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Space and Weight

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is built upon two pillars of truth: 1) Space and 2) Weight. Once you understand these two
principles and learn how to use them to your advantage, they will turbo charge your defensive and offensive game.
To your opponent, you will feel heavier when you are on top of them. To your opponent, you will feel slippery when
you are underneath them.
Let’s first address space. When you find yourself in a superior position, you need to be as close to your opponent
as possible. Give them no space to perform any kind of escape! When I say no space, I mean no space with your entire body.
Not just your upper body, but also your lower body. Not just with the left side of your body, but with both the left and
right sides of your body. I want you to place your body on top of their body like a wet towel. You should be so close to
your opponent that you should feel like one of his intercostal muscles.
To maintain an extreme tightness, you need to maintain a constant pulling motion with your arms. You also need to
drive with your feet and apply downward pressure with your chest by arching your back. When you find yourself in the
inferior position, you need to create as much space as possible. When I say create space, I mean you should create space
at the hips and the head. Move your hips away from their hips, then move your upper torso away from their upper
torso. Remember this rule of thumb: He who controls the hips, controls the game.
To create space, you first need to push with your hands, forearms, knees and/or feet. Next, you need to move your hips
away from the opponent’s hips. The closer your hips are to him the more control he will have over them.
When you find yourself in a superior position, you need to keep your weight centered upon the opponent’s upper torso. If
you give your opponent the chance to dump your weight off to one side, he may escape. So keep your weight centered on
his upper torso.
To keep your weight centered on his upper torso, maintain a constant pulling motion with your arms. Keep your head down
and keep your chest pressing into his.
When you find yourself in an inferior position, you need to dump the opponent’s weight off of the center of your chest.
You have five directions in which you can dump his weight:
  • up (towards the ceiling)
  • down (towards your feet)
  • left
  • right
  • overhead (towards the top of your head)
To dump the weight off of your upper torso, you need to use your hands, forearms and/or biceps to push their weight
in one of the five directions mentioned above.
Attributes are those qualities that fuel your techniques. They give meaning and substance to your techniques.
Physical attributes like speed, power, strength, explosiveness, body mechanics, timing, sensitivity, awareness,
accuracy, footwork, distancing, agility, line familiarization, flexibility, balance, coordination and endurance
are what bring life and vibrancy to your techniques.
There are several physical attributes that play a major role in the development of your overall skill in Brazilian
Jiu Jitsu. The first two that come to mind are sensitivity and timing. These are the two most important attributes
to develop and maintain over the years.
Let’s first talk about sensitivity. Sensitivity could best be described as having the ability to feel and read pressure.
During a grappling match, there is a constant barrage of pushing and pulling motions every millisecond. If one were
to repeatedly engage force against force, they would soon tire. The competitor with the most strength, power and
endurance would more than likely win the match. (That is, taking into account that the two competitors are equally
skilled.) However, if one person had the attribute of sensitivity working for them, they would immediately recognize
a pushing motions on the part of their opponent and use this motion (pressure) against him by pulling him off
balance. Sensitivity is a great attribute to develop. You can use and develop it you entire life.
Sensitivity has helped me so much in my own grappling experience. I have used it many times against much larger and
stronger opponents. For example, I have a student who is a body builder. He stands 6’2″ tall and weighs a hefty 325 lbs.
(by comparison, I am 6’2″ and weigh 205 lbs.) He bench presses 500 lbs and bicep curls 120 lbs with what appears to be
the greatest of ease. Now, he has been a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu student of mine for a year. You know and I know that there
is no way in hell that I am going to overpower him. So how is it that I man-handle him like a little baby? How is it
that I toss him to and fro with an arm lock here and a leg lock there? Well, I’ll tell you. It is a combination of
technical skills mixed with the attribute of sensitivity. Now give him another year or two of training under me and
he will become a nightmare.
Some may ask, “How did you develop such a high degree of sensitivity?” Well, I spent most of my grappling time (9 years)
with my eyes closed. Whenever I grappled with someone who was not as experienced as I was, I used it as an opportunity
to train sensitivity. This was a safe, fun and easy way to develop my sense of feel. I would grapple people my own skill
level with my eyes closed as a barometer to feel how much energy I was using to control them or escape from certain
positions. Plus, when I’d grapple my instructor, I would close my eyes to feel the subtlety of certain moves he would
apply. Black belts have a different kind of pressure that is unique to them. As a result of this kind of training, I can
now grapple with just about anyone and feel their intentions. (Please don’t put any extra meanings into my words. I am
not saying I am the world’s best grappler, or anything like that. I am just making a point about the development
of sensitivity in my own personal training.)


