I remind students all the time to do what is easy. Don’t pick a complex technique when a simpler one will work. Don’t go for grip switching when you have something you can do as well that uses current grips. Don’t move your body while you have side control if you can attack using just your arms. The list goes on and on. The underlying principle of all this advice can be traced back to efficiency in the service of keeping things simple for where you are at right now. I want to share some different aspects of how efficiency is simple.
Anybody who has been an uke (the person being demonstrated on) knows that the difference between a lower belt demonstrating and a black belt demonstrating is like having a baby give you a hug compared to somebody attaching a vice to your neck. The crazy thing is the upper level belts often don’t realize just how much pressure they are applying because they have learned to do the technique efficiently. Case in point:
It’s not strength creating the horrific submission pressure, it’s technique. More than once I’ve applied a submission that I didn’t feel like I was using very much strength, yet the persons eyes were popping out of their head. That’s really not my goal, but sometimes the efficiency of technique masks what’s happening. As an aside, this is also why I try to focus on obtaining immobility of my opponent before I apply the submission. I don’t want to hurt anyone and I want to apply the submission as slow as possible. If I can do that, then I am very likely doing the technique correctly.
Watch people rolling. Those who are fighting to finish a submission that looks locked in are most likely not performing the finish efficiently. Small changes in position and focus are what creates the deadly efficient finishing pressure. You should also look at your own submissions. I have had many cases where I thought I was applying a submission properly, but it wasn’t doing the job. Sometimes the solution would come right away, and I’d make adjustments and finish. Other times, I would figure out the solution on the way home. Any submission that you are used to executing can give you surprises when you try it on someone that has unusual physical characteristics, or they are particularly good at defending that submission. Both of these scenarios are opportunities to refine your technique and increase your efficiency, but only if you take the time to analyze what happened and make the lesson stay in your brain.
Learning to be efficient in your submissions also reveals another aspect of “simple” BJJ. It’s not just doing what is basic; it is doing what gets the job done most easily. When I perform a triangle choke, there’s at least half a dozen individual elements I am applying in order to make the most efficient choke possible. I purposely avoid pulling the head down because if I do everything else right, I don’t need to touch the head with my hands. I can reserve that for the most difficult sparring partners. Just because there are so many elements involved doesn’t mean that a basic triangle choke isn’t simple. It’s one of the most fundamental submissions of BJJ, and it’s use as a hold for launching other submissions is unparalleled for me. Despite all the little elements that make it efficient, it is still essentially simple.
Efficiency of motion prevents a lot of bad things from happening. When I am sweeping someone, or performing some throws or takedowns, I don’t want to inject a lot of energy into the system. There are escapes where you reverse the position, but if you do it too fast, your opponent can continue the motion and regain his top position, or at the very least create an opportunity for a scramble or escape. My goal for these situations is to be able to completely control the person and use just enough energy to get the job done. I especially practice my sweeps in a way that I use a minimum of energy. As an example, when I perform a pendulum sweep, I try to lock the person in and essentially lay them down next to me as I go to mount. When it really counts, like in competition, I can add a bit more energy, but if I have the person locked in properly, a lot of sweeps can be performed far slower than you typically see in videos. Even in competition, I have had very slow sweeps that were 100% effective.
Efficient motion also covers things like changing position. When I need to move my arms to a new position, I don’t make large arcing motions. I keep my hands and elbows near my body and try to use the least amount of motion possible. This is even something I practice at night, believe it or not. If I feel like adjusting my arms for my sleeping position, I think about how I can do it without exposing my arms. If I am on my stomach and my arm is above my head and I want it at my side, I don’t make a big motion out to the side. A) this might wake up my wife, and B) if she were already awake, she might be tempted perform an armbar now that she’s started training jiu-jitsu. This is also a useful exercise when I am backpacking and I don’t necessarily have a lot of room to move at night. So for this desired motion from above my head to along my body, I create just enough space under my body so that I can lead with my elbow along my centerline, then rotate my hand down past my hips. The whole time my arm stays near my body and I am efficiently changing position in space. It sounds contrived, but so does getting up in base at home, which I also practice. The point here is it must be habit and habit is built by repetition. Look for any opportunity to practice your BJJ skills.
