in jiu jitsu, but it definitely displays that you have a functioning knowledge of the art. (The same goes for having a J.D.) It isn't even close to enough to get me to slow down my training or lighten my class-load, but it's something that I'll be considering for the time ahead. As far as I can tell, I'll keep putting n the time--both on the mats and in the classroom--so long as I feel I need to. Which is very, very different from "so long as I feel I am able to."