Abundance and Scarcity in BJJ

My early years in Jiu-Jitsu were rough in many ways!  One of my negative experiences was learning a different way to do a guard pass.  One day I was doing the pass where you slide one arm in between their legs and you leave one arm in between their legs.  I had learned this pass from one of the teachers at this school a few years back, and that same teacher came over to me and said, “Don’t do that pass this way anymore.  You’ll get triangled every time.  Now that you’re going to compete for us, I’m going to show you some better ways to do things.”

I couldn’t believe it!  I was getting caught in triangles alot.  He was showing me things wrong and incomplete all this time.  I wasn’t happy.

And that was not the only time that an instructor had held back.  In fact, many of my black belt friends agree that holding back is more common than sharing.

It happened at one of the first seminars I ever attended.  At the end of the seminar the instructor asked if anyone had any questions.  Someone asked how to defend an ankle lock.   The instructor said “If  a bullet is flying out of a gun, what are you going to do?  You’ll get shot.  Getting out of ankle locks is the same.  Just don’t get in them.”

He didn’t show how to prevent them.   He didn’t show anything!  I was a college student and had spent $280 that weekend on classes and a video.

Another time I did a private with a very respected world level competitor, and I had a question about one of the moves that he was teaching.  I was there with two other of my training partners, and we were each paying $200 / hour.  The instructor said “That’s another time my friend.”

He called me his friend!  Another time he says?  You mean another $600?  On top of that, we found out later that the moves that he had taught in our private were the same moves he taught to each private lesson he had that weekend, and the same moves that he taught at the weekend seminar.

But it is actually a good thing.  Like the child of an alcoholic who never touches alcohol, I was vehement that I was not going to hold back on my students.

I saw early on in teaching that if I taught what I knew, without holding back, I got better.  So it was a win-win situation.

I figured that if I shared everything I knew, and I taught what I do and how I do it, my students would be good training  partners, which would help me get better.  In fact it was my committment to improving.  If I showed a student my favorite triangle setup, and how to stop it, I would have to figure out how to counter his counter, or my timing would have to get better, or I would have to switch to another setup.

My student gets better, they make my school look better, the student remains a student longer, they tend to tell their friends about training more, I get better, I sleep good at night… it became the only way I would train with others.

There was one time I held back for a few days.  I went to a seminar with a few students at my school.  I got back to my school on monday, and those students were there.  One said, “Those we’re some sweet techniques we learned.”

I said, “Guess what I’m teaching tonight!”

He got upset.  “Ryan, we spent a lot of money.  These other students didn’t.  Come on!”

I have this habit of taking a while to make a decisions.  I don’t like to go back and forth.  I would rather take a few extra days and have conviction about what I am doing.  So I decided to not teach what I learned for a few days while I thought about what the students told me.

The interesting thing was that in the few days that I was contemplating what happened, I forgot most of what I learned!  By the time I decided that I was going to teach what I learned, I was missing a lot of details, and a few of the techniques entirely.

That solidified my resolve to not hold back!  In fact it became part of my learning process, to teach whatever I learned.  I had remembered a poster on a wall from high school that said something to the effect of “I will remember 10% of what I read, 20% of what I hear, and 90% of what I teach.”

For a while I was telling students my process for taking a technique from new to a regular part of my game: W.W.R.T.: write it down, figure out when I would use it (like when my partner puts their arm in a certain place), review it every day for 3 weeks, and teach it to as many people as I could.

This is not to say that I overload students with everything I know all the time.  It is said that a good way to teach someone nothing is to show them everything!  My point is that I will not hold back when someone is ready for more.

I don’t like to be negative, and I started this post with some ugly stories, so let me tell some positive stories.

David Meyer, one of Rigan Machado’s  first black belts, is one of the greatest training partners and teachers I have ever had.  He came from a traditional martial arts background (Japanese Jiu-Jitsu and Aikido), and is a very high minded and kind person.  When we would roll, he would show me what I was doing wrong, how he took advantage of it, and what I could do to counter him.  The next time that situation happened, I was able to counter him.  No strings attached!

