BJJ Gameplanning: Why Some Techniques Work Better with Others
If we maximize the connections between techniques, we can solve big problems in our jiu-jitsu and streamline the efficiency of how we roll.
As I got deeper into my blue belt career, I began to encounter a strange problem more frequently: Some of the techniques I learned in class or from instructionals felt disjointed and awkward when I used them in live rolling.
I could execute the technique themselves just fine in drilling, and the live nature of the roll wasn’t the problem. I was finding that if I wanted to try the leg drag pass I just learned, for example, by the time I got a sweep and was on top, I was not in position for the leg drag. I had to change my grips and adjust my footwork before I had the ingredients to begin the technique.
At first, I thought the problem was skill in the technique, so I went back to drilling, asked for feedback from my instructors, and isolated the position.
For a newish technique being done by a blue belt, everything seemed fine. I was hitting the leg drag against appropriate training partners and could feel myself becoming more comfortable with the technique.
When I took the technique back to live rolling, the problem reappeared. If I swept my opponent to get on top, the leg drag felt out of reach and clunky again.
Frustrated with myself and with the leg drag, I started to watch more competition, rolling, and instructional footage from grapplers who used the leg drag to try to discern where I might be going wrong. My technique was not perfect, but from what I could tell, I had the right idea and was making the right choices for the most part. I was looking for the right setups. I was setting the right grips. I was attempting the right movements.
And then I realized the problem: None of the leg draggers I was watching ever used the sweeps I liked to use.
Puzzle Piece Techniques
In jiu-jitsu, the volume of attacks and counters available in any position can make the sport feel like an all-you-can-twist buffet of joint locks and chokes and transitions, but the reality of the sport is that some techniques naturally work better in combination with others. As your grappling style matures and your knowledge grows, you will find yourself learning new techniques that are perfectly viable in their own right but choosing not to use them because they are not a fit for your game.
Some caution is worthwhile in this process as sometimes “this does not fit in my game” is code for “I’m not good at this so I don’t want to feel bad about myself by failing,” but in general, we should be thinking critically about what makes sense for our own system of techniques and what does not.
Here are your goals:
- The successful execution of one technique should put you in prime position to execute the next technique with minimal adjustments in your position, stance, or grips.
- Your preferred counters and escapes should bring you back into the scenario where you can resume your gameplan with your preferred position, stance, and grips.
- By building a strategy around this philosophy, you can more rapidly advance your positional dominance while maintaining control of your opponent.
You can start this process for any position or technique of your choosing and ripple your way outward, but my recommendation is to consider your sweeps from guard and your guard passes first. You will find yourself in these positions often and forging a more worthwhile bond between your bottom and top games will make it much easier to grow your offense.
For my part, one of the reasons I found difficulty with the leg drag was that my favorite sweeps from guard did not naturally connect to the leg drag.
When I dug into the research, it turned out that many of the top leg drag passers in the world played a de la Riva focused bottom game, often looking for berimbolos and more traditional de la Riva sweeps along the way.
Look at how seamlessly Paulo Miyao’s leg drag pass ties into his berimbolo game:
If we look at other grapplers with signature sweeps and similar passes, we find a similar trend. Bernado Faria, for example, is well known for his deep half guard and his over-under pressure passing. It turns out that many deep half sweeps naturally lend themselves to finishing in a position where an over-under pass variation is more easily started:
In my case, I am obsessed with butterfly guard. If that gameplan goes well for me, the completion of the sweep puts me in position for a cross knee pass or a similar pass from that ecosystem. The better butterfly positioning I had, the worse my leg drag options were. Where de la Riva sweeps and berimbolos entangle you with your opponent’s legs and necessitate many of your grips to drift below the beltline, the butterfly guard had me focusing more on upper body grips.
If my opponent stood to evade my butterfly guard, I found that switching to de la Riva often did not make sense either. If I had worked to set my butterfly hook inside the thigh, the more natural transition was to pursue x-guard or single leg x-guard, and those sweep options often lead to over-under passes and transitions into the single leg takedown.
The Cutting Room Floor
Over the years, I have had to step away from several techniques that I otherwise liked because they derailed the flow of my gameplan. They required me to switch my grips too often, and they did not readily connect to the other pieces of my jiu-jitsu. Again, I would caution newer grapplers especially from being over-zealous with this philosophy as you might not have the context to effectively decide what needs tossed and what simply needs more practice, but learning to think this way is one of the most valuable moments of progress in my journey.
At times I have had to rebuild a game around injuries that permanently prohibited me from using certain kinds of techniques--what does a gameplan look like if triangle chokes are no longer an option?
On other occasions, I revampled huge swaths of my gameplan because I found a singular technique that I really liked--how do I build an entire game around the arm drag?
And over and over again, I shift my focus from one technique to another because it simply makes more sense for my preferred strategy--if I really like the seatbelt, does it make sense to chase the Darce instead of perfecting my spin behind when my opponent sets the underhook?
You should start asking yourself similar questions and mapping out where your game does, and does not, connect. You might make some big discoveries.