How do I tell the difference between creativity and white belt shenanigans?


Nov 14, 2013
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Rolling with a white belt the other day, I did a very strange version of an armbar. It's hard to describe, but the biggest difference between this and all the other armbars I've seen is that I used my shin to crossface instead of using my calf to pull the head.

On the one hand, I'm happy I was able to adapt and find an armbar, especially when my opponent was doing a good job of staving off my submission attempts. On the other, I can't help but wonder if there's a reason I've never seen the shin used this way in a number of videos on armbar variations.

I don't anticipate I can easily enter this situation with an upper belt, because it was a combination where I started on my opponent's back, and I don't expect them to defend in the way he did if I do get their back.

How do I tell if I've done something creative and in the moment applied the principles I've learned in a way I haven't been taught...or if I'm just a white belt doing things less dumb than another white belt?


Sr. Grandmaster
MT Mentor
Aug 3, 2015
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How do I tell if I've done something creative
I would get rid of this thinking. Creative makes it sound like you are making stuff up. What you probably experience wasn't about creative. It was you understanding how to use a principle found in BJJ and then apply it to a technique. There are so many people doing BJJ, that I doubt this is anything new, even though you have seen it before.

What you are experiencing is an understanding of martial arts. Before you were probably taught that a block is a block and punch is a punch. Now you are experiencing that a "Block can also be other things." But are understanding the "set up can be other things." I don't do BJJ but I've rolled enough to know that the shin as well as other things come into play with grappling. It's the same with Grappling in Jow Ga, and the same as Kung Fu wang has described many times about using the hook to set up the grappling.

How do I tell if I've done something creative and in the moment applied the principles I've learned in a way I haven't been taught.
Again, You have been taught the principles before, Principles is General (what to use). Technique is specific (how to use). I'm pretty sure that you have also experienced someone using their shin to control you and to set you up. That stuff bleeds into one's skill set, which is another reason why I say System A vs System B is my preferred training.

I learn things about BJJ not because I'm being taught BJJ, but because I have to deal with BJJ and find a Jow Ga solution against BJJ attempts. The more I have to work against BJJ, the more I'll become familiar with it even if I'm not actually training it.


Black Belt
Apr 8, 2018
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What @JowGaWolf said above seems correct to me. The idea of creativity in jiujitsu is often used by beginners as a way to justify their strange reactions. It is best to focus on principles and concepts in jiujitsu, and be open minded enough to realise each technique has an infinite number of variations - the arm bar isnt an arm bar because your legs are over your opponents head and stomach, or because youre both lying down on the ground perpendicular to each other. The arm bar is an arm bar because you are applying the principle of attacking the elbow joint with a bigger and stronger collection of muscles than your opponents biceps and shoulder muscles. When you switch your perception of an arm bar to this manner of thinking (focusing on principles rather than set positions) you can see that there are many ways to apply this principle:

  1. Traditional arm bar
  2. Violin arm bar
  3. Kesa Gatame armlock
  4. Reverse arm bar
  5. etc etc etc
What you did today is a big step in your progression, as you were able to subconsciously apply this. Instead of focusing on achieving the traditional arm bar position, your body and mind were able to notice that the opportunity to use the arm bar principle and applied it, although you may have not seen the technique before yourself to know it is a genuine technique, you felt it was there and applied it. Jiujitsu is not a collection of techniques; jiujitsu is a collection of principles, which when applied in the correct order at the correct time with the correct physicality, will lead to domination over the opponent.

Tony Dismukes

MT Moderator
Staff member
Nov 11, 2005
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Lexington, KY
As the others have said, this is an important first step towards answering the questions you raised in another thread concerning working via principles rather than memorized techniques.

It is entirely possible that if you showed the move you used to your instructor that he might point out some technical flaws. Thats fine. Its white belt creativity after all, not blue belt, purple belt, brown belt, or black belt creativity. He could also point out technical flaws with how you perform the standard version of the technique. Whats important is that you were able to apply the concepts youve learned on the fly without having to think about it.

Regarding the question of using your shin for a cross-face vs your calf to pull the head - there are advantages and disadvantages. As you get more experience, youll start to understand why you might want to do it one way or another in a given situation.

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