All Roads Lead to Rome

I’m still exploring escapes in my rolling. This week I came to a new revelation. It has to do with a concept that I like to call “Mission Control”.

One BJJ session a while ago my instructor was going over some attacks from side control with an underhook. He talked about how side control with an underhook is his “top position mission control”. What he meant was that he defaults to that spot if he ever gets into trouble.  He feels comfortable there. He likes to attack from there, and is comfortable keeping the position.

That got me thinking about where I most want to be. Where is my mission control? The answer to that will be different for everyone.

Think of Marcelo Garcia for instance. Watch him roll with guys at his academy. You’ll notice that his mission control is the seated butterfly guard. If he gets his guard passed he escapes back to there. If he loses control in mount he goes back to there. If he misses a submission he just goes back to there. All roads lead back to the seated butterfly guard. Then, you start going through his moves and you realise why he defaults back to the seated butterfly guard. He has a great game from that spot.

So, where am I good? Am I good from the combat position going head to head with my opponent? Am I a guard player that loves to be in closed guard? Do I love taking the back? Do I love side control? Where am I best? Where am I the most comfortable?

The answer will help me determine what escapes I use.

In my study of escapes I’ve realise that there are many, many escapes from each position. So, how do you pick which ones to use? Well, understand my mission control spot, and the escapes are picked for me.

There’s a guy that I roll with at the club that always looks to get back to his knees. He loves fighting from there. So, he’s always escaping to his knees, then retreating to reset the fight. There’s another guy that always wants to get back to guard. He’s a guard player, so that’s where he wants to be. He pulls guard from the start. He understands that he wants to be there. Another guy loves being on top, so he generally only uses escapes that give him top position.

This logic not only applies to escapes. It also applies to sweeps, submissions, passes, and takedowns. Know where you like to be, and design your game around getting to there. If you love keeping mount, you’re not going to be an armbar guy. If you love keeping side control you’ll likely be a figure 4/kimura fighter. If you’re a sweep player your top game will be very fluid and attacking because you’re more than happy to reset with a sweep from the bottom if you miss.

With escapes you prioritize. If you love attacking the back you’ll prioritize escapes that put you on the back of the opponent. If you’re a guard player you’ll want to prioritize escapes that put the opponent back into guard. Better yet, if you’re happy in both places you will happily combine escapes to the back with escapes to guard.

Understand where you want to be. Design your escapes (and your entire game) around that.

Or, think of it like this. If you’re in Rome, you’re where you want to be. If you’re not, design a game where all roads lead back to Rome.

A greater understanding

For me, I use things that I have learned about. If I have a question about something, I look for information on it. I try to understand it better. I dig into the mechanics of it, the history, the tradition, the current uses, the science, the experiences of others, and so on. That’s what lead me to BJJ in the first place. Research lead to understanding which lead to action.

In BJJ, when I am learning a new technique, I learn the mechanics of it. That way, I can understand how something works, why it works, and what ways to go about applying it.

For example: Side Control Escape to Guard

This technique is based on creating enough space to bring your knee through, under the opponent in order to recapture guard. The mechanics of it include a bridge, an arm brace, a hip escape, and a hip in with a leading knee.

The bridge creates space for space. It bumps the person up. This is actually, by itself, eliminating space. You’re getting closer to the opponent. But, in the entire scheme of the move, it creates space for the creation of space.

The arm brace fills space. If you’re escaping with your arms in a good defensive posture you are able to use them to brace the opponent. You created space for space with the bridge, then as you hip out you fill that created space with a bracing structure of your arms. Again, this in itself is not an escape. If you stop here you’ll likely get yourself into trouble.

The hip out creates space between you and your opponent. It’s extra space because you bridged. It’s filled space because you’re bracing. The further you hip away, the more space is created for you to fill with your leg as you bring it in to establish guard.

The hip in with the leading knee refills the created space with what you want instead of what they want.

When I understand all that, even in its most basic explanation, I can start to put the move into action. That understanding should drive me to action that reflects the information I have about it. This helps me to see what I’ve missed when the move doesn’t work. Sometimes I doing bridge, or hip-out, or bring my knee back in. Sometimes the opponent blocks a key element of the move. That doesn’t delegitimize the move, it simply presents a problem to be solved, which is why other moves are created.

The vast majority of my submissions lately have come in the form of the cross lapel choke. The reason is because I have developed an understanding of the mechanics of it. That understanding lead to action. That action lead to experience, which lead to problems, which lead to analytical thinking, which lead to new strategy based on the original understanding of the mechanics.

So, if you struggle with a technique, go away and do your homework. Learn why a move works, I bet (not that I’m a gambling man) you’ll see it in a whole new light.

Posture in Position

I’m still working to become a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu escape artist. This means that in my training, I am spending a lot of time underneath. I’m not fighting too hard to keep guard. I’m not looking to sweep or attack too much either. If I end up on top I usually give away sweeps like they’re the gross pieces of candy that always end up at the bottom of the bag becasue nobody wants to eat them.

