“Do you stay with the same strategy or do you change your approach?”
It is a common enough question in sports that it has become a tired cliché every time it’s uttered by yet another hapless announcer. But the above question is something that many athletes and coaches find themselves asking this question within a game or match, or as the season progresses and results aren’t up to expectations.
One of the most exciting rivalry currently playing out in Jiu Jitsu is between rookie black belts Keenan Cornelius of Atos and Jackson Souza from team Checkmat. On the surface this rivalry sees the clash of two opposing strategies with which one can play Jiu Jitsu. Keenan is famous for his flexible and virtually-impassable guard, while Souza is feared for his Judo and crushing top game. These archetypes are not uncommon in the sport, where athletes known primarily as highly-technical guard players such as Romulo Barral, Rafael Lovato Jr. and Braulio Estima are often paired against those with reputations as monster passers such as André Galvao, Rodolfo Vieira and Xande Ribeiro. Yet each of these athletes would not be at the highest attainable levels of Jiu Jitsu if their games were not incredibly well-rounded. But do the new generation of black belts also have the ability to play anywhere with expertise, or is the current trend of highly-specialized competition strategies diminishing the versatility of modern Jiu Jitsu athletes?
In early 2014, Tennis’s world number 2-ranked Novak Djokovic had a highly-publicized change of strategy when he brought aboard a new coach to adapt his style of play to the evolving game. While early results were shaky Djokovic was able to beat rivals Roger Federer and world number 1-ranked Rafael Nadal within weeks of each other. What allowed Djokovic to come off the baseline and play a more full-court strategy was his dedication to being among the most versatile players in the game.
Likewise, a change of strategy can pay dividends in Jiu Jitsu. One of the all-time great guard players, Rubens “Cobrinha” Charles finally beat rival Rafael Mendes by utilizing his wrestling in the finals of the 2013 ADCC in Beijing, China, and featherweight top-player Augusto “Tanqinho” Mendes was able to beat both Cobrinha and Rafael Mendes in the same day by strategically using the 50/50 guard and superior wrestling, respectively. Finding ways to maximize your scoring opportunities while avoiding your opponent’s strengths requires an athlete to be adept at all aspects of Jiu Jitsu.
The first meeting between Keenan and Souza at the 2013 IBJJF world championships was one of the most highly-anticipated matches of the tournament. Keenan’s former team had been trying to arrange a match between the two, who were seen as the two best brown belts in the world (Paulo Miyao had something to say about that, though). The pair finally met in the semi-finals of the brown belt absolute division, and the match ended up being fairly uneventful, but showed the strategic grooves the two would settle into over the course of their rivalry.
Keenan Cornelius vs. Jackson Souza – IBJJF World Jiu Jitsu Championships 2013