Grappling Systems Theory

I talk to Andy from School of Grappling. We discuss how systems theory, complexity and chaos can be underlying forces in your grappling training but how misunderstanding systems can be a frequent occurrence in Jiu-Jitsu.

Then why attempting to build the perfect, all-encompassing grappling system that is doomed to fail before you even begin and how intuition could help to patch the leaks providing you can identify when you are in the all-important pocket of predictability. Giving you a guide to grappling systems theory!

Also what we can learn from robotics, artificial intelligence, a school of fish, and a flock of birds to help navigate and guide your jiu-jitsu systems. And finally how wanting to help your students too much and expecting them to learn from your own mistakes can counter-intuitively be catastrophic for them.

Listen To The Interview With School Of Grappling Here:

School Of Grappling Interview Transcript

Sonny: How are you doing today?

Andy: I’m pretty good. Stuff is getting boring, but I guess that’s for pretty much everyone around the world right now, right?

Sonny: Yes, it’s tough times, but we got some great feedback on the last podcast we did. Some people were really into what you had to discuss with your ideas on intuition. My understanding is that you talk about intuition and heuristics. My takeaway from that was it’s a way to quickly problem-solve on the fly. You had the ideas of how to teach that heuristic solving ability to students. Is that roughly correct?

Andy: When it comes to intuition, yes. Heuristics, not so much, because I talked about there’s some evidence that intuition is heuristic, like a subconscious heuristic in your body, kind of thing, but I’m not 100% sure if that’s true. So what I want to point out is that whatever intuition is really, it doesn’t matter. I’m trying to get better at it and find ways to get better at it. Heuristics is a little bit different. We will get into that.

Sonny: We’ll get into that. Good. Mainly, then, we’re just dealing with the concepts of intuition. Where we left it is, obviously, intuition seemed to be more like a flowing idea, but you’re also a big believer in the use of systems in grappling. If we want to start with just maybe defining what a system in grappling is to you and then how we can implement it.

Andy: Yes, that’s a really good thing, because I actually really believe it’s always good to define something really, really well before you actually talk about it. The thing with systems is– Actually, there are two definitions which aren’t the same thing at all. I just Googled it and you can do it as well if you’re listening. If you just Google system, you get two definitions. I will try to read them both. The first one is a set of things working together as part of a mechanism on interconnecting network. A complex whole. That’s one way to see a system. Traffic is a system. A tree is a system, nature is a system, the universe, everything is a system if we go by this definition. Then we have the second definition, which is a set of principles or procedures according to which something is done. An organized scheme or method. If we talk about systems in BJJ, most of the time, if not all the time, we talk about the second definition, like what Dana is doing. He tries to organize stuff, find a method, find a procedure, a process, stuff like this. Like I said, that’s a system that’s absolutely correct. I actually wrote one piece and I called it Why Most Systems are not Systematic. What I meant by that is, if we say a system like Dana uses, it is a really analytic thing. You say, “Okay, I’m at A and now three things can happen and then I go to B, C, or D,” and stuff like this. This whole mind map and flowcharts that arise from the systems. The thing is, a tree is also a system because it’s like many microorganisms together in one. Or traffic is a system, you have all these cars which are single parts. You have the traffic lights, you have the streets, you have passengers, that’s also a highly, highly interconnected system. We can go on and on and on and on. Your brain is a system. It’s a neural network. Your body is a system. You have bones working together with your bloodstream, working together with your muscular nervous system, and so on and so on and so on. What I’m trying to do is systems thinking. I try to see what kind of system do I got here. If it’s a really complex system, one which is changing all the time, or maybe it has many, many, many, many parts, then I think this systemized way to look at it is really flawed because it’s just too much. If you take a look at some mind maps, you can find on BJJ, they get bigger and bigger and bigger. Then we get new systems and another system and no one can tell me that you can actually remember this stuff. I feel like it at least.

Sonny: Then how do we actually then integrate that into grappling?

Andy: Okay. Maybe I want to make one thing a bit more clear. What I’m talking about, all this system stuff is, it’s basically systems theory. Systems theory, as a scientific, not really a method, but a theory which is highly interdisciplinary from all scientific fields, like mathematics, physics, biology. It’s a really broad topic. Systems theory, if you just Google or if you just take a look at the Wikipedia site and read system theory, maybe read stuff about complex systems and chaos theory, this weird notion which many people don’t really get, it’s all about the fact that most systems, really most, are not predictable at all. They are super complex, they are dynamic, they change, and we cannot really predict what’s going to happen next. Traffic, for example, you can’t predict which car is going where, everywhere, at which moment, that’s impossible, but we can see that there are underlying principles or concepts which all systems have in common. It doesn’t matter if it’s a biological system. It’s a complex artificial intelligence learning algorithm. If it’s like I said traffic, and in some way, I feel like combat or grappling is also such a system. It’s unpredictable. You don’t know what the other guy will do in a given moment. We can actually see that there are many principles that arise in all of these systems. I feel it’s really beneficial to study these things, but at the same time, there are also systems which are predictable. Like I said, most systems are unpredictable, but actually, there are some that are really predictable. Usually, a good way to gauge that is, the smaller a system is, the better you can predict it. The easiest way is a dilemma. I’m at point A, and my opponent can only do two things, like B and C. Then it would be stupid to say, “Oh, no, I cannot predict it. I want to only work intuitively.” No, the problem is easy enough. You can formulate a system and you can work methodically. The point is we should always really make sure to try and to understand what’s the situation. Is it predictable? Is it a smaller, more constrained and more confined environment? Or is it really dynamic and complex and changing? Then maybe we shouldn’t even try to use the system and maybe then rely more on rules of thumb or intuition. For me, the easiest example is, I teach the kimura trap system, for example, because I feel like once you have the kimura grip fully locked in, then too many things the other guy can do. You can really prepare your students, ” Okay, we can do this. We can do that,” and stuff like that, but the way how to get to the kimura, usually, I don’t systemize too much because I feel if we are wrestling in the neutral position, or if we are scrambling or even if we try to pass an open guard, there’s really a lot your opponent can do.

