Jiu-jitsu is often on my mind, but it is just one aspect of my life. When I read, I prefer philosophy over fantasy, political over fiction. As I read, I naturally test and apply concepts to areas not necessarily intended by the text. The Bible, Marcus Aurelius, Augustine, Hayek, the Art of War. . . So many books contain wisdom that transcends the immediate topic area. It is as if an abstract concept is made real through application, despite the various applications.
Sometimes, application to jiu-jitsu is apparent, as if the writer were advising a blue belt on how to learn and grow.
- “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”
- “Look in, let not either the proper quality, or the true worth of anything pass thee, before thou hast fully apprehended it”
- “As flattering friends pervert, so reproachful enemies mostly correct.”
- “There is an advantage in obedience to such rules not being coerced, not only because coercion as such is bad, but because it is, in fact, often desirable that rules should be observed only in most instances and that the individual should be able to transgress them when it seems to him worthwhile to incur the odium which this will cause.”
- “Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat.”
These thoughts were obviously intended for a purpose other than jiu-jitsu. Yet because jiu-jitsu is laser focused on the idea that “If it works, it’s good jiu-jitsu”, fundamental truths of the physical and mental are forced to the front. We are led to questioning, “is it life, or is it jiu-jitsu?” Simply put, yes.
True gems of wisdom can be applied to various contexts without losing potency. We all color our interpretation of what we read, and sometimes that coloring reveals a transcendent concept that can be applied concretely to other areas.
“The process of learning involves interpretation, and the fewer particulars we require in order to arrive at our generalization, the more apt pupils we are in the school of wisdom.”
Abstraction allows us to apply mental models to concrete instances in jiu-jitsu. For example, allowing yourself to be picked up in the air for the sake of completing a submission works fine in a sport context since slams are generally not allowed anymore, but in a MMA or self defense context, a slam can knock you unconscious and have dire consequences. The abstract concept here is that a submission is not worth attempting completion if it puts you in a worse position. A reinterpretation of this concept is that when you have mount and are working on a submission, you should always keep mount rather than allow a reversal. The top mount is more valuable in any context than any guard.
Keep an open mind for wisdom, no matter what the source is. It may be a philosophical text, or it might be a white belt. The best wisdom does not need to be attributed to a source to be given weight.
(yet for the curious, quotes are from:
The Bible, 1 Thessalonians 5:21, The Apostle Paul
Thoughts of Marcus Aurelius, Emperor Marcus Aurelius
Confessions of St. Augustine, St. Augustine
The Constitution of Liberty, Friedrich Hayek
The Art of War, Sun Tzu
Ideas Have Consequences, Richard M. Weaver)
I’ve been on both sides of this guide.
- Level 10: Coach looks like he’s sleeping. Your attacks aren’t even close.
- Level 9: Coach moves his hands. He knows what you are thinking. This is still going to end badly.
- Level 8: Coach actually defends a submission attempt. You apparently have some idea of what you are doing. But not that much.
- Level 7: Coach sweeps you. He either wants to look at the clock right side up, or he’s concerned you might flail and give him a black eye.
- Level 6: Coach submits you after twenty seconds. It’s either competition training day, or you nearly injured him. Spaz.
- Level 5: Coach shrimps. You almost did something good.
- Level 4: Coach grips you. You either did something good, or coach is bored.
- Level 3: Coach is submitted by you. Was it legit? You can never tell.
- Level 2: Coach submits you after five minutes. Coach is having fun. You might be getting tested but you aren’t sure.
- Level 1: Coach promotes you. This is all you, kid. Good job.
Everything is an excuse to have jiu-jitsu involved.
First up, Brown Belt On The Shelf
Then, we have The Night Before Christmas
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all ‘cross the mat
Not a student was tapping, not even to naps;
The heavy bags hung beside the mats with care,
In hopes that St. Jiu-Jitsu soon would be there;
The students were nestled all snug in their chokes,
While squeezing of RNCs danc’d on their throats,
And Coach in his black belt, and I in brown belt,
Had settled our match with a long vicious pelt —
When out in the lot there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the mat to see what was the matter.
