Build Funnels Into Your Jiu-Jitsu Game

As I train more and more and I get a better idea of what “my game” is, I find myself using a similar principle more often. I like to call it “funneling.” What I mean when I use this term is getting to certain positions that dramatically reduce my opponent’s options. Since I am familiar with the positions, I can react accordingly, and I will pick positions where I feel I have the advantage, whether that advantage is mechanical or simply a matter of my being more experienced with the position.

It all started with closed guard. I was tired of being triangled and swept by one of my main training partners from his closed guard. I realized that while I sometimes got swept when I stood up, I rarely got submitted. Sure, I would get caught here and there in crazy omoplata scrambles, but for the most part I was able to stand up and open his guard.

So I started standing every time I found myself in closed guard.

This dramatically cut the amount of attacks I had to worry about. Triangles and armbars were almost out of the equation if I broke grips correctly and I kept my posture on my to my feet. Now all I had to worry about were lumberjack sweeps, sucker sweeps, and some kind of hail Mary omoplata attempt which could all be prevented by being aware of what my opponent’s options were and positioning my feet and arms accordingly. My success rate of passing the closed guard skyrocketed, so I started applying this principle to other areas of my game looking for options that narrowed my opponent’s options and made him more predictable.

Eventually, I started to apply this concept to my entire guard passing game and not just my response to closed guard. When I was a purple belt (and that seems like forever ago), I went to Atlanta for a Pans training camp at Alliance HQ. I rolled with Chris Moriarty, and he kept passing my guard by setting up different folding passes. Then he would choke or wristlock me repeatedly from mount.

This left an impression. My later purple belt years and brown belt years were spent funneling my passing into the folding pass position. As jiu-jitsu continues to evolve and more and more guards come into vogue I find some tranquility in being able to use footwork and grips to get my opponent to give me an angle where I can get both of his knees onto the mat and sprawl on them. Here his options are very limited, and I have an incredible mechanical advantage -- not only is all my weight pinning his hips and knees, but his knees are facing away from me, while all my big muscles are facing him.

The folding pass is a funnel for my guard passing game. I have a strong mechanical advantage, and I can consistently predict my opponent’s reactions.

Here is me teaching the folding pass at a seminar:

Today, I have built myself funnels for virtually every aspect of my game. I always enjoyed the guard for its variety, and over the years I have gravitated more toward butterfly guard and single leg X-guard variations because I can them in both gi and no-gi, they let me rest my mangled hands, and the mechanical power of these positions for sweeps consistently open the doors I need to either advance my position or attack with leg locks. I’ve also done the same for my takedown game, spending more time on tie-ups and gripping sequences that are less open-ended for my opponent and give me the control I need to press the attack.

As I simplified my game and worked so I could do similar techniques in both gi and no-gi, I am able to do same things over and over and react faster when they become available, keeping me ahead. My friend Reilly Bodycomb has been a huge influence over the last few years, not only in the stand up and leglock portion of my game but his approach to “always grappling the same.” His influence has helped me feel comfortable competing in gi, no-gi, and even sambo. Even if a ruleset bans heel hooks, I can still use my same entries for anklelocks or kneebars.

(If you haven’t checked out Reilly’s new Top Rock Turbo 2 instructional, do so now.)

Funneling can be applied at every belt level. The easiest place to start is simply insisting on getting to a position you like, like forcing half guard when you are on top trying to pass. As you get more advanced, the idea of funneling starts to look like a more complex strategy, like Bernardo Faria’s deep half guard for example, but the core principle is still the same: Get to the positions where you are comfortable and can easily predict what happens next.

What position do you find yourself funneling your opponent into? How can you build on that to improve your game?