Sonny: Then it’s a matter of constraining the options that your opponent has, and from that point when you limit their options, you can start to work a system. Is that correct?

Andy: Yes, absolutely. That’s actually something I wrote in an article. I said, we have to find ways to constrain our opponents so that we can actually limit his reactions so we can predict them. The way we do that, usually, is guided mostly by intuition. We start in a really dynamic and complex grappling exchange. You don’t start in the control. Then we find ways to skillfully progress or position and confine our opponent more and more and more. The more we confine him, the more predictable it becomes for us. It’s not like a clear cut thing. At some point, you may be acting entirely intuitive or it’s just too much to think about at all. Then, maybe it gets a bit more confined and you start to think more about rules of thumb. Then at some point, you maybe reached a position where you can then employ a system because it’s constrained enough.

Sonny: That makes sense. In your example, we’re wrestling for a position from a neutral position, and with so many options available, who knows what could happen. I’m trying to funnel my opponent down to limit their options until say, I can get both my hands on a kimura grip, and then my brain can start going, “Time to implement my kimura trap system from here and start working through those options systematically.” That sounds about right?

Andy: Yes, pretty much.

Sonny: Then, let’s stick with the kimura trap. Once we have the kimura trap grip, we’ve got our options from there. What actually makes that then a system and what would just be a bunch of moves? Everyone has some moves of a kimura grip, what actually makes it into a proper system in your eyes and what’s just a collection of techniques?

Andy: The way I see it, and I don’t think that’s any official definition or something, it’s just the way I think about it. I come from a science background. I learned a lot about physics and how to use a computer to solve scientific or physical problems. I think about it like this. If I can write it down like a computer code, if I can write a program of it, if I can create a mind map or a flowchart, then it’s a system, because I have clearly defined interactions between the different parts of the system. If I just have objects or parts of a system, but I have not defined how they interact with each other and how the relations are, then that’s not really a method, that’s not systematic. If you can make a mind map and you can really define how positions or moves relate to each other and how to get from A to B, for me, then it’s a methodical thing, then we can call it a system.

Sonny: For you then it’s really in the definition that the person employing it gives it themselves as long as they can actually back that up with, I like the example of a mind map, everyone can understand that. If you mind map your techniques out, “They do this, I do that,” in somewhat of a complete fashion, then it’s reasonable to call that a system. Does that sound–?

Andy: Yes, I think the mind map is a good example, which this is done , right? I’ve seen you can buy all these mind maps now of all the Danaher DVD”s It’s, actually, people do look at the DVDs, create a little mind map, and try to sell them, I think so …

Sonny: Yes, I’ve seen those ones too, which is funny because they’ve gone through a lot of effort. Those mind maps are huge that they’ve put together for the Danaher DVDs. One of the first Danaher DVDs actually came with some flowchart that had a bunch of spelling errors in it. Do you know the one I’m talking about? It didn’t seem like actually a flowchart.

Andy: Yes, for the Leglocks, right?

Sonny: Yes.

Andy: I have it in the back of my mind. I can remember it.

Sonny: They put it out for free when it was released and I remember looking at it going, “This doesn’t look that complete,” but maybe that’s a story for another day. One of the first things I think about then is the Eddie Bravo’s books, which back in the day were huge to have a hold of. They were some of the best-produced books going around or one of the earliest produced books. They all came with flowcharts for his rubber guard and his half guard system and even his dogfight system, which was all flowcharted out. I still use that today. Definitely, as a process of learning, it made it easier just to see it for me, they do this, I do that, they counter it with this, I do that. It certainly helped put it all together. What would your thoughts be then on– Since grappling is so complex, our systems are bound or just our moves won’t have a success rate all the time. They can’t be a computer system where we put a code in or something and it’s going to work 99% of the time. How do we deal with the failure of going through those moves?

