Last night was my first roll of 2012. It felt great to get back onto the mats in a new year. I had two weeks off from jiu-jitsu over the holidays and that two weeks provided me with some good things.

1- A chance to rest my body from a year of training.

2- Some time to think deeply about what techniques are included in my game.

3- An opportunity to map out my gameplan.

Number 1 was great because I had a few bumps and bruises that weren’t healing. As anyone else that does BJJ knows, we pretty much always roll with some kind of injury. Since most of us are at least slightly addicted to the game we just can’t seem to bring ourselves to rest when we’re hurt. We usually just figure that if we end up losing whatever limb it is that’s hurt we are better off without it. After all, less limbs probably make escapes easier… right?


Number 2 was great because it allowed me to simplify my game. I didn’t go away and gather more information. I went away to narrow things down.

I’m not sure if I’m the only one with this issue, but when I’m heading to class every week during the year I end up processing so much information. Most weeks are introductions to new techniques. Even without thinking about it I end up adding them into my gameplan. By the end of the year I find that my gameplan map is a lot wider than it should be.

I’ll explain. In all things there’s width and there’s depth.

Width is all the moves. There is soooo much width to jiu-jitsu. There’s closed guard, butterfly guard, deep half guard, z-guard, x-guard, DLR, side control, switchbase, headlock, reverse switchbase, kneeride, mount, and so on and so on and so on and so on. There are positions within positions.

Then, there are armbars, cutting armbars, figure 4s, keylocks, americana, omoplatas, monoplatas, gogoplatas, enough chokes to… well… choke a mule, and all sorts of other ways to hurt your friends.

Then you’ve got sweeps and reversals and escapes.

With all that, it very easy to create a very wide game. A game that has a huge number of positions and attacks within those positions. However, all that creates is a ‘jack of all trades- master of none’ fighter.

Then, there’s depth. This is the thing that all great fighters have in common. Watch Andre Galvao, Marcelo Garcia, Roger Gracie, and all the other greats. They all have simple gameplans consisting of a few moves that are understood at a really deep level.

Roger Gracie makes the most of the Single Underhook Pass, Scissors Sweep, and Cross Collar Choke from Mount. He uses basic jiu-jitsu at a depth that years and years and years of mastery of a single thread within a single subject creates.

Then, look at Marcelo Garcia. He has a depth to his Hooks Sweep from the Butterfly Guard that has no rival. He focuses on that sweep and figures out how to get it from anywhere. All his escapes put him in positions to transition directly into the sweep. He adds variations and counters to counters. He’s added depth to the Hooks Sweep.

So, I simplified my gameplan over the holidays. Now I have a map of what I want to do from any position. It’s simple, with just 3 or 4 options, all based on a priority scale.

Last night, in my first roll of 2012, with my new, simplified gameplan, I felt pretty good. I was able to concentrate on the real basics of jiu-jitsu. Things like grip fighting, underhooks, posture, weight distribution, anticipation, and creating set-ups. I was computing those things because I wasn’t having to compute a hundred different moves instead. I was able to focus all my attention on getting back to where I felt dangerous and adjusting to the reactions of my opponent.

As Josh Waitzkin puts it in his fantastic book The Art of Learning, I was ‘making smaller circles’.

Number 3 was a natural follow on from number 2. In fact, I’ve probably already talked about it since it works so closely… in fact, I probably should have only had 2 numbers.

Lesson learned.

Keep rollin’ (DMX styles)


5 thoughts on “Simplify

  1. Nice article! I had a similar lay off over Christmas – sprained a knee ligament doing a valley drop throw wrong in my last class of the year, so it was a good time to have a rest.

    My Prof frequently talks about how Roger Gracie wins world championships using only the techniques we learn in the fundamentals class. That brings me hope 🙂

    • GrahamB,
      I hope you get over your injury quickly. The only stink think about coming back from injury rest, as opposed to just normal rest, is that you can be tentative. However, rest is still rest and it’s amazing how it clears both your body and mind.

      Roger is such an amazing exmaple of the depth of basics. It’s the moves that EVERYONE knows but no one can stop. The reason no one can stop them is because he’s developed little sub techniques for every counter. Garcia is the same but with a whole different set of techniques.

      It should tell lower ranked students (like myself) a lot when we see that the higher the level of grappler, the smaller pool of techniques (width wise) he/she actually includes in his game.

      Less is the new more.

  2. What you mention in regard to depth vs width is pivotal. I too read ‘The Art Of Learning’ and it’s a soothing read. It is my habit now to develop my game in this manner, taking sidesteps (width) and then running the marathon.

    When you get to mapping out your game you might try this, I use sublime text which has a great multiline tab feature, for example:

    Switch base
    The farm (leg locks)

    Knee ride
    Baseball bat choke
    Spin through arm bar
    Double knee ride
    Knee ride to mount
    Knee ride to far side
    Side control
    Opposite knee

    Paper cutter grip
    Side control

    I’m very free form about it and change the organisation of the tree however I like.

    • Yeah man, it would be cool to have a look. I once saw a map of Jason Scully’s closed guard game. It was a huge map but only had 2 or 3 sweeps and 3 or 4 submissions in the entire thing. It was a small amount of techniques but mapped out according to every possible reaction of his opponent. I can’t seem to find it anywhere anymore, but it was another great example of depth.

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