Away to the door I flew like a flash,
Swung open the front door, ran out in a dash.
The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,
Gave the luster of medals to objects below;
When what should appear, despite my tired hands
But a stretch limo, and many Brazilians,
With a little old driver, a plate that said “JITZ”,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Jitz.
More rapid than armbars his students they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and call’d them to train:
“Now! black belts, now! brown belts, now! purples and a blue,
“On! takedown, on! control, on! tap them so true;
“Take center of the mat! To top of the mount!
“Now smash away! Smash away! Smash all from mount!”
As black belts that before the wild white belts fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount them who’ll die;
So on to the tap till our students were through,
With their hands full of pain — St. Jiu-Jitsu knew:
And then in a twinkling, I saw on the mat
The planning and springing of each little trap.
I protected my neck, and I choked with no sound,
Down with defense, St. Jiu-Jitsu made me feel bound:
He was dress’d all in white, and a red belt did wear,
And the belt was all scar’d up with age and tear;
He attacked me with ease and took my back,
And he look’d like a black belt revealing my lack.
His eyes — how they twinkled! His tricks he would show,
His hands were like vices, his toes were like velcro;
His normal looking arms, with ease did he throw,
And the gi on his back was as white as the snow;
His knowledge of jiu-jitsu he showed with skill
I dreamed and wish’d, oh if it came in a pill!
He had a stern face, and his hips made of steel
That shrimp’d when he swep’t, turning me just like a wheel:
He was normal and plain, simply carried himself,
And I laugh’d when he tapped me in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of my head
Soon gave knowledge I had everything to dread.
He spoke not a word, but focused like a merc,
And submitt’d all the colored belts; no work,
And laying both his hands aside of his waist
And giving a bow, he departed, posthaste.
He sprung to his ride, to his team gave a smile,
And away they all flew, after thrashing us a while:
But I heard him exclaim, ere he rolled out of sight —
Jiu-Jitsu to all, and to all a good night.
Nobody likes having a stack pass done to them, but as with anything else, there’s a way to counter and turn the tables. You can prevent the stack pass from progressing and you can get in a good position for multiple attacks.
Every fundamentals student wants to learn how to submit people, or how to escape from submissions. After all, submissions end the fight, match, or sparring. You are also told that you should be a submission oriented grappler. At every turn, we are introduced to classes and technique videos that revolve around submissions and escapes from those submissions. What if I told you that it’s not submissions and escapes you should be focusing on?
“These are not the submissions you are looking for.” -Obi-Wan BJJ
How To Submit
Let’s look at submissions. Most students have heard the phrase “position before submission.” This is meant as a reminder that you shouldn’t look for a submission from an inferior position, like under side control or inside closed guard. If we go a bit deeper, this phrase should also be interpreted to mean that submissions are built from good control, because if you can’t control your opponent for very long, you won’t have the time to do any but the fastest submissions, and speed is not a fundamentals student’s friend.
Our real goal for the jiu-jitsu submission is to focus carefully on the control aspect of the position, so that your opponent can’t escape while you work to lock in the submission. One place this is illustrated is when you have top mount on your opponent and you want to do a cross collar choke. You reach your hand in, and your opponent tries to upa you. Instead of accepting the upa and hoping to finish the cross collar choke from the guard, your reaction should be to let go of the choke and post out so that you remain on top of your opponent. If you stay on top, you’ll get more opportunities to attack from the more dominant position, whereas a reversal may lead to your guard getting passed or worse.
How To Escape
What about escapes? Surely they are important, aren’t they? Of course, but a proper escape is done at the right time. If your opponent’s only goal is to control you, your escape attempts are much harder, and it’s a waste of energy to try to escape very strong control. Looking at the mount like we did above, your ideal time to escape is either before your opponent has fully established the position, or when your opponent has committed to an attack. This means you have a few seconds to escape before the energy expenditure is not worth it. This applies to both competition where points are involved, as well as self defense where you may be up against a physically stronger opponent.