Andy: There are a few things. First of all, as I said, I believe I’m not the guy who says, “Yes, you should only act intuitively and use concepts and no systems, no techniques.” I’m also not the guy who says, “You can systemize and should systemize everything.” For me, pretty much all I do is just a tool. If I feel like it works, I do it for that particular problem. If I feel like it doesn’t, I do something else. I try to use systems in a way where I can still handle them, so I try to make them small. For example, for the kimura trap, if I’m at a certain position or sub-position, I first try to identify the highest percentage moves I’ve seen by studying tape or which works for me in rolling or what I have seen others do at rolling. If you just take a look at all the things you can do from a given position, if you just use your wit, there will probably be 20 moves. I first start off and say, “Yes, –” I streamline my thinking a bit, and maybe I really try to delete most of that from my memory. I take a look and see, “What have I actually seen work most of the time?” Then, I try to reduce my options to maybe two or three at max. I don’t like to have more than three options. Why? Because I think stuff gets too confusing. Then, you start doing things which fail less. If you just teach moves where you know they are pretty high percentage, this is a good way to reduce failure in the first place. The other thing is, what I always do is I teach my students, and that’s how I approach it myself. Practice so that your moves never fail. At the same time, practice in a way which you game plan like every move is failing 9 out of 10 times. What I mean by that is, if I’m at a position A and by attempting my move, I lose that position, then I will not do it. I don’t care or if the move fails and I end up in a bad position, these moves, I don’t teach, I don’t use them. An extreme example and many people will really disagree with that is, I don’t like the armbar from the mount at all, because I feel like the mount is maybe the second strongest position maybe in BJJ. Of course, the armbar is a great submission. I would never say the armbar from mount does not work. It works very, very often. For me, personally, as I said, I have a pretty good armbar from the mount because of my judo background. Armbars are huge in judo, but I don’t do it at all if I don’t have to because even if I can do it 9 out of 10 times if it fails 1 out of the 10 times, you usually end up on the bottom or in a scramble, and you lost mount. Why would you do that? I prefer to teach my students, “We are in the mount and we don’t attempt the armbar.” Maybe I still show it and I tell people, “If you are in a match and it’s one minute on the clock, and you are nine points behind, of course, you should go for the armbar.” That’s a different situation. In the broader sense, I say, we purposefully try to only look at the stuff which we can attempt and still be either in mount if it fails or progress into something else, which is still good. A good example would be the arm triangle from the mount, I think is a good option because usually, if it fails, you still end up on top position or can take the back if the person turns in the wrong direction to defend. Yes, stuff like this.

Sonny: I’m with you on that with the armbar from mount, especially for MMA. I tell all the guys not to go for it unless 20 seconds is left in the round because you could lose position and that’s the end of the fight.

Andy: Maybe to make it more clear, to answer your question, the question was how can we systemize if moves fail, right?

Sonny: Yes.

Andy: That’s the point, don’t do a system with moves, which, if they don’t work, you end up outside the system. Try to create a system in a way which, even if a move fails, you’re still in the system. If that move doesn’t fit into the system, then don’t use it.

Sonny: Then, if we are just looking at getting the best percentage moves and putting them into each of our own grappling games then how much variability between grappling systems should or could there actually be? Obviously, people could come up with their own systems, but in your approximation, if we’re only picking the high percentage moves, then is there an ideal system that everyone should be using and we just stick to that one and that’s what should be taught to everyone?

Andy: I feel like in some way, yes; in some way, no. Because in some way, yes, they are, in my opinion at least, really fundamental principles. If you would act in a way which is in accordance with all these principles, that would be the perfect system, but I feel like that’s a bit of an idea which will never be reached because people have a different personality, they have different body types. Maybe there is, from position A, the perfect move, but maybe you don’t have the flexibility to do it, for example. Then you can’t rely on that idolized perfect technique. I believe it’s another thing, I do. The systems I teach, I try not to maybe do the ideal way, but the way everybody can do it. It doesn’t rely on body type. That’s why I don’t teach rubber guard that much and stuff like this. I don’t say it doesn’t work, but I feel like if you are that flunky, flexible, gangly dude, go to YouTube, research it, make it your thing. It’s not in my core curriculum. I try to identify the high percentage moves which work for pretty much everybody most of the times. I don’t say it’s ideal, but I say that’s a good framework we can start with, then you can add to the system. I teach the things who really fit to yourself, to your personality, your body type, stuff like this. The systems I teach are more like the basis and I don’t see them as finished at all. There are few things that I want everybody to be good at. Then, if you are good at this stuff, then you should, and I encourage you to add stuff to the system which is really, really personal to you.

Sonny: I agree with that especially with rubber guard now even though I played it a lot myself. Now when I’m teaching, I actually prefer to teach a Williams guard or a shoulder pin just because it relies less on flexibility because I know if I try to teach rubber guard in a class, there’s a lot of people who won’t have that flexibility to actually pull it off. Although I know that the 10th Planet point of view says that it’s just a matter of hip positioning, but that’s something for another day.

Andy: The thing is probably it’s also not for everybody. Not everybody enjoys this kind of stuff. That’s really important because I teach pretty much mostly hobbyists. My goal is, I want to make them great grapplers, not necessarily world champions. Part of the way they approach grappling should be also enjoyable for them and also, in a way, fit their personality. It’s not always about optimization. It’s also about, why do you do this stuff? What’s the reason?

Sonny: Okay, that’s interesting. In terms of keeping it fun for people, I guess taking that systematic approach might be seen as a bit dry for some people, lacking some kind of freedom of expression, but you still keep that option open for people to add their own parts to it. When you’re actually teaching people your systems that you have worked out, how do you put it to them that they can add their own stuff in there? Do they have to have a good understanding of the system you have before they do that? Do they have to have it flowcharted out themselves, the stuff that they want to add or how do they go about adding those fun bits that are unique to their own game into the system that you’re teaching?

Andy: I think in the last few years, a lot of stuff has changed in martial arts. You could probably guess that 9 out of 10 of your students are on YouTube at least an hour a day looking at moves. I think nowadays it’s really a natural thing. Most people, maybe you show them a few things, they like it, they will go to YouTube, they will research on their own, and then they will probably just try by rolling. I don’t really focus too much on the stuff that is really special to the person because I feel like they will focus on that themselves anyways because it’s their responsibility to find what works for them. I, as a teacher, really try to focus mostly on the basic framework which works for everybody, but make sure to make room in my training session for people to explore and experiment with a given position, so they can actually try stuff there or not necessarily that I guide them too much. For example, let’s say the kimura trap is the topic of the session, like I said in the last podcast, I don’t do too much fix techniques. Maybe I show a technique or two or three just to give them an idea to work with. Then I do minigames, mini sparrings, drills, and then I always make sure to add 10 to 15 minutes where people should or could just explore with the stuff we did. I tell them, “Maybe you are on boredom, get a kimura grip, start from there with your partner. Don’t go hard, just try to get a feel with it and do whatever you like. I don’t give a damn.” Then you will see many people will mostly just repeat the stuff you’ve done in the lesson, so they can repeat it, so they can remember it better. Some people will do all kinds of stuff, maybe they’ve seen it on YouTube, maybe they come up with it. I don’t care because I make sure I teach them the things I feel like are high percentage, but then I also give them the time to see for themself if they find something maybe they like. Then afterwards, we have position sparring or rolling anyways. If they play with something and then they get smashed while they’re doing it on rolling, yes, they will probably not try it again.

