Game Sense in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Thanks to Black Friday deals, I built a new PC and started playing Overwatch, the team-based competitive shooter. While I’m still a dirty scrub at that game, I have enjoyed looking into the world of professional players to pick up tips. A concept that comes up frequently is “game sense,” and it has applications to BJJ that I want to talk about here. Stick with me even if you're not a gamer -- it will be worth it.

Game sense is the ability to understand the current state of the game and predict what the opponents are going to do so you can act accordingly. Your mechanical skills are your aim, movement, positioning, reflexes, etc., while game sense is the overall awareness that guides you to pick the right strategy to win the match.

In BJJ, a kind of “game sense” is what allows you to pre-position yourself to be ready to stop attacks while giving opportunities of your own. Your "mechanical skills" are how well you execute your techniques, while your game sense is your experience telling you what techniques to go for in the first place. It also includes knowledge about the match itself, like the score, how much time is left on the clock, and the ruleset.

Like the pro gamers and BJJ competitors will tell you, game sense or awareness cannot be easily taught. It is developed through experience over many thousands of hours of practice and hundreds of matches. “Experience” is mostly trying many different things to see what works, learning from your mistakes, and cleaning up bad habits.

That said, you can maximize the amount of “experience” you squeeze out of your training. Mindlessly rolling a lot will not get you as far as you would if you put more thought into understanding what you are doing and identifying and correcting your mistakes.

Try these 4 tips for speeding up your improvement:

1. Keep a training journal
    This simple piece of advice is the easiest to implement but one of the most valuable. You just need a journal to write in or a computer to type at. Ayanthi wrote about this in 6 Tips for Taking Notes in Jiu-Jitsu.
    Here are two specific questions that will help you get started in your journal:
    • Do certain types of opponents give you more trouble (e.g. wrestlers, leg lockers, modern guard player, etc)?
    • Are certain positions a bigger problem for you?
    Give it some thought and write down your answers. Odds are high many other jiu-jiteiros have had those same problems, and you can ask around your gym or search BJJ forums online for help.
    2. Review footage of yourself
      Set up a camera to film yourself sparring (make sure your training partner is OK with it too) or competing. Watch the footage and look for mistakes. Try to stay objective and don’t just watch yourself beat up scrubs. Pick a tough match and ask yourself:
      • What led up to the moment you tapped or got scored against?
      • Did you make any big mistakes?
      • If you didn’t make big mistakes, what did they do to “outplay” you?
      3. Ask for critique
        Often, we are not even aware of the things we are doing wrong (otherwise, why would we keep doing them?) The obvious first choices are the person you just rolled with and your instructor. You can also take that footage you filmed in the previous tip and ask for critiques online at places like reddit’s /r/bjj.
        4. Analyze footage of competitors
          YouTube is bursting at the seams with BJJ match videos these days. Find a competitor whose style is similar to yours or who you would like to emulate and study their matches. The key here is to not casually watch for entertainment, but to put thought into figuring out why they do what they do. Pause frequently, use slow mo, rewind and review, keep notes, and look for details that are not immediately obvious. Marshal wrote a good article about this, titled Supplement Your Training with Competition Footage.

          Whether or not you are a gamer, my hope is that you can see how raising your awareness of what you are doing and how you are winning or losing your matches will develop the mental traits it takes to keep improving your game.

          Do you enjoy the mash up of gaming and BJJ? Check out How to Pwn Mat AwarenessRebuild Your Jiu-Jitsu DeckReal Learning is Not All Smiles, and Parallels Between BJJ and Magic: The Gathering.

          If you want to play Overwatch with the author of this article, add Aesopian#1325 on Battle.Net and send a message to let him know what you thought of this article.