Off the mat learning - part 3

Welcome to the last article in my off the mat learning series.  This article will cover how I approach my "game" and talk about common strategies and progressions that I use.  

I touched on the importance of fundamentals in my last article, I do not want to start writing about that topic here.  Firstly, the topic is vast and there are a number of authors who have said it better than I ever will be able to.  Secondly, I have not researched and thought about what I want to say.  

For now, all I will say is focus on fundamentals and obtaining a grasp of the basic core concepts and techniques of Brazilian JiuJitsu (or any martial art for that matter).  Ignore flashy shit and complex move sequences.  

Ok, let's get cracking.

Working out your game

You have the method to learn a technique and Cane’s3P’s gives you the method to understand its functional core.  When you are a beginner, this is enough. To find out what to focus on at this stage, talk to your instructor.  

A good instructor will give you advice on what to focus on.  Unfortunately, there is a bullshit unwritten rule in BJJ that you cannot ask about belts, I do not subscribe to that (you’d never have guessed).  In my opinion, there is nothing wrong in asking for constructive feedback and what you need to focus on to improve.  Saying that, be sure that when you ask you are clear you are asking for advice, not for a belt or a stripe…  

Some people especially when they start out get fixated on a coloured belt.  We all want that (anyone who says otherwise is a fucking liar) but examine what you really want, the answer should be the skill the belt signifies not the recognition of rank.  After all, the truth is on the mat, you can wear the belt if you want but if you aren’t worthy you will get smashed until you are!

As you advance in skill you will start developing your game.  This is the most interesting part of Jits because it is fluid and can be torn down and re-developed as many times as you want. 

Fleshing out a game is very much down to the individual and their needs and likes to a large extent.  Your instructor should be your start point like I said earlier get their input.  Ask them what they see, what are your holes, what works for you? 

The way I have built my game has evolved over the years, the next sections describe some of the methods I use.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

When I was younger I read a lot of SAS books, one thing I learned from Andy McNab was that once a guy passes selection they are told to look out for the bloke they think is the perfect SAS soldier and copy them.  This is great advice and translates well to Jits (or any other tribe) but with martial arts you need to evaluate your role model's body type and game as well .  Are they a good match to yours? 

For example, I love Craig Jones game and he has a similar body type to mine but I have a bad back and neck, inverting isn’t a great idea for me so I mainly just emulate his Z guard and keep away from flashy inversions. 

Another factor is age, I humbly submit I am far better looking than Craig but he is eleven years younger than me and has a very explosive game.  Recovery is a big factor in contact sports as we age, emulating someone with an explosive attribute-based game doesn’t translate well and could lead to injuries, etc.

In a nutshell, don’t just emulate someone because they are cool or the latest jits hero.  Emulate them because your body type is similar, their game matches your mindset, their shit actually works and is simple, etc.

What do you want to get out of Jits?

This question above all should shape your game.  Self-defence?  Sports?  MMA?  The vibe?  Do you prefer gi or no-gi?  Do you want to compete? 

Personally, I do jits for the vibe, I love my tribe and I love the constant learning and problem-solving.  I am not much of a competitor but I do want a game that works in reality not just in a butt scooting sports match… 

A quick word on Gi Vs No-Gi – it is a bullshit argument, do both.  Each has its merits and limitations and neither should not be ignored.  Understand why you are doing Jits and what it is you want to get out of it.  Your “why” will evolve as you do.

What other grappling styles influence your Jits?

Shock, horror, and amazement there are other grappling styles out there.  Each style has something to offer, for example, a lot of people cross-train Judo or Wrestling.  These days I prefer wrestling and whilst I don’t wrestle per-se I do study a lot of college wrestling on Youtube and incorporate it into my game.  Other influences might be Russian Sambo or the mighty Catch as Catch can style of wrestling.

Using your rank as a measure

Ok, so belts aren’t important.  They are just guidelines of how much someone will technically fuck you up during a roll if you push their buttons!  We all want a blackbelt one day but if you focus just on getting to the next rung, you are missing the point.  The enjoyable thing about Jits is the constant learning process and problem-solving – not the belt ceremony.

I was introduced to this article years ago and I still use it now.  It gives me focus in those slump periods where nothing works.  There are other articles out there on what each belt means and what to focus on e.g. Nic Gregoriades wrote a good one on his BJJ Brotherhood platform.  This one by Matt Thornton is the best in my opinion, read it and you will understand why.

Pulling it all together

By now hopefully, you have a good idea of where you want to take your game.  What you figured out should drive your objectives.  These objectives need to be broken down into goals (long, medium and short term).