Sonny: I agree, especially with fundamentals for a beginner to learn, that needs to be codified into a solid system that these are the things you do, these are the things you don’t do. Like, I think, find myself in a lot of times teaching something to beginners and saying, “This is the rule and when you get really good, you’ll know when to break that rule,” and just leaving that room open for them to express themselves down the track. That seems like to be an important part to actually keep it enjoyable for everyone who’s training.

Andy: The point is, I always want to make sure that I want them to add stuff to the system. There are a few things, I believe, I really stretch that I tell them, “You have to know this. If you don’t do this stuff, you will suck because it’s the best option. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Like you said, I don’t know, maybe we spoke outside the podcast or something, but you also said with techniques, we can use them if it’s evident that they work most of the times. We don’t have to be too big on these concepts, principles, intuition. If for a given fixed problem there’s a proven solution, then for God’s sake, use it.

Sonny: Yes. For me, the last one I can remember teaching like that was Power Half Nelson, where I was like, “Guys, add this to your game from this position. It works 100%.”

Andy: For example, the Straight Jacket System. Now we are at systems of Danaher again. It works. If it’s 2020 and you don’t teach trapping from back mount, you are doing something wrong. We know now it’s a good idea to systematically trap hands once you’re in back control. That’s another good example like the kimura trap. If you have a fully-locked on-body triangle, the guy cannot do too much, right?

Sonny: Yes.

Andy: It’s a good place to think in a systematic and technical way.

Sonny: It’s a good point that, yes, we’ve got to this stage, the systems, and our knowledge of grappling has evolved. I guess as we get more data and we get more reps in and more information, how do you see, then, how those systems have evolved over the years and then where they could go to or how they will keep evolving.

Andy: Like you said in one of your past podcasts, everybody tries to make a system now out of everything. I feel like this is the trend. The world of jujitsu is going in that direction, but I think that’s absolutely flawed approach. Because like I said, for many really confined, really constrained fixed position systems are incredibly powerful, but that’s just a really, really, really small part of grappling. Or maybe not that small. It’s a way bigger part of grappling compared to MMA. Because grappling by definition we tried to confine our opponent more and more. Again, as I said, these mind maps, these flow charts, these systems get blown out of proportion. They get bigger and bigger and bigger. That’s not what I’m advocating at all. What I think people will try to find perfect solutions for situations where perfect solutions do not exist. That’s what I meant when I talked about complex and dynamic systems which are unpredictable. These chaotic behaviours in these systems, it’s not because they are not deterministic. That’s actually a really interesting thing in system theory. You can use a really deterministic system, but just by sheer complexity, it gets impossible to calculate what’s going to happen next. That’s a fact. You can actually read all the stuff. Even computers don’t work that way. A computer with– I don’t know how much calculations it can do in a second, but they cannot calculate some systems which are absolutely deterministic because there are just too many parts of that system who dynamically change all the time. That we have to keep in mind. We can, and we should not systemize everything because we will not able to do it. It’s not going to happen. Do not try to make these mind maps bigger and bigger and find ways to connect them until you have that one big system. I can guarantee you, it’s 100% scientifically proven, it will not happen and it will not work. [laughs]

Sonny: I’m sure there’s people out there who, yes, they search for the perfect grappling system.

Andy: But it doesn’t work. Even huge machine learning algorithms don’t work like that. That’s what I try to get across with the stuff I write on my Instagram page. Even people get more and more technical or robotical in nature. Especially in sports and jujitsu. At the same time, science, especially computer science and machine learning and AI gets more and more organic. They take a look at how do a swarm of birds find a way to organize itself so it can actually communicate with each other. No bird in the swarm knows what they are doing, but in some way, the systems find ways to organize themselves. Many computer algorithms nowaday are modeled after these ideas and these principles I talked about in systems theory. It goes the other way around. Computer science gets more and more organic and the world of jujitsu tries to get more and more robotic. That’s the paradigm shift I see and I dislike because it’s backwards science. That’s science from a hundred years ago.

Sonny: Wow. Okay. Even though what we know in grappling is increasing and is being systemized, you’re saying that the way that we’re systemizing things is actually from old styles of science itself?

Andy: Yes. When it comes to systems. Because maybe a hundred years ago, all this started. They saw, yes, some systems, they are unpredictable by design. It’s not that we don’t know enough of them. It doesn’t matter how much we know. We will not be able to do exact calculations because it’s an inherent property of that system, so to say. That’s what I’m trying to get across. These attributes only arise if the system reaches a certain complexity. A small system does not have these properties. We can use our systematic methodical analytical way of thinking. It’s fine, but we should also recognize when a system reaches that complexity where this kind of thinking falls apart altogether.

Sonny: Okay. If we keep it small and constrained, then it will have more utility to us?

Andy: Absolutely.

