What Is Your Security Blanket?

For the longest time, I thought I had a good bottom half guard game. When I put people there, they had a very difficult time passing, even people who had significantly more experience in jiu-jitsu than I did. I considered bottom half to be my go-to game, and “bottom half” was my answer whenever anyone asked me what my strongest position was.

What I didn’t realize was that bottom half was not my strongest position: It was my security blanket. I thought it was where I was strongest because people had difficulty advancing from there, but so did I. I did not have a suite of options to draw upon, no A game, no B game, not even a ZZ game. I would feebly try to sweep or recover full guard, but if I didn’t, I was happy to force a stalemate, to ride out the time not getting passed.

Of course, I did not realize this at the time. I thought I was being strategic and cagey, but it turns out I was just being a snooze. Hypothetically, it would be interesting to go back to some of my training partners from that time and find out from them what training with me was like. I say “hypothetically” because I probably already know the answer and probably wouldn’t like it.

I finally got bored just lying on my side, losing and regaining the same ground over and over, and eventually I started to explore other positions and other options. One position I began to find myself in was top half (both regular and deep), and I committed to experimenting with different responses to various permutations of the position. This helped me become better versed in mounting a strategy for advancement from this position and truly develop a top half guard that I could call a “strong position.” It was strong because I had a relatively sophisticated understanding of possibilities—both how I could capitalize and how I could defend against advances from my partner.

My being drawn to top half was also serendipitous in that it helped me start to view what I had been doing on the bottom from a different perspective. People who put me in their half guard were constantly threatening my base, going for attacks, creating movement and forcing me to react. It slowly started to dawn on me that I had had nothing from the bottom. I began to recognize that my bottom half security blanket may have made me feel secure but that it prevented me from venturing outside my comfort zone. I did not enjoy the revelation, but I was able to use it to push myself more from then on.

I have seen this phenomenon in other people as well. Some categories of people and their security blankets include: wrestlers who never play guard, people who only pull guard because they do not want to work on takedowns, gi grapplers who never train no-gi because they rely on grips. And countless people who have their own quirky security blanket, like my ability to clamp down on my partner’s leg like a koala bear pencil hugger. These people do the same thing I did: stay in their comfort zone as much as possible, sometimes trying to advance but more often refusing to take risks and insisting on being reactive. This is certainly one way to train, but it is not the way that is going to confer the most benefit, on anyone.

Believe me when I say it is difficult to give up a jiu-jitsu security blanket, just as it is difficult to give up a real one. If you have ever had one, how did you give it up and what is your relationship to that position or set of techniques now that you have stopped using it for security? If you are an instructor, how do you support your students in outgrowing their security blankets? Post your experiences to comments.