Inverted Gear Blog / Matt Kirtley
Can you ever have enough solo grappling drills? I don't think so. That's why I filmed my favorite horizontal hip movements for you.
Detailed explanations for each drill demonstrated in the video:
The classic, universal BJJ warm-up drill. It goes by many names: shrimping, hip escapes, elbow escapes, ebi, eep 'scapes. Let's make sure you're doing it right.
- Lay flat on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor and elbows bent, hands by your face.
- Plant one foot firmly and turn to the opposite side.
- Lift your hip by pressing your foot down and going up on to your shoulder.
- Shoot your hips back as you fold at the waist.
- Tuck your bottom knee up to your chest so it's not left behind.
Tip: Imagine a line on the floor under your shoulders. Your hips should scoot back that far.
Bad shrimping #1
This is usually caused by trying to extend and push the leg away, rather than planting the foot and shooting the hips back. Focus on lifting the hips up and back instead of pushing your foot away.
Bad shrimping #2
This is caused by laying flat and not turning your side and bending at the hips.Turn on your side more so you can put your weight into your shoulder and bend on the hips.
This are my favorite way to practice shrimping since it mimics side control escapes better because the head and shoulders also move backwards.
- Turn somewhat on your side and plant both feet.
- Bring your hips, feet, or shoulders back (you can start with any one).
- If you brought your shoulders back, then bring your feet back, then your hips.
- Find a rhythm where your weight shifts between each of those body parts to free up the others to move backwards.
Similar to sideways, but with less backwards head and shoulder movement.
Not truly shrimping, but useful for moving around on your back to find better angles to escape.
- Turn to one side and plant both feet.
- Walk your feet (without crossing them) either forwards or backwards.
- After a few steps, go flat to your back but continue to walk in the same direction.
This movement become useful in certain escapes and reversals, like the "shovel" movement used in some half guard sweeps.
- Laying on your back, do a side crunch to bring your shoulder closer to your feet.
- Lift your hips and pull yourself towards your heels as you shoulder walk.
- Throw your arms overhead to mimic tossing someone off you.
Tip: The key to this is shoulder walking from side to side as you use your legs to help out.
- Lay down, then angle off 45 degrees from the path you want to travel.
- Plant your outside foot and get on to the shoulder nearest the center line.
- Hop and swing your hips over the imaginary line.
- Repeat in the opposite direction.
Tips: You can also use the inside leg by turning the pinky toe side of your foot into the mat (this way is often harder to do). A good hip skip will have you "swinging" back and forth on your shoulders without your butt touching the ground much.
Backwards shoulder walks
Beginners often do this by accident when trying to shrimp. The movement is good to know but not when you're doing it by accident.
- Roll your shoulders from side to side to walk them backwards.
- Walk your feet in time with your shoulders.
Sit-up escape (tucking elbow)
- Shrimp like normal, but as your weight goes into your shoulder, tuck your elbow under you.
- Rock back on your elbow and shrimp again.
- Sit all the way up and get to your palm as you scoot backwards.
Sit-up escape (wide elbow)
Like the last one, but this time swing your arm out side to get on to your elbow.
Sit-up escape (crunch to elbow)
You skip shrimping by using a quick crunch to get to your elbow.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is tough -- physically, mentally, emotionally. Most people quit, and those that don’t can still spend years feeling clueless.
If you feel that way, I have good news for you: You’re learning even on those days where nothing seems to go right and you mess up every move you try. We learn a lot from frustrating failures, even when we don’t realize we are. Our brain is chewing on problems, often outside of our awareness, until one day when we have an “a ha!” moment, seemingly out of nowhere.
To explain this, let’s talk about your brain and how it learns new skills.
First, let me introduce you to two terms: procedural learning and implicit learning. Procedural learning is “repeating a complex activity over and over again until all of the relevant neural systems work together to automatically produce the activity.” Similarly, implicit learning is “the learning of complex information in an incidental manner, without awareness of what has been learned.”
The opposite is explicit learning, where each detail is clearly defined and explained to you. In BJJ, this is when teachers demonstrate step-by-step techniques and explain what they are doing. This is a necessary part of learning too, but it’s not the whole picture.
