Modeling the Best in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

INSIDE BJJ would like to introduce our newest contributor.

Dan Faggella is a writer, national Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competitor and mixed martial arts academy owner. At 23, Dan has recently received his masters degree is Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. Dedicated to revolutionizing the effectiveness of combat sport training, Dan presents on goal setting and training strategies at MMA gyms and colleges. You can find his blog of top-tier interviews and research on training strategy at

How and Why to Model the Best in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

 Nearly anyone who has gotten seriously into grappling has at some point watched a ton of video. Whether from DVDs, Youtube, or elsewhere, video is a resource the quench the Jiu Jitsu hunger when mats aren’t available, and they’re a great learning tool that doesn’t involve actually risking injury or using much energy.

Those of us who are regular users of video – and avid fans of the sport – usually have particular players who we admire most and are particularly interested in. In this article we’ll talk a bit about the “who” and the “how” of modeling the best grapplers on the planet, and getting the most out if it for the development of your own game.

 Who to Model?

 Determining who to model is a matter of preference, but in my opinion there are more and less rational ways of picking the athlete you’ll follow. I believe that it usually makes sense to at least start off by modeling someone in your weight class, with your “style” of game, who also happens to be one of the absolute best in the world. I recommend this for a number of reasons.

First, you’re more likely to get something out of modeling (especially your first attempt at it) when you can genuinely relate to the game of the athlete you’re modeling. You’ll find easier ways to integrate what they do into what you do, and it makes getting used to the process of modeling easier.

Second, I recommend you find someone who is one of the best in the world. These individuals have gotten to the top of the heap for a reason, and have undoubtably more refined games than the majority below them. Look for world champions.

Third, when modeling I personally like to use the 80 – 20 principle. I spend 80% of my time watching grapplers at my weight class (who I can relate to), and 20% of my time watching people in other weight classes. I certainly don’t believe that we should limit ourselves only to individual’s with our style, because this would hinder a wider development of our Jiu Jitsu. At the same time, I recognize that as a 133 pound grappler, I am not going to be able to model Roger Gracie a third of as well as I can model Caio Terra. Make note that the extremes of the weight classes this 80 – 20 principle may hold stronger than it does in the middle weights (e.g. Someone weighing 170 lbs could probably learn more by watching both Caio and Roger than could someone who weighs 220 lbs or someone who weighs 120 lbs. Hence, the middleweight grapplers might have more of a 50 – 50 ratio of modeling people in and out of their weight class).

How to Model: Importance

 It is certainly the case that how we model a grappler is more important than who we decide to model. The decision of selecting a model is merely a decision, it is in the process of modeling that the learning occurs.

Most people do not take the process of modeling an athlete seriously. They watch a bunch of their matches, try out a few of their cool moves, and move on. Getting the most out of modeling involves looking at the athlete through a number of “lenses,” each of which provides a unique perspective to be learned from, and pivotal lessons to bring back to one’s own game. The perspectives to take are infinite, but below I’ll list a few that I think are particularly useful.

Lens: Go-To Techniques

The world’s best grapplers have gotten their for a reason, and their go-to moves (though they are often not the most flashy) are a huge part of their success. The core techniques and strategies of the best grapplers (e.g. A particular sweep, series of back-takes, approach to guard passing, etc…) have been honed and refined over years and years, and often involve the most technical subtlety and mastery in timing. Identifying these techniques and modeling them is like taking a short-cut in that you are witnessing the highest development of a particular technique, and by watching the athlete compete you not only learn the general gist of the move, but by watching closely you can see the details that make it powerful.

Lens: How They Differ from You

 Another interesting lens is noticing how the athlete you’re modeling differs from you. In the same situation, when do they “zig” when you usually “zag”? When do they go for a triangle in the same situation you go for a sweep?

By asking these questions (looking through these “lenses”), you begin to tune in more to your model’s game, as well as to your own, and this can open up opportunities for you to justify your own techniques or alter your game thanks to some fresh new insights.

 Determine Your Deliverables and Projects

 Using lenses engages the mind and forces you to consciously get a ton of perspective on your model’s game, your own game, and the bigger picture of Jiu Jitsu in general. However, these intellectual exercises mean relatively little (outside of the nerdy satisfaction of analyzing Jiu Jitsu for its own sake – which for some reason I find myself doing pretty often) unless they translate to real improvements in your own grappling game.

For example, if you study Andre Galvao – I mean really study Andre Galvao – then the people around you should notice changes in your game. If you study Felipe Costa – I mean really study Felipe Costa – then the people around you should notice changes in your game This is why I talk about deliverables and projects.

I use “project” to refer to a specific dedication to work on a specific topic within Jiu Jitsu. In this case, it is the modeling of a world-class athlete. I don’t see this as something that is done in a day or two after watching four Youtube matches, I believe that the richness really isn’t found unless two or three months has passed with part of your focus being on modeling that one particular grappler. That’s a conscious project, not a whim, and that’s likely what it takes to gain something from modeling at all.

I use “deliverables” to refer to the tangible improvements or skills you will gain from modeling. Within your project make a point of the specific techniques or sequences (it might be only three or four) that you will absolutely integrate into your game (or make a firm effort to) – and also make a point to include how you will improve on these specific techniques. Will you drill 10 reps of each new technique once per practice? Will you spend your open mat time on Saturdays dedicated to situational rolling and drilling geared towards to sequences you’re working on? Making your objectives and your action steps conscious makes it ten times more likely that your modeling project will be fruitful.

Keep rolling, train hard, and let me know what you think of this food for thought.


-Daniel Faggella

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