Sonny: Part of that complexity, I guess, is whatever system we come up with. If it’s too big, it’s interacting with our opponent system as well. They might have a defensive system that they’re putting in play that, who knows how that’s going to interact with ours. Is it the fact that, where it’s combat sport with two people, that’s going to change the dynamics of every situation?

Andy: Yes. Absolutely. Because if it wouldn’t be like that, then we would reach a point where everybody does the same thing and all the responses are the same. I absolutely am 100% certain that this will never happen because it’s impossible. If you tried to do that as a coach, I’d tell you, “You’re doing it wrong.” I would try to say that maybe a bit harsh or make it maybe a bit clearer by saying, “If a system is too big, it will fail. I guarantee you. Don’t try to systemize everything. Try to find portions of grappling nested systems which are small enough so you can apply analytical thinking and recognize when you are in this constrained system, but also recognize when you are outside of the system. Then you can rely more on rules of thumb, heuristics, intuition, and so on. Imagine it like this. You have like a big fluid something where nobody knows what’s going to happen. In that, there are pockets of predictability, and you should know when you are in the pocket or when you are in that fluid gluey weird stuff. [laughter]

Sonny: Working out the pockets of predictability out of that.

Andy: Yes.

Sonny: Then like teaching or when we’re grappling, how do we bridge that gap between getting to that pocket of predictability or bridge that gap between teaching intuition and the systems? Can we clearly define that or do you just have to know?

Andy: I don’t know if that will exactly answer that question, but I think it maybe gets the feeling how I do it. For example, I always teach backwards or try to teach backwards. I know I’m not the only guy who does that. I know many coaches do. What I mean is I usually start with the finish and then I work backwards to set up and so on. Because I feel like, for example, A, it really helps your students if they have a clear aim in mind. Because I often see people maybe try to get a certain sequence across the students in maybe two or three weeks, and they start with the set-ups. The first few sessions people actually don’t know why they do what they do because they have not seen the end, so all their actions are really, in a way they don’t understand them and that’s why they will not remember them as well. If you teach backwards and if you say, “Okay. Look I’m in back mode. I have both of his arms tripped. For now, you don’t have to know how we got here. Just focus on that finish.” If people get this, they can accept, “Okay. There are many ways I can get here. I don’t have to know them now, but if I’m here, I can do that.” Then if people got that, finish from back mount, then you can go backwards. You say, “Okay. Now we are in back mount. We don’t have his arms trapped. Now let’s learn how to trap the arms, so we can employ the finish we just learned the other week.” Then people get that. Then you move away and away until you reach a point where, let’s say, you start with a seat belt. As you progress from finishing somebody from back mount with both of his arms trapped, to going backwards, step by step until you reach the seat belt, and then you can teach people, guess what, I don’t care how you get the seat belt. There are one hundred million ways to do it. Once you have the seat belt, you can try to do this stuff I showed you. I’m really big on finishes and I teach them mostly really systematic. Then at some point, I tell people, “How you get here, find your way. I don’t care.” Then, sometimes or maybe most of the times, I try to design a game or a position sparring, or playful way, so people can find intuitive ways to get there. Another good example is this single leg takedown. You are in on a single leg, you have the leg. From there, you can work somewhat systematic. I teach all my systems stuff, and when people already have the leg under control, and then I do a game, for example, where I tell people, “Okay, now let’s do a game. Try to catch the other guy’s leg and hold it for three seconds. If you hold it for three seconds, you get a point.” People then learn the finishes and techniques in a really systemized way, then I tell them, “Yes, there are 1 million ways to get to a single leg, let’s do a game, you can try them here now, yourself.”

Sonny: Okay, that makes a lot of sense. You have playful games to get into a position that then you can implement your system.

Andy: Yes. It depends a little bit on the skill or the thing we want to work on, but as a rule of thumb, I think that’s a good way to look at it. For the entries and how to get to a point or a pocket of predictability, how we call it, I do games, and then for the system itself, I try to teach backwards, so people always have a sense of directionality and where they’re going. Then the systems are really fleshed out, and then the setups and the entries are really a much more personalised intuitive thing.

Sonny: Yes, that makes a lot of sense. I had something similar last year, where I was coaching guys to get ready for a beach wrestling competition, and we did a lot of rounds like that of just unintentionally just doing it, “Guys, just grab a single leg, just let’s work there.” Everyone’s level went up, for sure, just from doing that, and I was really shocked, because I wasn’t doing as much explicit teaching, but everyone, just looking around the room, the level went up for sure. I guess that’s what you’re explaining.