Now let’s talk about timing. Timing can best be described as the ability to know when to perform a specific technique at
the appropriate time. It goes way beyond just knowing a technique. Timing means you know when to employ a technique.
It means you have the ability to see a very small, fast approaching window of opportunity to employ a specific technique
and you confidently take that opportunity to boldly employ the technique like you were destined to take it. That is
great timing. Let me give you an example of poor timing. Most of us know the scissors sweep from the guard. However,
we sometimes don’t see the window of opportunity to employ it. And if we do see it, it seems to either be approaching
so frickin’ fast that it feels like we will never quite get the opportunity to perform the technique, or we see it after
it has already past. Maybe we get it once in awhile, but it always seems so difficult to perform, and we end up expending
so much energy doing it. Does this sound familiar? Well, it’s not because we don’t know how to perform the technique.
It’s because we don’t know when to perform it, or we haven’t taken the time necessary to develop the timing needed
to employ the technique. Either way, poor timing is the culprit.
Usually, a lack of timing boils down to one of three things: One, your instructor has not taught you properly in the timing
and use of a specific technique, or two, he did teach it to you and you didn’t pay attention while he was teaching,
or three, he did teach you and you haven’t taken the time to properly train and develop the timing you need to employ
the technique. Regardless of whose fault it is, you need to take the time to develop a sense of timing with that
specific technique. You need to do the hundreds of repetitions necessary to make this technique your own. Doing so will
make it an ace up your sleeve. One that you will employ again and again with the greatest of ease.
When you combine the attribute of sensitivity with the attribute of timing, you get an explosive combination. Sensitivity
and timing will almost always beat speed, power and strength. (That is, unless you have a strong opponent who
is knowledgeable, cautious and defensive, and doesn’t want to fight, but rather, he wants to see how long he can last
with you; you may not make him tap.) Now combine sensitivity, timing, speed, power, strength and endurance along with
a good coach, good instruction in solid, fundamental skills, and what do you get? You get an animal!
Now keep this in mind, there are a lot of strong people out there. There are a lot of fast people out there. And, there are
a lot of people who have very high levels of endurance. However, these attributes tend to be associated with youth. As you
get older, you will find that more people are stronger than you, faster than you, and have a helluva lot more endurance
than you have ever had. However, if you consistently develop and maintain a high level of sensitivity and timing, you will
be able to compete with them for quite some time after your prime.
Sensitivity and timing are much easier to maintain than other attributes. So work on those two attributes and I guarantee
you that it will pay off. Maybe one day in the distant future, you will make your 18 year old son or grandson tap with a
choke, arm lock or leg lock and will be reminded of this article!