After the initial few seconds, it is obvious that your opponent is in control of the situation. Your best avenue now is to become defensive. Wasting energy or attempting difficult escapes will only give your opponent what they want, which is opportunity for submissions. Every motion you make is going to be used against you, especially when you are up against someone who is stronger or more technically skilled than you. So when you are mounted, assume a defensive posture where you are protecting your arms and protecting your neck.
Unless you are down on points in a competition, there is little incentive to do anything but maintain your defensive position and wait for your opponent to commit to a particular attack. Even with superior control, almost all attacks involve numerous motions to finish the attack. From mount, armbars require quite a bit of motion to get into place. Americanas require separating the arm from the body while maintaining proper weight distribution. Chokes require both arms to be committed to the neck, leaving less ability to post out to maintain position. In all of these attacks, the person on top must open up opportunities for the person on the bottom to escape. There is no perfect attack. Your goal is to maintain a solid defense that slows down your attacker and gives you more chances to find the right timing and the right escape.
As A Whole
All of these angles of thinking about jiu-jitsu can be summed up like this:
Defense before escape
Escape before control
Control before submission
Your primary mode of thinking should be to keep yourself safe at all times, using proper defense to guard even against unlikely scenarios, such as attempted submissions from bad positions. Ideally, good defense will allow you to go straight to control, like when starting a jiu-jitsu match where you are both standing, which is a neutral position against your opponent. You still need a good defense against your opponents takedowns, but if you can initiate your own desired progression, you’ll go from takedown to control to submission without any need for escaping.
Things don’t always go according to plan and you will find yourself in an inferior position. Now you must implement a good defense before you can think about escape. Once you have escaped, you can attempt to get control of your opponent and get a dominant position, which leads to controlling that position. After fighting to a position you can control, your goal is to avoid going backwards to someplace you have to go back to defense and escape. Ensure that all aspects of control are in place, then and only then can you start to think about submissions.
Tactics And Benefits
This style of thinking will serve you well for both competition and self-defense. Don’t be in a rush to get escapes and submissions. If you focus instead on defense and control, you’ll not only give yourself time to come up with a good plan, you’ll also demoralize and frustrate your opponent. That frustration often leads to opportunities for you to advance your goals.
Another advantage to this is that you are far less likely to injure yourself or others. For example, heel hooks are widely considered dangerous because they can result in serious knee injury. If you treat a heel hook as a position you must control before you ever think about the submission, there is very little chance of hurting your opponent. When you think of heel hooks as something you must catch before your opponent can slither out of the position, you are going to go fast and hard, which is far more likely to injure your opponent.
When you demonstrate the kind of control required to immobilize your opponent and prevent all of their escape attempts, the submissions are very easy, require very little force, and are so controlled that there is very little risk of injuring your opponent. When your defense is so good that even a more technically skilled opponent has trouble attacking you, your escapes are done on your terms and with minimized chance of submission or worse position.
Focus first on defense, then focus on control. Escapes and submissions will flow naturally and easily when you do.
I can’t remember anything
Can’t tell if this is true or dream
I know inside I failed my team
This terrible silence stops me
Now the black belt is through with me
I’m waking up, I can now see
I should have tapped, it’s clear to me
Nothing is real but pain now
Take my breath as I wish for death
Oh please, Coach, wake me
Back to the mat that’s much too real
Inside chokes that I must feel
But can’t look forward to the zeal
Look to the taps that I’ll take
Fed through the technique stuck in me
Just like a youtube novelty
Tied to black belts that make me be
Cut this life off from me
Take my breath as I wish for death
Oh please, Coach, wake me
Now the sparring’s gone, I’m just done
Oh Coach, help me
Take my breath as I wish for death
Oh please, Coach, help me
Darkness imprisoning me
All that I see
I cannot breathe
I cannot leave
Trapped in myself
Body my holding cell
Black Belts have taken my sight
Taken my speech
Taken my hearing
Taken my arms
Taken my legs
Taken my soul
Left me with life in hell