Playing Jiu Jitsu Like a Video Game

Looking at Jiu-Jitsu in the eyes of a video game player

Location: Moose Jaw, Canada

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Photo by: Nathan Bernard Photography

Jiu-Jitsu is a sport often compared to chess for its intricate and meticulous nature. It is a thinking man’s game that has you working strategies versus another person. The better player has movements internalized and put in place well ahead of the actual attacks and is often disguised with action to create off-balancing. The best players in the world have taken countless years on and off the mat to refine and innovate their techniques. Like chess, I found a new platform to look at and compare with Jiu-Jitsu, video games. The unconventional thinking found in the platform has led me to look at a method of progression and method of study that replicates common video game themes. These themes include increasing, and monitoring of character attributes, creative problem solving, and incremental progression.

The topic gained my attention during a situation where I had my mind blown while attending a Roberto “Cyborg” Abreu seminar. The concepts he described resonated strongly with me and coincided with my previous knowledge of video games. The seminar consisted of techniques that have made him legendary and revolved around a central theme, pressure. If you haven’t been under his pressure, I suggest you make the necessary adjustments to have the life squished out of you.

During this session, he informed us of what he is looking to do during his pressure. Simply put, he was looking to drain his opponent’s life bar. He attributed his opponents’ stamina and ability to withstand attacks to that of a health bar, just like fighting video games. He informed us that he would drain the opponent’s life bar before looking for the kill/submission. If you have ever played a fighting game such as Mortal Kombat, you know to finish your opponent, you need to drain their vitality or life bar to perform a “Fatality” finish, just like Jiu-Jitsu.

I was intrigued by the idea of draining the life bar of an opponent and looked to further explore the similarities of Jiu-Jitsu and video games. To me, it is an unconventional idea that needs to be explored. I took the idea and thought about some of the similarities present in the games I played. I looked specifically at RPGs, or role-playing games where you have a character that has a multitude of attributes to look after and must ensure that every part of the character is looked after to maintain homeostasis.

While exploring video game concepts, I looked at a game called “Fallout,” where you need to repair the appendages and the torso during combat situations to maintain vitality. If you are thinking of the entire energy of the opponent, how would the concept work for individual limbs? During a science experiment, I kept constant pressure on specific limbs for the entirety of the sparring round. The winning of the game comes from the submission at the end. My choice was to attack one of the arms continuously. I put a tremendous amount of pressure on one of my opponents’ arms with techniques such as wrist control, kimuras, Americana’s, armbars, etc. I kept the pressure on a specific limb until my partner just gave me the submission near the end of the round and cited the complete exhaustion of the limb and inability to defend. The unconventional thinking allowed for a greater understanding and gave a new light to explore.

Often when you are starting out on your journey, you do have all the necessary answers and take the better part of a decade to acquire. Beginning white belts have brand new skills continuously being learned that often overlap and get lost in translation. When you think of applying a technique, you often think of it as a straight line to the finish. Many times, you will see complete exhaustion if the person does not achieve the submission in the first 20 seconds. In video games, you need to have an incremental approach to passing hard or unbeatable levels. There is a hierarchical approach where you need to acquire the skills in a sequential method before advancing to more challenging stages, much like going through the different colored belts.

There is a list of things that come into play when dealing with a current problem situation. The list includes current attribute status, having all necessary items required, mastery of fundamental playing styles or techniques, etc. As a white belt, you do not have adequate amounts of the listed. It is through progression, mat time, or repetition that you can upgrade your attributes to be able to take on greater challenges. With “Leveling up,” you gain a greater sense of energy conservation and expenditure, ability to generate pressures, ability to hold frames, and the ability to detect incoming attacks and movements.

Unless you love what you do day in and day out, you will get in a funk where you may feel like you are in a stalemate or that your progression isn’t making the same progressions as it once did. Looking at Jiu-Jitsu in another light allows for a more creative approach to learning. It is a lens that can be applied to one’s grappling to explore the concepts and enhance their Jiu-Jitsu.

How do I keep interest high? Innovation comes from out-of-the-box thinking. This type of thinking gives another way to understand the whys of Jiu-Jitsu and when to apply specific techniques. The concept of the life bar introduced from cyborg opened THE box of possibilities. It shed light on various concepts and changed my perspective on the game. Chess is a wonderful game to compare Jiu-Jitsu to, but I feel like it is not an all-encompassing game.

There is a tremendous amount of merit in looking at video games and applying their concepts to Jiu-Jitsu. I have only addressed surface-level concepts that can be used for innovative problem-solving in the intricate system of Jiu-Jitsu, but even so, thus far, applying this out-of-the-box video game thinking lens in my training has given me better results on the mats. If you do the same, in looking at Jiu-Jitsu from a new perspective, a video game perspective, I believe you will be pleasantly surprised at your results!

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