Using myself as an example, I want to be the most technical guy on the mat and I want every finish to be a choke.  I want my game to be realistic so I pay attention to what works in MMA e.g. I incorporate some of Ben Askren’s ride positions into my top game.  From a jits point of view I have a man-crush on Vagner Rocha’s game because of its MMA roots, pressure and anti-leg locking advantages.

So, I know what I want my game style to be but how do I get there?  Simple, I start at the end. 
  • I want to finish with a choke, which chokes do I like the best? 
  • Which chokes work best from which positions?
  • What if a sub fails?
  • Which chokes do I struggle getting?
  • How do I get to the position? E.g. back take, transition, etc
  • How do I like to pass guard?
  • What takedowns fit into this strategy? 
  • What if I am playing guard?
  • What if I am escaping?
  • Where am I weakest?
This isn’t an exhaustive list by any stretch of the imagination.  Working backwards goes against the “submission before position” adage but for me, that is more to do with how you roll.  Reverse engineering your game like this allows you to evaluate your idols when you have a weakness.  I love spider diagrams, below is one I put together for my objectives.

Mind map of my approach to Jits

There is that word again weakness, this is the core of the method and is what I keep in mind when I set my objectives “only train weakness”   

Expanding on that a bit more.  It is very nice playing your A game all the time and gratifying to catch people in the gym with it but if you perfect just one thing you will never evolve.  To avoid this trap the other thing I do is I “give away my game” i.e. I tell people how my strategy works, what I am looking for, etc.  This can come across as preachy, bragging or arrogant.  It isn’t meant to be, it is meant to further pressure test what I am developing and make me move on.

If I tell my partner what I am doing they know what to look for, this means I have to work harder to make it work and perfect my technique and timing.  Secondly, if I spent six months working on a pass or submission chain (more on those later) by giving it away to others in the tribe they grow too and by growing they challenge me to be better.  There is nothing sweeter than seeing something you have shown someone work in sparring on someone else or yourself.

Looking at your game as a whole can be overwhelming and it is easy to get lost.  I break down my game into chunks based on the core positions, top and bottom.  The table below is an example of this, it is meaningful to me and probably me alone.   However, it does give me clarity on what I want to work in each position.

Closed Guard
Jedi mind trick, open your guard
Hip bump sweep to mount, failed hip bump to kimura / guillotine, flower sweep, arm drag off centre line to back take
Open Guard
Control feet, knees, hips – enter into knee cut passing series
Leg pummel, enter to single leg x to leg attacks, djv or sit up to shin to shin
Side Control
Darce/ necktie series, back take entries
Escape to half guard, running man escape/ come to knees
Gift wrap to back take
Elbow knee escape to half guard
Establish body triangle/ python, isolate and control arms, single arm choke finish OR RNC
Butt scoot escape, shoulder shrug escape –control their legs in transition
Half Guard
Enter into knee cut passing series
Feint kimura attack, guillotine, disrupt base off centre line for back take, whizzer to omopolata series
Askren ride position, control their forearms, look for early entry to choke positions and body triangle in transition
Sit out, turn to guard, tripod single leg turnover
Stand Up
Russian ties series – uchi mata, single leg / inside trip
Collar tie snap down to front headlock
Hunt the kimura trap

Once I have done this I write a mind map using the answers to my questions for each area, in essence, this is my game as a flowchart.  This lets me explore each area in depth and establish different options in my chain.  Below is one of my old mindmaps, it doesnt have any subchains but it hopefully gives a visual example (I use a tool called Coggle to make these, it's awesome, check it out).

BJJ positional mind map

Submission chains are not a new concept, there is a ton of material on them out there for free.  They are a more advanced concept though.  The basic premise is having fall back options depending on my opponent's reaction.  For example, if I am in closed guard and try to hit the hip bump sweep but my partner bases hard, I switch to try and hit the kimura or I switch to attack the neck using a guillotine.  The beauty of a good submission chain is you can cycle between the different attacks as your opponent reacts without compromising your position. 

Now you know what you want your game to be and you have begun mapping out your flow by area.  You are ready to set your objectives, what needs work and won’t take five minutes?  This is a midterm goal.  A mid-term goal might take you a month or two.  For example, my turtle bottom game is weak, so I aim to turtle up and escape every time I roll, I ask my coach for help and options, check out free content on YouTube, etc.

The objectives you set week by week and from class to class are your short term objectives.  These are fluid and change based on you evaluating your performance.  A short term goal could be working an entry to a specific pass or escaping a particular submission or hold, using a certain frame or movement, etc.

To sum it up, set your long term goals and use these to evaluate your game.  Create a matrix by position and note what you want to use for each area (review and revise this as often as you like).  Plan medium-term goals based on that, use short term goals week by week, class by class to achieve the mid-term goals.  Not rocket science.

For more information about goals check out my article "Habit + Goals = Super charged Success"


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