Chris Haueter is another great teacher and training partner.  I fly to California pretty often to train, and I attend his classes.  He would teach in class the very things that he would do to me when we roll.  I was able to become familiar with his game because he didn’t hide it from me.  He would then ask me to show my game to him and his students.  We would be warming up in his class and he would announce, “One more minute guys and Ryan is going to show some Michigan Jiu-Jitsu.”

He didn’t tell me before then that I was teaching that night!  But I didn’t care.  The way he treated me created in me a lifelong loyalty to him.  I am happy to do whatever I can to help him and his students.

The Machados are the same.  Roger always nitpicks to make sure I have all the details of what he is teaching.  He will make sure I rep whatever he taught, whether in a private lesson or class, until I have a good chance of retaining it.

So what is the moral of the story?  You can be selfish, and limit yourself, or you can be on fire to help others around you, and you can be helped.  I am not just talking about Jiu-Jitsu either.  It could be love, happiness, money, anything worth having.  You may sit around and think of how you are going to make your first million, but what about spending some time on helping others with the same goal?  Zig Ziglar, the late personal development author and speaker, always said in his talks, “You can get whatever you want, as long as you help enough people get what they want.”

This concept of abundance, that there are unlimited resources available for anyone who is willing to work for them, is one of the basic foundations for balanced success in life.  I say balanced because you can be successful in one sense but not overall.  An example would be someone that made a lot of money but had to hurt a lot of people along the way.  This is the scarcity view of the world, that there are limited resources that everyone has to compete for.

In the bestselling business book Never Eat Alone, author  Keith Ferrazzi describes how much energy he puts into business matchmaking.  He will call someone and say, “There is someone who could really help you with such and such project.  I will call him and get you two connected.”  No direct benefit to him.  But now he has two people that may be willing to help him if he ever needs help.

Paramahansa Yogananda, a well known meditation teacher, author, and someone who has changed my life, coined the term “good selfishness.”  Whatever is for your highest good, is for other’s good.  Helping others, you help yourself.  Truly helping yourself, you help others.

If you ask many BJJ practitioners what they dislike about BJJ the most, many will say politics and egos.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

3 Responses to “Abundance and Scarcity in BJJ”

  1. Shawn says:

    I totally feel you on the scarcity tactics…

    In fact… When I first started training Jiu-Jitsu, I dealt with a lot of the same issues.

    I would learn something one way and train it for months only to find out that it was taught in an inferior fashion so all the advanced students could easily defeat it. Talk about confused…

    When I moved away from the school I was training at and began teaching, I quickly realized that I did not have any training partners where I had relocated to. So I made it a goal to get my first few students as good as possible in as quick as possible.

    That way I would have some training partners to work with so I could keep getting better. I held back nothing and as a result I improved 10 fold.

    It was an easy lesson to learn… Sharing improves who you are.

  2. Jake says:

    Great article Ryan! Very good lessons!

  3. Mike Mahaffey says:

    Hi Ryan,

    This is one of the reasons I am glad we affiliated with you up here in Lansing. There are no “secrets” at your school. Your jiu-jitsu is an open book – all we need to do is turn the pages and read it. As a result, our games have gotten better, the games of all our training partners have gotten better, etc, etc.

    I think this philosophy of open sharing reflects the creed “Leave your ego at the door.” Holding back is ego-driven: if I hold something back, then I know something you don’t that makes me “better” than you. It takes letting go of your ego to share what you know, which then forces you to improve your game even further in order to accommodate, then your partners’ games get better in turn to accommodate you, and the loop of learning continues 🙂

    Anyway, I think I am rehashing your article. So many of your articles put into words my own thoughts on training in ways more eloquently than I could write them. Keep ’em coming!


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