In the Brazilian jiu-jitsu world the word “fundamentals” is often said reverently, and for good reason. There are many benefits to having a crushing mount, excellent closed guard, or perfect bridges. The classic BJJ progression of attaining top position through a sweep or takedown, then passing the guard to a dominant position and then finding a submission is an effective game plan. While you should have an appropriate ability to play that basic game per your belt level, there is also a benefit in investing time toward techniques or positions not often considered traditional or fundamental.
Wrestling coaches will talk about an addition to your core game as having a “bag of tricks” to reach into when there is only a minute left in a match and you’re down on points. Developing a skill set that is off the beaten path not only serves as a backup for when your “A-game,” it is fun as well.
There is a whole set of submissions I personally think of as “gimmick” submissions. This is not a way to put them down, but simply because they normally only work once and after that the counter or prevention is so easy and obvious that the technique is unlikely to work again on that same opponent. As an example, I put most of the submissions executed from the bottom of side control in this category. I have most certainly been tapped by some in my career, but I was able to adjust my game to take many of those submissions off the table very quickly. These “gimmick” moves are valuable because they thrive on surprise and thus can be a good addition to a “bag of tricks,” but these aren’t really moves to build an entire game on.
There are however far more reliable and repeatable attacks that you can mix into a bread-and-butter game to give it bit of variance. Some examples include:
While hardly considered exotic anymore, rolling back attacks are an excellent extra option for attacking a tight defense. Having a few rolling attacks from several different top positions is a good way to keep an opponent off balance during a match.
Leg locks are very much in vogue right now, and adding a few lower body attacks to your game can make you a significantly more dangerous grappler. Learning how to enter into a leg entanglement after escaping from a bad position can allow you go from down in a match to winning by submission in an instant.
The crucifix is a very viable alternative to the traditional back control. While you will not get your 4 points in jiu-jitsu scoring rules, the crucifix actually provides more offensive options as you can attack the neck and arm simultaneously. It might actually fill a technical gap that exists between your back attack game and your turtle attacking game.
For white and blue belts, the process of finding and integrating these twists can be challenging. The first place to look for some spice is your instructor. Every upper belt develops a personal game that can divert from the classic takedown/sweep-pass-submit blueprint. At the highest levels of sport jiu jitsu, the current metagame of guard play is to sweep directly to the back, bypassing the need to deal with an opponent's guard all together. Nearly every school with a competition-focused class will teach techniques that feed into this particular twist on the classic jiu-jitsu game plan. This is a widely taught variation, and all instructors have their own personal tricks and positions they are eager to pass on to their students.
Another source for twists are seminars. Learning from different instructors will expose students to new perspectives. There are also YouTube and video instructionals that can be excellent sources when looking for new aspects to add to one’s game.
These twists on the traditional path are what give an individual game their personality and make grappling fun. The best route is to experiment and see what fits into your personal game. These small additions will not only bring their own benefit but also make your core game more effective as well.
About the Author: T.P. Grant
T.P. Grant has written for Bloody Elbow, FloGrappling, and FloCombat. He is a brown belt with Team Redzovic and dabbles in Sambo and Judo as well.