When I am defending myself against a superior opponent, the last thing I want to do is add extra movement to anything I do. If they have my back, I take the Saulo Ribeiro defense posture and never let my hands stray very far from defending my neck. This avoids nasty things like my opponent shoving my arm down and locking it against my body with his leg.
Another scenario is when I am creating space to escape, I don’t want to allow my elbows to get too far away from my body or else a superior opponent will fill the space under my elbow with something and start setting up an armbar. If I am in someone’s guard, I don’t want to make any big motions or else they can use that as part of a sweep setup. Essentially, any time I am in danger, my first priority is to be efficient in my motion so that I can consolidate my position, maximize my defense posture, and launch my escape attempt without unnecessary motion that will be used against me.
Efficiency also directly translates into less gassing out. If you use your energy wisely and sparingly, you are obviously going to last longer than your opponent that does not pay attention to efficiency of energy use. A cornerstone of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is the concept that if you survive long enough, your opportunity to win will eventually arrive.
When I first started jiu-jitsu, I was horribly inefficient. Even after I adapted to the rigors of training, I still had trouble mustering up enough energy to work with the high level guys for very long. One particular frustration would be how I would roll with the school owner and he would appear to be napping while I was throwing out attack after attack. If I got a little too close to a submission position, he would briefly amp up enough to escape, then settle back into a low energy state. As I spent countless hours sparring, I realized that there are times to be aggressive and to spend your energy rapidly, like when you are escaping or you are in a match and your opponent hasn’t established side control for 3 seconds to get his guard pass points. However, there are far more instances where you can save energy by allowing gravity to assist you, or to place a limb or grip in a threatening location without actually being tense.
Another shining example of efficiency of energy use is when you look at the Metamoris match between Ryron Gracie and Andre Galvao.
Gracie was frequently in a bad position, yet Galvao had to burn a lot of energy to attack. Gracie was the picture of efficiency. If he was in a bad position, he was defensive and forced Galvao to expend more energy. If he wasn’t in a bad position, he was initially very conservative. If the match had lasted longer than 20 minutes, Gracie would have eventually gained the upper hand against an opponent that by that time would have scored vastly more points in a normal sport jiu-jitsu match. Gracie’s efficiency both secured his defense, and without time limits he likely would have secured a submission win, even against a dominating jiu-jitsu player such as Galvao.
The last example I will give is when we get new military guys in the academy. They are young, strong, and willing to expend any amount of energy to quickly dominate their opponent. The first thing I do with them is put them in my closed guard and let them gas out enough so that I’m not worried about them injuring me accidentally, or me accidentally injuring them. Lots of aggressive motion can translate into more chances of something bad happening completely by accident. It takes very little energy to hold someone in your closed guard if they don’t know what they are doing, or they are used to much lower level guys that are sloppy in their guard control. In this scenario, I am doing nothing more than evening up the playing field and keeping things from getting out of control. It also allows me to pick my battles and avoid situations where their physical superiority can overcome even pretty good technique.
Efficiency is Simple
Big motions and complex motions are the enemy of the fundamentals student. The more motion involved, the more opportunity there is for error. This is not just a BJJ concept. I write software for the CNC industry, and the more things that are moving on a machine, the less accuracy you are going to have. Every compounding variable adds more opportunity for error. In BJJ, this translates into how many things are you trying to accomplish at once. The more you are trying to do, the more likely you are to make a mistake. As a fundamentals student, prefer to study the simple things first. The efficiency you learn from doing simple things will help you when you start to build on that knowledge and attempt more complicated things while doing it all in the most efficient manner possible. As you gain knowledge and good habits, things that would have been very error prone
(and definitely not simple) will become easy, efficient, and of course, simple.