Surface Dwellers and Wall Flies

Everyone comes into Jiu Jitsu with different motivations, aspirations and personalities. That’s obvious and understandable and I can accept almost all types of people. I try very hard not to be judgemental, and mostly I succeed. However, there are two types of Jiu Jitsu practitioners that I don’t care for. More accurately, I don’t care for the way in which they train.  Because these types are my antithesis. They don’t follow my way. I simply call them The Surface Dweller and the Wall Fly. I’ll explain.

The Surface Dweller

The first aspect anyone sees in Jiu Jitsu are submissions. They are the most obvious and identifiable parts of Jiu Jitsu. It is natural and expected then that the new practitioner would be focused on submissions. But we soon realize that there is so much more to Jiu Jitsu than that. For there to be any chance of submission, more must be learned. So, we develop technique. Layer upon layer of technique.  Proper technique is based on leverage, angles, timing (which includes cue recognition , awareness and distraction), and weak vs. strong muscle groups (physiology). Even the submission-focused practitioner goes deeper into Jiu Jitsu out of necessity. They learn proper technique  because they know they need it to gain submissions on skilled opponents. These submission-hunters aren’t Surface Dwellers per se, more like predators.  They use proper technique when they have to. They have gone under the surface as a means to an end…the submission. 

True Surface Dwellers are a different matter.  They are still fixated on submissions, but they don’t care to learn proper technique. Instead they substitute their size, strength, speed, flexibility or any physical attribute they may possess to accomplish the goal.  We can see this when a bigger, stronger person plows over a smaller weaker person. The submission may be gained in spite of good technique not because of it! Surface Dwellers don’t care. They won. They are primitive cavemen. Evolution and sophistication is not their goal. They force the submission. HULK SMASH!  This is not the art of Jiu Jitsu, it only resembles it. 

“How we get the submission is more important than the submission itself.”

The additional problem with the Surface Dwellers is they tend to avoid training partners that they can’t physically dominate. They then become Wall Flies as well.  

The Wall Fly

The Wall Fly is someone who frequently sits on the side lines of the mats instead of being on the mats.  Maybe they observe, rest, or critique others. Mostly they are goofing off or talking about random stuff unrelated to Jiu Jitsu. I am not referring to those that are truly resting a round, have an injury, or are new and waiting to gain the courage to roll. I am talking about the time-wasters.  That’s ultimately what a Wall Fly is. Someone who squanders opportunities to train and improve out of sheer laziness. They are the folks who have to be 100% fresh in order to roll, so they sit out every other round. 

“Nothing in Jiu Jitsu (or Life) is free.”

In order to do anything, we sacrifice something. Time is the most obvious example.  We go to work, give our time, and receive a paycheck. We choose one activity, we sacrifice the ability to do another one.  Time is a limited commodity and is precious. When we commit to Jiu Jitsu we give up a lot of things. If time equals money, then being a Wall Fly is like throwing money out of the window.  

The more annoying Wall Fly is the one that struts around like a peacock on the mat but not actually doing anything. They are the ones resting on their laurels while the workers work and improve.  The Wall Fly lacks work ethic. 

In conclusion

The art of Jiu Jitu has an enormous amount of depth to it. That is, it has
layer upon layer of complex and intricate details. Some people refer to this as “hidden or invisible Jiu Jitsu.” I see it as multi-layered and simply
refer to the art as having “depth.” At the advanced levels it isn’t
invisible, just very complex and subtle. It takes sensitivity and awareness developed
through years of training to discover and then, eventually, master.  I will never understand why anyone would choose to stay on the surface of the art.  Why not see how far down it goes and enjoy discovering the unknown?  Why waste time loafing around when you could be exploring the art?


  1. once again you nailed it. it’s crazy that you’ll also find that those are the same types that complain the most, judge the most, and just can’t seem to get through that “plateau” 🙂 another great read.

  2. Thanks for this.

    This all makes a lot of sense.

    Is there a particular framework or strategy you can recommend to monitor our mindset in this area? I suppose sitting out on the mats is an obvious cue. I’m looking for something that circumvents my desire to rationalize my poor behavior.

    I’m nervous about becoming either of these, especially when I start to get “chatty.”

    1. Good question Andrew. With the Surface Dweller some internal cues would be: Do you force submissions or use very little technique in order to get “the tap?” Do you care only about victory over your opponent via submission? Or do the intricacies and nuances of Jiu Jitsu interest you? Do you enjoy solving the riddle and figuring out efficient / effective way to move, defend, control and (Yes!) submit? When you discover or are taught a new detail to a particular technique do you get excited? And, if so, is it because you can crush your opponent or just for the sake of the discovery itself? If you achieve a submission that is forced, ugly and inefficient are satisfied? Or do you believe that it is important on HOW that submission was obtained? Do you seek out “Skeleton Key” techniques? Some external indicators that some might be a Surface Dweller: Do they curse and pout when submitted? Do they gloat and visibly celebrate like a child at Christmas after submitting their opponent? (note: Some fierce competitors do this during competition, and in no way indicates they are Surface Dwellers. Competition, remember, is not for development, but for winning). Do they not pay attention when their instructor is teaching because they have already done “that move” a hundred times and feel there is nothing left to learn about it? Ultimately, the Surface Dweller will stagnate in their “development” at some point. So, I don’t worry about others being Surface Dwellers. It does make me sad that they are missing out, but it is really their choice.
      With regards to the Wall Fly: If you waste time during training. If you sit out as many or more rounds than you partake in. If you avoid skilled training partners because they are challenging. If, during and hour long class, you are only doing Jiu Jitsu for 30 minutes, then you might be a Wall Fly. They sit and watch instead of taking advantage of the opportunity to “go at it” and progress.
      Knowing you personally Andrew, I can safely say you are not either of these. And you being my student, do you think I would allow that?

  3. This is such a good read. I wish some of my training partners could read this. This exactly why I love visiting NG Sheboygan. The vibe is unlike any other I’ve experienced. I’ll be visiting again soon.

    1. Jared, Thanks for the compliment. We work very hard to create such an environment. We always enjoy training with like-minded people such as yourself. See you on the mats soon. 🙂

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