Jiu-Jitsu Strategy: The Persistent Threat Concept

Jiu-Jitsu Strategy: The Persistent Threat Concept

In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, we often talk about the importance of pressure. While this is usually meant to describe physical pressure—the act of squishing and crushing our opponents using a combination of weight, positioning, and leverage—applying mental pressure is also an important part of the sport.

If we apply mental pressure to our opponent, we can interrupt their ability to problem solve. If we can cloud our opponent’s judgment, we can make him a less effective grappler. We can divide his attention. We can put him in a mental position where he is more likely to make poor technical choices or to overlook a development in our position.

Applying mental pressure is a powerful tool in jiu-jitsu, and one of the most straightforward ways to accomplish this is to create a persistent threat for him to monitor.

The best persistent threats are the ones that require relatively little energy from you to maintain but lead to dire consequences for your opponent if they are left unchecked or they are forgotten for even a moment.

For example, a cross collar grip from full guard creates the persistent threat of a cross collar choke. If your opponent forgets for a moment to defend access to the second grip, the match could be over, so each move he makes to pass your guard has to address the added layer of “Will this expose me to the choke?” Every adjustment. Every pass attempt. Every grip break. The looming threat of the cross collar choke makes every problem in that position more difficult to solve, which can slow your opponent down and breed crippling hesitation.

I believe this concept is one of the reasons why leglocks have risen in popularity over the last few years. The nature of leg entanglements creates a number of persistent threats, sometimes several simultaneously. The threat level of many entanglements pressures grapplers to look for a hasty or poorly planned escape, which in turns makes them more likely to make mistakes.

All jiu-jitsu positions have this potential even if they lack the rapid-fire submission potential of cycling between ankle locks, heel hooks, and kneebars.

A position like underhook half guard, to look at a less sexy example, has the potential for persistent threats as well. I spent some time training with Team Balance black belt Josh Vogel to help him create his underhook half guard instructional, and he shared some unique details on making the back-take threat from the bottom of half more powerful, which opened my eyes to new potential for the position even after a decade of training.

Essentially, when you are on the bottom of half guard, you can always threaten the back-take by attempting to shuck your opponent’s whizzer arm clear. Yes, you probably will not get that back-take on savvy grappler, but the action of off-balancing your opponent as though you might take the back forces your opponent to address the problem, which means he has fewer mental and physical resources to devote to mounting his own offense.

The takeaway from this concept is that you should look for ways to make your positions less passive. You should be able to identify what persistent threat you are applying and understand how that might help you develop the position and change the direction of the match. In my mind, every offensive position should utilize this concept, and while some might be sexier than others (50/50 guard versus dropping heavy shoulder pressure in side control), the concept is always important.

If you find yourself struggling to make a position viable, this is probably a good place to look for opportunities for improvement. And for the positions you like to use already, this concept could help you to ratchet up the danger even more.