Andy: What I mean by that is, even if I teach a system, that’s what I mean, is you always need a sense of direction for your students, because the way they perceive the world, the way they act in the world always has an end to it. It’s not meaningless. They need meaning in their practice. Let’s say we start a whole series of single leg skills or single leg stuff, maybe we do a six-week course on that. In the first lesson, I tell them, “Okay, single leg takedown, part one. First, we need to get to that leg. Second, we need to keep that leg for some time to get our finish, and third, we need to finish.” From the first session on, I make sure to do three games, at least, one for each of these fails. We can do for a beginner who never done a single leg takedown, I start with one game, for example, like, “Let’s just do a game. Try to get control of the other guy’s leg, hold it for three seconds, you score a point, go again.” They already know, “Okay, one of the fundamental goals is, A, get to a leg.” Then I do another game, for example, I tell them, “Okay, Person A gets in on a single leg, you hold it like this.” Then I give them cues, “Keep your head up,” all this good stuff, “Keep your elbows tight.” All that stuff. Then I just give them cues and tell them, “Okay, the other guy tries to escape a single leg, try to hold it and control it as long as possible.” They get a feeling of the position, but they still have a sense of why they do it. They understand, “Okay, now I try to hold that leg.” It’s not like you just tell them, “That is the single leg position. You have to do this, this, this. Keep your head up, your elbows tight, look this way or that way.” It’s not like they try to just mimic what you showed them, but they already know why they do it and what the end goal is. What I’m trying to get across is, of course they will not do everything right at the first session, but I want to instill a sense of directionality and meaning, so I can already show them why the stuff I will show them is important. I want to tweak it, so to say. I want to give them an experience of yes, holding someone’s leg for an extended period of time is not easy, it’s hard. You have to find ways to make it better, and they already know that, because from day one, they experienced that themselves. Then I try to add to the experience, more and more cues, more and more tips, so to say, how to make their experience better. I don’t know if that makes sense, but it’s very different to telling somebody, “Look, I show you now, the perfect position of a single leg,” and then you show them all the small details, and then they try to remember all the small details. They will not be able to do it because they have no idea why they would do it, because they have not experienced it themselves. If you start off with a purposefully imperfect way to do it, and you know if you do these games, it will look like crap in the beginning, for sure, but it’s important that they have an experience already you can build on.

Sonny: Yes. Okay. That’s important to actually give the students the opportunity to fail in the beginning, rather than just, “Hey, here’s some non-responsive partner drilling that you can do with perfect technique.” Give them a chance to say, “Hey, this is fail. This is really difficult. I now know why I have to do this with perfect technique and get better at it, or just pick those things up, intuitively.”

Andy: It’s all the trial and error thing. Let’s keep the holding a single leg game, for example. What I like to do is, I start off with the game, I give them the rules, I give them the goal, and I show them nothing, just so they can get a feeling, they know how they do stuff and they fail a lot, which is important, but the importance is they know now why we do the leg stuff. Then after we’ve done the game for a few minutes, I show them a few cues. I tell them, “Okay, now you’ve done that, and you all notice that this and that is hard to do. Many of you fail at that, so maybe try this one and this one, because it will aid you make it better.” Then they should try it, like most people do technique with a partner together, not too much against each other, maybe even just going through the form. Then I go back to the game and say, “Okay, now do it again. Try to do the stuff I showed you.” I have, A, let them experiment, let them fail, B, show them ways how they could do it better, and, C, give them the opportunity to check if what you showed them actually works for them.

Sonny: Okay, yes, that makes sense. Then, from that chaotic stage of failure, we’re slowly working towards a point where they can get into that system of predictability. Does that sound roughly right?

Andy: Yes, it’s both. Because at the same time, they get more intuition. Because if we work on that topic, they will have a lot of real time experiences, because it’s a game or a sparring in some way. On top of that, I also, at the technical or systematic side, from my side, was still never leaving the problem we’re trying to solve. It’s more like I tell them, “This is the problem, try to solve it. You guys have problems, I give you ideas to make these problems go away, so your solutions get better and better over time.” It’s not so much like, “This is the solution. Just do it.” Because people don’t learn like that. If you just try to present them a solution, in my present experience, that’s not going to work well.

Sonny: Yes, if it did.

Andy: Yes, and that’s the point. That’s what I mean when I write about over teaching. In the end, we want to help our students, and most coaches think, because they want to help, that by presenting them the best way to do something right away, they help the students. What I believe is, if you do that, your students will have a really, really, really, hard time to learn, remember and understand what you actually showed them, because they have not reached that point of realization you have because you have experience, you have seen it, you have done it, and you just try to convey your experience to them, but you should understand as a teacher that learning does not work like this. Failure and all this is a part of the process. All you can do is try to speed up the process, but you should never try to skip it all to the end.

Sonny: That’s a very good point, because I think that might be counter-intuitive because I feel like sometimes when we present information like I’ve made all these years of mistakes, here’s the information that I figured out so you guys don’t have to make those mistake that I made.

Andy: That’s catastrophic. Absolutely.

Sonny: It’s catastrophic, [laughs] but you’re saying, yes, they know those years of making mistakes are what allowed me to or coach to present that information, so we have to just find ways to still allow the students to make those mistakes, but with our experience, allow them to make them faster or better or more guided, is that?

Andy: Yes. One way to look at this, we have– Let’s just take a look at the two extremes. The one extreme would be like you said right now, you say, “Okay, after years of experience, I’ve come to that conclusion, does this the optimal solution, just trust me. Just know that for repetition, and you will become a god of jujitsu.” That’s the one extreme. This extreme is, in my opinion, the worst thing you could do. The other extreme would be, “Yes, I’ve seen in a video, people tend to grab the other guy’s leg, start from that position and just find ways to get the other guy down.” This extreme would be– Actually, I think this would work really, really well, but it would also take a lot of time. If you would have enough people in your room, and you would give them enough time to play this little game, grab somebody’s leg because you’ve seen it in a UFC fight, figure it out for yourself, try to find ways to get them down, this process would actually work really, really, really fucking well, but we should try to accelerate that, because you’d like to set for your pitch wrestling thing. Just imagine people doing this every day, three hours a day. I can tell you after a few months, they will be really good at single-leg takedowns and single leg defence. What we can do is try to use that power and accelerate it a bit more. What I mean by that is, on top of that, you now give them cues based on tips and ideas based on the experience. Instead of just letting them figure it out all by themselves, you tell them, “You know, a little game, right? Try this one, try it yourself. I tell you, it will work really good.” Then they try it in a real-life situation, and they see, “Huh, yes, that actually really worked good.” You give them ideas, you give them cues, but it’s never disconnected from their own personal experience and from a real-life practice, which has meaning.