My new revelation from this method is this:

Any position is only as strong as the posture that holds it.

My instructor teaches that BJJ is like realestate. The key is location, location, location. So, thinking about that- Who cares how good location is if you just put up poorly built house. In BJJ we want a solid building, not something like what’s pictured above.

One of the distictives of BJJ is the ability to fight from any position. Not only posture from the top, but posture from the bottom.

My posture is the most important aspect of my escapes.

When someone passes my guard and ends up in side control I need to ensure that my posture keeps me safe. After all, you can’t attempt to escape if you’re dead.

My ideal is that before they get an established control I am on my side, chin tucked, bottom arm tight, and in contact with my bottom knee. My top arm tucked across my abdomen.

If they catch me flat I tuck my far arm across my abdomen, as deep as I can get it. If I give up the underhook, they can attack. If they attack, I have to defend. If I’m defending my escapes are delayed and limited.

I block the cross face with my other arm. If they control my head, they control my upper body to a good degree. If I’m too late for that, I block the hip.

I put the near side knee in the opponent’s hip. This blocks the knee-ride and mount. However, I was very lazy on this last class. Got caught a few times giving up mount.

This posture allows me to be safe while underneath side control. Therefore, the opponent has to transition to another position, which opens space for an escape. Or, the opponent has to sit up to try to get the hidden arm. That, obviously opens up a ton of space for escapes.

It’s the same in mount. Posture dictates survival, which dictates the ability to escape. I turn onto my side, block their hips with tight, protected arms. I open up one side of my collar, but completely block the other side. I’m relatively safe with my posture. That makes the oppenent have to take a risk to make something happen.

Basically, in any position, know what your opponent needs to attack, and hide it or protect it. Also, know what transitions your oppoent has available, and prevent the more dangerous ones. I’m happy for someone to transition to north-south, but I’m not happy for them to take knee-ride, mount, or the back.

So, position is only as good as the posture you take while in it.

In the Ground

There are some nights that BJJ is just frustrating.

At class on Monday I went in deciding that I was going to play my bottom game, focusing on my escapes. In my last post I talked of letting people blow past my guard in order to develop into an escape artist.

It’s not at all fun.

I’m one of the smallest guys at my academy. We tend to attract big guys for some reason. The not-quite-as-big guys we have tend to not like little guys running around too much. They’re like the paranoid mother at the play ground with her kids. They can do whatever they want as long as they’re not moving… at all. There are 3 or 4 guys that just pass guard and hold on for dear life.

Anyway, I wanted to share with you some of my discoveries in my pursuit of establishing the roots of my BJJ life.

1- Escaping and survival are much easier when you’ve got someone’s back.

Duh, right? Whenever I fight a large guy (which is a relative term, and relatively everyone is large compared to me) I become determined to take their back. I figure it’s the best way to stay out from underneath them. However, it completely goes against my game plan of escaping the bottom so I need to avoid that temptation.

2- The basic escapes (bridge-hip out- knee in to guard, and bridge-hip out- to knees) seem to work the best. Another one I was trying was a kind of sit-up escape when they have both arm over the far side of the body. I got caught in two head-and-arm triangles from there.

3- Survival is the key to escapes. When I forced escapes against more skilled opponents I got caught. However, when I got into solid survival posture, and forced them to make a move, escapes presented themselves.

4- If you’ve had a bad day at work, and are in a bad mood heading into training, don’t spend the night working escapes. It makes you want to kill things.

5- If a guy just wants to lay on top you kind of just have to let him, unless you’re stronger. Lesson here is, start the escape before he establishes control, or bring a pillow.

I personally don’t understand what anyone could hope to learn from holding down a little guy in side control for 5 minutes. I mean, I’m not paying for a cuddle. That’s when we have to start bringing out ‘munter’ moves like the forearm to the throat, and the thumb dig into the chest, and pretending like you’re going to throw up kind of stuff.

6- Believe in the technique. If you’ve bridged and don’t hip escape its just wasted effort. If you hip escape and don’t attempt to get the knee in it’s just wasted effort. If you attempt to get the knee in and don’t follow it through into guard it’s wasted effort.

It’s the same with any move really. I love the hook sweep from butterfly guard. If I fight to get the hooks in, fight for the grips, fight for the position, and don’t follow through with the move… yeah, you guessed it, wasted effort.

Believe in the move!

Wayne Gretzky once said that “100% of the shots you don’t take won’t go in”. That’s true in BJJ as well. 100% of the moves you don’t fully attempt won’t work. Escapes are no different. Just go with the technique until it’s actually stopped by your opponent.

7- Finally,  a plan is better than a… no plan (?).

I’m starting to see that I need a plan for each hand position. That plan could be another escape, or a way to get back to the one you want. If I lose the underhook I need a plan. If I get blocked I need a plan. If they switch base I need a plan. If I don’t have a plan I’m always going to be behind in the game.

So, next class I’ll be back underneath.

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