Rolling with Others and how I think about it later


Last night I had the privilege of joining a different school for a night of training. I am from Wellington, but am in Whangarei for a week. There is a club up here, so I decided to bring my Gi and have a roll.

This reminded me of something that, I believe, should be foundational to everyone’s BJJ life:

Whenever you have the opportunity, train with new people.

After 2 years at the same place you tend to have a pretty good understanding of everyone’s game. You naturally learn counters, and counters to counters. You discover strategies that work against different opponents. You know what positions to stay away from and what positions you can enter freely without consequence.

When you head off to another school, and hop on the mats with people you’ve never met before, you have to go through the entire discovery process again.

For example, from last night I’ve figured out the following:

– Against opponent A I cannot let him get to the top position. If I do, I won’t get out and will likely get submitted. I also have to be posture-focused while in his guard because he likes to attack from there. I also have to play a sitting hooks guard against him rather than a laying hooks guard (so I’d be attacking with my arms rather than my legs). This is because he sprawls on the hooks which exposes my legs.

These things mean that when I roll against opponent A, I have to look for underhook sweeps and drags from the guard. I have to use an early escape plan.

Since I spent the entire spar on the bottom I don’t yet know what works when on top. So, if we rolled again I would look to test that out.  My hypothesis is that he would have quite a physical bottom game where he looks to break posture. So, I would try to play a busy top game looking for underhooks and collars along the way.

– Against opponent B I cannot allow him to gain side control, because it takes more effort to get out of side control than it does to not allow it in the first place. I was defended while there, but he stayed busy, and kept attacking. Again, I didn’t have a chance to test the top. He also sprawls well on the hooks.

Similar to opponent A (probably because they train together) I would have to play seated looking for underhooks and drags. I would look to just play top and stay busy. I would defend sweeps, so as not to give up position.

– Against opponent C I can play a bit more, but need to be willing to work my way out of things. He defeats lazy-jitsu. He plays a very tight, grabbing game. Top would just be slow and steady, working towards better positioning. He is a north-north top player (someone that just keeps pressing forward) so a laying hooks guard is fine.

I would look to play more east-west in the guard and attack a lot with the legs, with drags and scissors sweep thrown in. My top game would be all about dominating staying clear of arms (so that I don’t just get stuck and have to waste energy working out), and using knee-rides and transitions. Since he likes to grab I would look for arms and opportunities to transition into submissions, rather than trying to work towards submissions.

– Against opponent D I can play a lot more. This opponent rolls, and scoots and flows. Grips, foot placement, blocking with shins and simply countering slight movements is the game are all important. This opponent doesn’t hold position, they advance while looking for spaces to attack. I get to play a lot, and give up position, and try different things, but I have to always be on because submissions could come from anything. There are no resting (mentally)positions against these kinds of opponents.

I would look to play even more against this type of opponent. Why? Because it’s fun.

The best reason to roll with others is that is tells you, very clearly what’s missing in your foundational game. I get to ask the question, “What, when I roll against someone I’ve never met, is a hole in my game?” I can now take these things away and create new triggers for my techniques. I can broaden my game just enough to fit the new things in without making it too big.

This is a great practice that every practitioner should do as often as possible.

Thank you to the folks I rolled with last night. Thank you for helping me grow my game. See you next time!


Shorter Ladders

Jiu-Jitsu is great because we get to spar every time we meet. That means that you get a lot of opportunities to experiment because you get a lot of opportunities to test your new thoughts.

My newest thought was that of making my technical ladders a bit shorter.

The Scissors Sweep is still my go-to sweep against a kneeling opponent. When I’m rolling, and have simply had enough of being on the bottom, I set up the Scissors Sweep. That technique goes something like this.

Closed Guard with the left hand gripping the opponent’s right sleeve and the right hand gripping the opponent’s collar.

Open your guard putting your left leg down by the opponent’s right leg and bringing your right knee across the opponent’s belt line.

Pull your opponent down with your collar grip. Pull up over your head, or across your body with your sleeve grip. Sweep to your right with your left leg an guide the opponent over with your right leg.

Follow your opponent up into the mount.

That’s a longer ladder than I want to have to climb every time I want to sweep. So, I want to shorten the ladder. Here’s how I’ve gone about doing it.

I look for a cross sleeve grip.

The opponent’s posture has to come forward and I have to eliminate the post on the side I want to sweep to. I realised that if I’m able to get a cross grip I can pull my opponent’s arm across his body. If I do it right it also brings him forward. This takes the steps of getting the grips, and breaking the posture and puts them into one step.

I don’t bother with the closed guard.

I usually play a seated guard looking to establish butterfly hooks. However, I also quite like to put my feet on hips and knees when the opponent is kneeling. If I establish a cross sleeve grip I tend to go straight to a hip/knee placement because I’ll look to either arm drag across, or sweep. Instead of having to open my guard, then get my feet in place I simply place my feet very close to where I want them to end up. This effectively cuts the leg placement process in half.

I have also started to bring my right leg, knee first across the opponent’s chest. I create a hook under the opponent’s armpit. This acts as a knee shield (similar to the z-guard) to help keep space, a barrier against around-the-leg passes to my right, and a placement that adds itself very well to the scissors sweep.

So, I develop a guard system around the knee shield with a cross sleeve grip all aimed at the scissors sweep. That systems means that the sweep is always two steps.

Pull my opponent’s arm across and towards my right shoulder as I push on the opponent’s right knee.

Follow over into mount.

Shorter ladder.

My current other options from that guard are:

– Armdrag to back transition

– Triangle if they try to underhook the right leg

– Omoplata if they try to overhook the right leg

– Figure 4 if they pull arm free and post

– Guillotine if they pull the arm free and come forward with the head

I’m also looking to develop a similar system when I can’t get the cross sleeve grip but can get the cross collar grip, which has presented itself as of late.





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)

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