Sonny: That makes sense. You’re using your experience to inform the cues that you give them, the teaching points that you give them.

Andy: You guide them a little bit. You guide them a little bit, but not too much.

Sonny: Not too much. That makes sense, that if you’re guiding someone, if you have more experience or less experiences, probably it means that you’re going to be able to guide them better if you have more experience in that given field, as long as you both guiding them the same.

Andy: Yes. That makes the coach– It’s not like he’s the big guy who knows all this stuff, and just the more he knows, the more he can tell you, but he’s still really important because it’s important to know which students needs a certain cue when, because I feel like if you tell them too much, at a certain point, that’s not good. If you tell them too less, you probably don’t accelerate as they’re learning as much as you could do. You should always take a look at what– Think about it more like you give cues all the time and less like you present them with a fixed, perfect form right away. You just let them figure it out and you see like, “Uh, this guy could really get more success if I tell them, he should keep his head up, for example.” Then you see another guy who maybe does it intuitively, all by himself. It would be stupid to tell that guy to keep that head up because he already does it instinctively, and now you’ve moved that instinctive, very natural thing to something more abstract objective, which he has to remind himself of because people actually do a lot of stuff really well even if you don’t tell them. I always noticed that when I teach children, I teach many children, especially in Judo, from five years up to adults, and if you just let them roll, five years old will do so much stuff right. They will also do a lot of stuff wrong, obviously, but they will also do stuff right, and there’s no need to tell them this stuff because they already do it, because then that way you would make something implicit, explicit, and that’s not a good thing. They should do it in a way which they don’t have to think about it. That’s the angle.

Sonny: Yes. If someone is doing something naturally already, overloading them with information on the technical side about why they’re doing that, is the opposite of what our angle should be. We should be wanting everyone to just be doing things naturally and by instincts.

Andy: Yes, and that’s actually a good way to go back to system thinking, because, for example, if I tell you to throw a ball, okay, so you tell the kids, “Throw that ball as far as you can.” If you now tell them, “Yes, you have to grip everything at a certain angle, and your wrist must be like this, and then your elbow should be like that, and your shoulder should be like that, and then you twist your spine in a certain way and actually, the feet are also very important and your stance have to be a certain width”, if you tell them all this stuff, it’s too many poles to juggle. At the same time, it’s actually not necessary, because if you just let them try to throw a ball, I guarantee you, 9 out of these 10 things, they already do instinctively. 1 out of these 10 things, they don’t do. This now you can try to fix with them. Trying to over-represent something right away is bad because systems have a way to self organize themselves automatically. If you grip the doorknob and try to turn it or something, it’s not like you think about the action of your finger joints and your wrist joints and your shoulder and elbow joints. No. You have a clear purpose, I want to grab that doorknob, and your body will automatically self organize itself, the system so to say, in a certain shape, without the part of the system knowing actually what they do. This property of self-organization, for example, is again, an idea and a principle and concept from system theory. A swarm of fish has a way to organize a certain way without the single fish knowing what they do, but the property of the swarm is in the complex whole. If there was like the leader fish who would have told every fish, “Now guys, that’s the plan. We do this and you go that.” It would never work. [laughs] It would never work.

Sonny: [laughs] That’s funny. Figurehead they have the idea of the coach fish get in line with.

Andy: Yes, it would never work, because that’s not how system work. The point is, if you see that in the way of certain person tries to do a move, or if you see there’s a part in that system which does something wrong, then try to fix that part. Don’t try to fix the whole system.

Sonny: That’s kind of kneading it all back together and how we go into intuition and systems or combining.

Andy: That’s what I meant by system theory. It’s not so much that you have to know all this really deeply scientific stuff. System thinking is like a way to understand the world, that most things are not single paths, but most things around you are a really interconnected system of many, many, many parts, but the key point is that all these systems have certain properties, or maybe not all of them, but most of these systems have certain properties which follow certain principles. Like I said, like self-organization, autoregulation, adaptability, emergence, there are many of these cool buzzwords you can all look up on Wikipedia. Actually, if you do that, you will learn a lot, because you don’t have to know all of the nitty details to understand that our world and these systems work really differently than a single part of them. Your body is a system. Grappling is a system. Nature is a system. When I talk like this, I don’t mean it in the way a methodical approach, no, I mean it in the way in the first definition I read in the beginning, as a set of things working together, which is mostly not methodical and analytic.

Sonny: Yes, that’s beautiful, Andy. I think we’ve covered a lot of ground there, and it’s really given me a better understanding of your thoughts on the matter, and a better understanding of systems overall, and how they can be used in grappling. Is there anything on that topic that you’d like to add onto the end there that maybe we didn’t get to?

Andy: I feel like all the systems, the theory stuff, it’s really complicated stuff. I feel like, especially in the beginning of the episode, I didn’t get it across as I liked. If you find that interesting, go to my Instagram page. I wrote a lot of articles on system theory and how it relates to grappling. Read those, because there I really had time to get it across more coherently. Read those. As always, what I write, it’s not an explanation, it’s more like these are some cool ideas. Understand why they are really important and relevant, research them on your own, try to get deeper into the topic. I cannot cover all these things in depth on an Instagram post, but I can give you a way to say, “Here, look at this stuff. That’s pretty cool. You should really learn about this.” Read those, and buy the book Chaos of James Gleick. It’s a really good book.

Sonny: Give me a little teaser of that book then.

