Three Archetypes for Better Randori

In competitive grappling, such as Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ), judo, et al, there are essentially three different ways that one can approach randori (free sparring), depending upon our personality, training goals, or partner. We can train defensively, offensively, or educationally. That is, we can approach randori like the tortoise, the hare, and the scientist.

Relson Gracie teaching a his ‘Tortoise’ approach to bottom side control at Kogen Dojo. Photo by Mike Oswald Photography

The tortoise approach to randori is one wherein the practitioner attempts to shut down all of his or her opponent’s attacks while patiently waiting for an opening, the perfect opportunity to apply his or her own attack. This approach is conservative. It is slow, steady, and low risk, but also requires a lot of patience and time. The goal is unrelenting precision and pressure, constantly driving forward with the armor of perfect defense.

A less conservative, higher risk approach to sparring is that of the hare. The hare attacks any and all openings in the opponent’s defenses. While this offensive approach also requires the practitioner to be more open and vulnerable him or herself, it also puts the opponent in a perpetual state of defense, therefore, making counters risky. The goal is controlled chaos that is both frightening and unpredictable, where every move is a potential finish.

The scientist approach to randori treats each sparring session and partner like a fact-finding mission. This is a means by which to practice one’s techniques, strategies, and tactics against a variety of opponents, even if it means losing. In fact, in this approach, losing is simply more information. The scientist is constantly gathering data, testing and retesting until reliable conclusions can be made.

Within each of us lies the potential to manifest any and all of these archetypes, even in a single sparring session. They are all teachers, none better than the other. Each has its lessons to offer. Next time you slap hands and bump fists, ask yourself who your teacher will be this round — the tortoise, the hare, or the scientist.

“As in life, so too it is in budo. As in budo, so too it is in life.”

-Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Taikyoku Mind & Body and Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

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