You need to develop traits like timing, awareness, intuition, instinct, and cunning. Those are hard to teach explicitly. They just take time and experience. A teacher can try to share his or her insights into them, or create games and drills that help develop them, but most of the learning is up to how much time you spend getting tossed around on the mats.
Motor learning and sports science has what’s called the “model of the desired future” or the “future model.” The future model is your brain’s way of trying to match up what is happening now with what is likely to happen in future. It constantly updates predictions based on where you are in space, the people, objects and obstacles around you, in what directions and how quickly you and everything else are moving, and how you need to act to achieve your goals. This is all automatic.
When you first start learning a new activity or sport, your brain gets to work trying to match your previous experience up to future predictions. Through trial and error, it sees how accurate its predictions were. Successes show it was right, and failures mean it needs to improve its predictions. Those failures are especially important because they show you where you have the most opportunities to improve.
The future model does most of its work below the level of consciousness. It’s about swinging at fast balls, dodging linebackers, and hitting a sweep at just the right moment. It’s about action that happens too fast for reason to justify. Its job is to make you take correct actions without hesitation. When people talk about the “flow state,” where you are acting smoothly without thinking about it, that is when the future model is at work.
All this science-y talk is to say that when you are practicing a complex activity like BJJ, much of the learning happens outside conscious awareness, especially during live training like sparring. We give this process names like “building muscle memory,” but muscles cannot remember anything. It’s all in your brain, but not every part of your brain works in words and autobiographical memories. You may not be able to explain it and you may not even know it’s happening, but as long as you put in focused practice, you are learning on one level or another.
Try imagining this:
You’re a demigod flying around over an expansive ocean. Your power is to pour endless amounts of dirt from the sky. (Awesome power, right?)
You want to create islands, so you start dumping dirt into the water. It just sinks down and you don’t get an island. The water is too deep and dark and you don’t know how far down the ocean floor is.
But you are a patient demigod, so you keep flying around, pouring dirt into the water, confident your efforts will be rewarded.
One fateful day, a little mound of dirt breaks the surface. You’ve got the start of your first island. This one grows quickly and it gives you hope.
Soon more islands pop up elsewhere. They expand into each other and form connections.
Before long, your map has expanded to have large continents and you have even started forming mountain ranges.
You still have more ocean to fill and you always will (did I mention the ocean is infinite in all directions?) but now you have firm land to stand and build on.
This concept of “filling in the ocean” is one I have used for years to view the long commitments that you need to make to improving at BJJ. Each day you go train, you are pouring another bucket of sand into the ocean. You cannot be sure when or how you will receive the fruits of your labors, but persistence and patience will pay off in the end.
When you first start BJJ, most of your progress comes from simply showing up to class and doing what you’re told to do. While you never get away from that basic formula, as you rise up that ranks, it is common to feel like you’re not making as much progress by just showing up. Purple belts in particular can feel like they are just going through the motions, but not really being driven in any particular direction any more. If you feel this way, then these 5 tips are for you.
1. Don’t waste time while you wait for class to start
What do you do while waiting for class to start? Is it awkwardly standing around and pretending to stretch like I often see? Most people don’t want to stand out and look like weirdos. That’s understandable. Maybe you’re shy, or maybe you’re just tired after getting off work, and you just want to do your class and call it a night. But you can use that time to grab a partner and say “Hey, let me drill this move real quick” or try out a new mobility drill. Seeing students who do this makes me very happy because it shows they are so eager to improve that they can’t even wait for class to start.
2. Stay focused on your drilling and sparring
When it’s your time to drill, you drill. When you spar, you spar. Don’t stop to chat. Don’t ask a bunch of questions of your partner. Ask your coach for help if you need it during drilling. Save your questions for after sparring. And definitely don’t be that condescending guy who “coaches” lower belts into finishing submissions. No one likes that guy.
3. Ask your better partners for a quick tip after sparring
While drilling is for drilling and sparring is for sparring, I highly encourage communicating with your training partners in the time between rounds. After rolling with someone at or above your level, ask for a quick tip. Not everyone will have one, and no one is obligated to spend the next 10 minutes giving you a mini private lesson, but even a one sentence tip from a higher belt can make a big differences.