Andy: It’s basically the first book I’ve read on that topic, and why I started to delve deeper and deeper because I think someone gave it to me as a Christmas present, and I was already studying physics. I read this book, it’s called Chaos: The Amazing Science of the Unpredictable, I have it right here, by James Gleick. That book is basically a good introduction to all the stuff I talked about, to the systems, and especially chaotic systems and why this stuff is not some esoteric voodoo, but actually highly, highly, highly scientific and mathematic. I was lucky enough to understand most of the signs and most of the math in the book, but I think it’s a good read for everybody. Especially if you are interested in physics, mathematics and science, it’s a really, really good book, because it will help you to see the world in a little bit of a different light, and see that– Just read it, it’s interesting.

Sonny: Just read it, I like that. It sounds fascinating. You’ve also got a Patreon now, and you got a bit of work going on behind the scenes there I know?

Andy: Yes. I made a Patreon channel, because at the same time, I want that most of the stuff I do is free, because I feel like– Basically, I just get ideas across, I don’t own these ideas. I wouldn’t have them if I hadn’t had access to all these ideas, because they are all there. I believe ideas should be free, and as long as I do the stuff I do, which is mostly educational, I guess, I want it to be free. But still, I put in a lot of work, and I actually try to do more stuff, like maybe a podcast soon and maybe instructional videos and clips, and this takes time, but also some financial support. All this audio stuff, for example, it’s not that cheap, and it’s also pretty complicated. If people would like to support the stuff I do, just go to my Patreon, and I will try to do more stuff for my Patreons soon. I’m already working on something really cool. I can tease you actually what it is. If you listen to this podcast, you know something nobody knows so far. I did these ADCC studies. I did notes on all actions that occurred on ADCC 2017 and ’19. I will try to slowly get all my notes digitalized, so people have a really convenient way to look at every action and every move that ever happened in the last ADCCs, so they can look it up themselves. Basically, I want to do an archive or a play-by-play of everything that happened at ADCC in the last five years. People can just take a look, they type in single leg, for example, and then they can see all single legs that happened, and they get a timestamp. They can open the match, look at the single leg, and I want to do that for all the moves. Like I said, that takes a lot of time, but I’m currently working on that.

Sonny: Yes, that sounds like a massive undertaking.

Andy: yes. I have it, but the thing is, I did it by hands, these things for ADCC, so I have it in my notebook. Now I’m just trying to make it in a way so people can use it and such digitally and stuff.

Sonny: Would you say you’re trying to systemize it?

Andy: Not so much systemize it.

Sonny: Okay.

Andy: It’s more like, so people can just take a look. Like if your instructor tells you, “This is how you should do a single leg,” then you can look at this archive and say, “I don’t know.” Type in single leg, see how the rest of the world do it and then decide for yourself.

Sonny: That’s good there, that sounds like it’d be– it’s worth a lot for anyone who’s interested in learning about this stuff. Well, that’s been great, Andy. I’d love to have you back again on sometimes in the future to talk about another topic, because I find these chats just inspirational in a way. I really like the ideas you’re putting out there and everything that you’re doing. I feel it’s important for people who are interested in this to get their heads around and understand, because I’m just a big fan. I’d love to maybe chat about, we’re talking a lot about how the fish and organizing. One thing I’ve seen you’ve mentioned is, how grappling is just part of human nature. It’s just that deep instincts of play and how pinning’s natural for kids in the animal kingdom, and that might be a good topic in the future to go into. I don’t know how you feel about that.

Andy: Yes, thanks. Of course, I could talk about this stuff forever because I’m really passionate about this. I also want to point out that, all these ideas, I’m just repeating what other people have written and said somewhere else. I don’t own any of this stuff. I’m not trying to be the big genius. It’s just I read stuff, I find it really interesting. I learn from a lot of people, and most of the credit probably belongs to them. I just try to find ways to bring it together in a way which feels right to me. If you can learn from that, that’s cool. For example, on my Instagram page, I made a reference post where I said, “Look up all these people,” I mentioned in my post. Also special shout-out to Ryan Hall obviously, which I think is a great guy for Brazilian jujitsu. At this point, I want to point out that people should really take a close look at Steve Morris, because I feel like this guy is a really, really hidden gem in the combat sports and martial arts world. I learned a lot from him. Take a look at him, he’s a really special guy. If you tell him you do martial arts or combat sports, he will hate you, because this guy is literally just a fighter, which is now, I think over 70 years old, and moves like a 38 years old. It’s incredible. Special shout-out to Steve Morris. Take a look at his stuff. He really deserves it.

Sonny: Yes. I looked into his stuff when you first mentioned it, and then I tried to– I found it hard to understand, but I think actually after our conversation, it’s making more sense.

Andy: Yes, it’s really hard stuff, but it’s good stuff. Actually, I have a science background, and it took me really, really aware to understand most of the things he’s saying. Lots of what I do is that I actually learned from him that the things I learned in philosophy, I learned in science and physics, you can use this stuff for fighting, in his case, or for grappling in my case. I learned a lot directly from him, but more than that, I actually realized that I can use this scientific stuff as a way to think about grappling.

Sonny: That’s awesome. Yes, I’ll be going back to look at his stuff now actually because I really feel that what we’ve discussed can help put a lot of more of the pieces of the puzzling in place for those pockets of predictability. [laughter]

Sonny: Andy, thanks so much. School of grappling on Instagram, Check you out on Patreon as well. Look, plenty of good stuff. I really appreciate your time, and hope to do this again in the future.

Andy: Yes, thanks for having me.

Sonny: Thanks so much. Cheers.

School Of Grappling Interview