Opinion: Ben Askren Is Right, We Work More To Market The Sport Than We Do To Develop The Skill

Opinion: Ben Askren Is Right, We Work More To Market The Sport Than We Do To Develop The Skill



Ben Askren’s guest spot on the Joe Rogan experience was quite memorable. Over the 2 hour spot he shared many insights but perhaps none as poignant as the beef he has with bjj schools.

 “If I’m coaching at my academy, and we were drilling the front headlock, we don’t just say ‘OK, now go five-minute goes’ because how many tries are they gonna get at going at the front headlock position?” Askren said. “Maybe one, maybe two, but essentially most people, if you say ‘go for five minutes’, they’re not disciplined enough to make themselves do new skills. They revert to whatever they do best. And then they just do it over and over and over again.”

“If I want a kid to be good at a front headlock – which if you’re gonna wrestle at a high level, you need a good front headlock – I’m gonna put him in there 50 times in that practice,” he added. “He’s gonna get it over and over and over, and maybe the next day, it’s single-legs, and maybe the next day it’s double-legs. And maybe some days, you say ‘hey, go for ten minutes, go wrestle.’”

“But saying ‘go for five minutes’ every single day is very much not the most effective way to do it, and it’s so insanely frustrating for me to have that happen at almost every jiu-jitsu school in the planet.”

Wrestling culture starts in youth and keeps selecting best of the best over and over again certifying not only their talent but also dedication to the sport. This is where it contrasts with bjj – bjj is more obsessed with sustaining itself than it is dedicated to systematic skill development. This is why often in class drills rapidly change, and we often see techniques that are iffy at best.

As a female in Eastern Europe I had the unique experience of going headfirst into bjj and then branching out in grappling which at some point had an interesting turn – I found myself doing greco roman wrestling in one of the oldest clubs in the country. Now this was an incredibly humbling experience and one that was in many ways a culture shock. But none the less it was tremendously useful.

Arm Drag From Over Under Pass – Lucas Lepri Cousin Fred Silva


After countless bjj practices I had some moves but it was far from ideal and I am willing to admit that I feel there are big holes in certain positions and the way I approach them. This made trying this other grappling skill that much more the challenge and a thrill. Wrestling has a flurry of moves but it’s secure in itself – it doesn’t try to sell you on it. It has structure and it has the grind.

This is the move – spend all day doing it and occasionally even a whole week doing it. After 300, 400 repeats you won’t forget it come next session. 

And through this – like Askren said you have to learn the move. There’s no “I feel this move”, “this move works in my game” or “this is fun” – you just go and do it. You don’t question if this *works. And somewhere along the line you figure it out.

And this is what I often feel lacks in bjj. Online culture of bjj is obsessed with these move of the days, attractive acrobatic moves and the discipline gets lost along the way. Sure it would be fun to look cool some day at some point but must it be today? Maybe for today it would be optimal to just be effective.

Must it be today to attract all the newbies?

Sure – for bjj to exist it must sustain itself. And it is vastly younger than the prehistoric wrestling. But perhaps the ideal is to find the balance between the two. In bjj – especially as a female I’m stuck wondering would this work for me more than 75% of the time. The explosion of different instructional and youtube channels and instagram videos made me even more skeptical, the exposure to all of these materials is defeating if anything because very rarely is the hierarchy of details demonstrated proper, very rarely is it in a coherent system and very rarely are the repetitions for the actual learning outlined. At some point marketing stops working and you sit there piecing together what you hope will be a winning combination for yourself – and those don’t happen without serious grind that is about 0% fun but 100% useful.