Early Game vs Late Game

I’m not sure how to say this, but I’m currently addicted to watching Super Metroid speedruns, which is a niche video game community where players try to beat a game as quickly as possible. Some speedruns rely heavily on complex bug exploits and out of bounds play, but by and large, most speedruns require pixel-perfect execution and flawless timing.

Currently, the world record for Super Metroid completion sits at 41 minutes and 58 seconds. For a casual player, the game can take 10 hours or more. (Check out some slick SNES moves with this video.)

If you watch speedrunners attempt world records, you will see them reset. A lot. As soon as a jump is off or a random variation in an item spawn is off, reset. Since every second counts, they don’t bother finishing a full run if they have already made a critical error. The problem, however, is that resetting for each mistake means that they get a lot of practice running the early stages of the game and far less practice running later stages simply because they play them less often.

The result: a world record run which requires flawless execution from start to finish is built on lopsided preparation.

In jiu-jitsu, we face a similar problem.

I frequently hear new students question the effectiveness of certain “dominant” positions. For example, in class they are often told that mount is one of the most powerful positions to achieve, but when they roll, mount feels far less stable than side control. Worse yet, they feel like they have even less options from mount than they do in other top positions. The gutsy white belts will continue jumping to mount even if they get rolled over most of the time, but for every gutsy white belt there is a timid white belt who opts to play it safe and avoid taking mount entirely.

This is an early sign of poor late-game training, and unfortunately, traditionally training and rolling practices can work against the development of your late game.

Let me explain.

A usual roll might look like this:

  • Fist bump
  • Someone pulls guard; the other person passes
  • The person on top gets swept
  • The new person on top works to pass
  • The person on top gets the pass
  • The round ends

While there are variations on this, to be sure, it’s difficult to argue against the fact that under typical free roll conditions will spend the vast majority of our time either retaining or passing guard. If you only take mount once every 10 rolls, of course you are going to feel far less comfortable there!

If your training always begins with a fist bump from a neutral position, you are going to accumulate a significant number of reps for your early game techniques and relatively few reps for your late game techniques. The round timer going off or you quickly losing the position you spent four minutes working to achieve are like reset buttons in jiu-jitsu. You made some progress, but you’re back at the beginning of the game again.

You can use two strategies to get more reps in your late game:

1. Positional sparring. Start in the specific positions you want to work on, and immediately reset when you or your partner achieve specific goals (like escaping or getting a submission). Some instructors mix positional sparring into classes, but most students overlook incorporating positional sparring into their open mat time. If you don’t do positional sparring, you are missing out on the ideal way to isolate the skills you want to work on.

2. Streamline your gameplan. One of the things I admire about Marcelo Garcia is how efficient his competition game is. Virtually every technique he initiates is part of his path to the seatbelt. Because he is relentless about pursuing the seatbelt, he gets a lot more repetitions on using and applying it than someone who plays a game driven more by in-the-moment inspiration. Choosing to obsess over achieving one position or executing one technique won’t get you away from the early game problem completely, but it will help you get more focused reps.

Don’t neglect your late game. Start working on it today.


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