4. Actually ask a question when the coach says “Any questions?”
As an instructor, I have lost track of how many times I’ve ended a class with “Any questions?” and got silence and blank faces in reply, only for a student to grab me 10 seconds later in the changing room with a “Well, actually, I was wondering…” I get that sometimes it takes a minute for the mental machinery to output that thought, so I can forgive it, but try to have something ready for these requests for questions. Every good coach I know is happy to answer these questions. You will get your question answered, and if you ask in front of the group, everyone else has a chance to learn from it too.
5. Come to open mat with a definite goal
If you just show up to open mat to mindlessly roll a few rounds then go home, you are not using that time to its maximum potential. Before you go to open mat (maybe the night before or during the drive to the gym) think of at least one specific skill or technique you want to work on. Grab a partner and drill that move as a warm up. It doesn’t need to take more than a few minutes. You can still go ahead and roll mindlessly too, but you will have least got in a few more reps of skills training, which is important in a sport that takes so much practice of so many techniques. Every little chance adds up in the long run.
The longer you do BJJ, the more you realize there are real no shortcuts or cheat codes. You are building a mountain one grain of sand at a time. The closest you can come to “cheating” is to find ways to motivate yourself to stay as engaged and focused in your 10,000th training session as you were in your first. Everyday, make a conscious choice to make yourself better than you were yesterday.
After my post about how to fully develop your grappling gameplan, people asked for help with the nuts and bolts of how to draw their gameplans. This a follow-up visual guide to explain that.
I’m going to talk about the building blocks of a gameplan, how to think about combos, and how to look at the big picture.
Let’s start with two types of combos.
A linear combination progresses as you succeed at points along your way towards a goal.
At a beginner level, the progression may be broadly defined, without any special connection existing between each step except that one follows the other.
Example: takedown → pass the guard → side control → mount → armbar
As you get more detailed, an advanced progression can depend on specific grips you already have as you progress and reactions you expect from your opponent.
- Osoto gari with collar and sleeve grip → knee-on-belly → near side armbar (sam grip throughout)
- X-pass → knee-on-belly → opponent turns away → seat belt & chair sit → back attack system
A lateral combination is when you can alternate between several options, usually from the same position (or closely related positions), especially when a path becomes blocked.
Example: scissors sweep to the left ↔ reverse scissors sweep right ↔ take the back
A lateral combo is about using complementary techniques so your opponent is unsure which one to defend while you are happy to take whatever is most available.
The Real World is Both Linear and Lateral
Thinking of combos as linear or lateral is an (useful) abstraction, but reality is much messier than that. A gameplan is built on both kinds of combos. Sometimes you succeed, sometimes you switch to something else, and sometimes you do a mix of the two and no one but you can tell the difference.
The goal of a gameplan is to be able to know what you want to accomplish and how you deal with the ways your opponent will try to stop you.
Before jumping into flow charting, I recommend writing down your favorite moves from each major position. This is most useful for beginners to see where they are lacking knowledge. When I get white belts to do this exercise for the first time, it is often a mind blowing experience.
You can also rate your confidence level for each of these positions (top and bottom), either on a 1-5 scale or with smiley/frowny faces like I do below.
With this table filled out, you now have a list of techniques to work into your flowchart.
Creating and Expanding Your Flowchart
Your first pass at drawing out your gameplan will usually progress in a linear fashion: “here’s how I start, and here’s how I get to the finish”. We are not worried about problems yet.
You can apply this process to an entire match (“Starting from standing, I get a grip and do takedown X, then…”) or for one position (“Starting in closed guard, I get a collar and sleeve grip and do sweep X, then…”).
Once you’ve got something on the page, go back to the beginning. Run through your flowchart again, but this time ask yourself questions like:
- What are most common counters to this?
- What if I cannot get what I want?
- What combos well with this?
- Do I need to switch to another move here, or to just do the first move better?
Now you’re getting into lateral combos. Your flowchart is probably starting to branch like this:
Go back to the start again, or to another critical spot (like the start of your guard passing). Here are more questions to ask yourself:
- If my plan goes wrong, what is my back up plan?
- If I get totally off my gameplan, are my escapes, defenses, and recovery skills good enough?
- What areas of this gameplan need more detailed connections so they really gel?
- What areas are too complicated and need to be simplified?
- Does my gameplan reflect my real skills, or is this just a wishlist of techniques?
Now your map is getting fun:
You can find software and apps to create flowcharts like this, or have some fun and get a big piece of butcher page and some markers or a dry erase board.
Zoom Out and Keep It Simple (Stupid)
At the end of your gameplanning, you should be able to zoom out and create a “big picture” gameplan that looks something like this:
Each bubble (and the connections between the bubbles) can contain many “if...then...else” decision trees, but you want to be able to sum it up simply.
Remember that no matter how beautifully you have laid out your gameplan, it is just a nice idea. You have to back it up with many hours of drilling and sparring. Putting it on paper just helps you make sure you are directing those training hours to develop a worthwhile strategy. Many traits that are important to your success can’t be put into this chart: improvisation, reflexes, intuition, determination, grit, cunning, trickery, explosiveness, etc.
Send Me Your Gameplans
Have you drawn up your grappling gameplan? I want to see it! Submit it in the comments below, or message it to me at Aesopian.
A gameplan can be one of the greatest tools for a grappler, especially competitors, but there are right and wrong ways to build one. Follow this advice the next time you revise your gameplan:
Build mini gameplans and sub-systems
Your gameplan will be more useful as a collection mini gameplans rather than a single 99 technique long chain. By chunking your techniques and combinations into clusters, you will have an easier time both thinking of how the modules fit together and representing them in your visual flowchart.
- Back attack system revolving around acquiring a seat belt grip.
- Open guards that connect to each other to combo sweeps and submissions.
- Standing guard pass system with answers to specific guards if needed.
- Submissions-as-positions strategies for armbars, triangles, kimuras, omoplata, etc.
Stay open to new additions
Your gameplan is not set in stone, not matter how many hours you spend mapping it out in FreeMind. It will always be evolving as you improve, learn more, and run into new problems to solve. You will always be discovering new techniques and positions you’d like to work on. Your gameplan can help you prioritize which to focus on first, and how they will fit into your existing knowledge base. Be willing to return to a technique you didn’t quite like the first time, because (assuming it’s a good technique), your earlier gameplan may not have had a good spot for it yet, or your skill level was not high enough at the time to fully appreciate it.
Trim the fat and cut the fluff
Developing your unique grappling style is not just about addition, but subtraction. Your gameplan can become bloated, especially if it’s mostly a mental exercise or a list of techniques you wish you were good at. Cutting out “nice to have” techniques can be tough but you will benefit from simplifying your decision trees and simplifying what you should work on in your practice time.
Account for Murphy’s law
Gameplans are built on the premise that you are mostly getting to do what you want, only branching as you run into problems and solve them, but always progressing towards you winning. Reality is rarely so kind. You should probably go back to the sub-system step and do that for all your escapes from bad positions. Survival, defenses, and escapes are not sexy, but they will keep you alive until you can get back on track.
Techniques are not all that matters
Techniques are basic building block of a gameplan, but BJJ is not just about knowing a bunch of techniques. The further you progress in BJJ, the less it becomes about collecting techniques and the more it becomes about refining the ones you already know, as well as developing less concrete attributes like intuition, timing, sensitivity, good instincts, and awareness.
Become a generalist with specialties
Early specialization as a beginner or intermediate grappler is tempting because it offers the promise of cheap success. As a competitor, this is especially appealing because it can be easier to “become a black belt” in one technique than it is to become a black belt at everything. Many upsets by lower belts competing against black belts come from hyper-specialized gameplans. How specialized you become is up to you, but I recommend you keep broadening your skills so you do not eventually find yourself becoming a one trick pony. You want a few secret weapons hidden up your sleeve, but you also need to be prepared for whatever the world throws at you.
Work on skills outside your primary gameplan
During your day-to-day training, especially when no big competitions are coming up, you should be open to working on techniques you do not yet consider part of your “A game.” Work on your “B game” and even C, D and even E games. Experiment and explore unfamiliar positions in rolling. You can always tighten up as you ramp up to compete or when you want to cut the fat.
Making up a gameplan does not make it a reality
What you put on paper does not matter until you put it into action. Use your gameplan to direct your drilling and training time. Now that you have it written down, it’s time to go put in the reps and the hours of mat time.