Submission Holds

When it comes to submissions, there are several different types: chokes and strangulations, joint lock and pressure/
compression points. My favorite is joint locks. I’ve spent several years studying them. Here’s my take on joint locks:
There are seven (7) reasons why joint locks appear to be ineffective at times:
  • bad mechanics
  • abnormal range of motion
  • high tolerance to pain
  • under the influence of a drug
  • mentally deranged
  • previous injury or surgery
  • any combination of the above
Poor mechanics is the number reason why joint locks seem ineffective at times. It is the number one problem I see
at grappling tournaments.
Learning the mechanics of a joint locks should be the foundation of submission grappling. If a person doesn’t know the
correct mechanics of a specific joint lock, he/she must make up for this lack of knowledge by introducing speed, strength
and power into the equation. This is why so many people struggle with grappling. If they knew the mechanics of the lock
they were trying to employ, they would know where to precisely place their strength. They would know how to use the
leverage that mechanics would give them. Instead, they struggle with poor mechanics and their opponent escapes the lock.
Good mechanics will give a person the ability to apply most of the body weight and all of their upper body strength onto
one joint. If you weigh 150lbs., you should be able to apply at least 150lbs. of pressure onto one joint. Now with that kind
of weight and pressure, how many people do you know that can support 150lbs. on one joint? Now if you change the angle
of pressure on the joint, how many people do you think can do that?
Joint locks can also seem ineffective because the opponent or assailant has an abnormal range of motion in a specific
joint. For example, I know of a few people whose elbows bend backwards, way beyond the normal, straight 180 degrees. I met
a woman whose arm bent backwards to almost a 90 degree angle. It was impossible to arm lock her with the normal juji gatame.
I met a guy who could sit on the ground with his legs straight out in front of him, his butt and the back of his knees
were touching the ground, and he could touch the soles of his feet on the ground without bending his legs. I’ve met
several people who could bend their wrists backward and touch the palms of their hands to the inside of their forearms.
These people require that you have not only have a working knowledge of good mechanics, but you also need to know how to
change the angles on their joints. Otherwise, you will not make them tap on the joint that has the abnormal range of motion.
The number three reason why joint locks can seem ineffective is that the opponent or assailant has a high tolerance to pain.
I have applied joint locks with correct mechanics to a few people who could withstand a lot of pain. Some simply refused to
tap until they heard something pop. So when I encountered a new student or seminar attendee who wouldn’t tap to an arm lock
or wrist lock, I always resorted to the carotid restraint. I knew I wouldn’t hurt them because they will go unconscious if
they don’t tap. Many have gone unconscious, but none have ever been hurt. High tolerance to pain is something you
will encounter from time to time. So don’t be alarmed. Some people are just kinda weird that way! (I am that way with
biting. I have an extremely high tolerance to pain when it comes to someone biting my arms or legs. However, put me in a
good arm or leg locks and I will tap like an experienced conga player!)
The number four reason why joint locks can seem ineffective is the opponent or assailant is under the influence of a
drug. Certain drugs cause the nervous system to ignore the signals they receive from certain receptors. They don’t feel
pain. You crack their arm and they smile at you. You break their knee and they begin to sing the National Anthem. It’s
time to put your new Nike cross trainers into action and get the hell outta Dodge!
The number five reason why joint locks can seem ineffective is the opponent or assailant is mentally deranged. Same thing
as those on drugs. Same response. I encountered a few people like this as a police officer and they were extremely difficult
to deal with. There are a number of homeless people like this. They have lived on the streets for years and not much
bothers them. Be careful.
The number six reason why joint locks can seem ineffective is the opponent or assailant has a previous injury or surgery.
This is very common as well. I have known a few people that have had previous surgeries or injuries and had no, or very
little feeling on one side of their body. so when you put them into an arm lock for the first time, they just look at you.
When their arm cracks so loud that everyone in class hears it, you better get them some immediate medical attention, even
if they say, “I’m OK.”
The last reason why joint locks can seem ineffective is any combination of the above six reasons. When applying joint
locks, take the above information into consideration. Check your mechanics first. If your mechanics are OK, take a look at
the opponent’s joint. If it looks like it would normally hurt, you probably have someone on your hands that fit into one of
the above descriptions.
As you can probably tell, I am very big proponent of developing proper mechanics. I stress mechanics a lot in my BJJ
classes. Why? Because it makes accomplishing your objectives much easier. You won’t have to mix speed, power, strength
and explosiveness into the matrix as often.

Passing the Guard

Passing the guard is one of the major tools one should have in his/her BJJ arsenal. If there was one skill to be obtained
in BJJ, this would be the one! If you can consistently pass someone’s guard with ease, you will take so much away from
their ability to control you. (Add to this some good hold down skills to become truly effective.)
I have spent a little over two years working on it with my instructor Joe Moreira. This one skill has helped me so much that
I must recommend it to all. Let me share with you some of what I have learned.
Here are the principles and guidelines to passing the guard:
  • Step one – establish base and posture
  • Step two – uncross the opponent’s ankles
  • Step three – secure and control the opponent’s hips
  • Step four – pass under or over the opponent’s leg
Note: The above formula will work with or without a gi!
Based upon the preceding principles and guidelines, I can show you sixty-five (65) different techniques on passing the
guard. I’m sure there are more than sixty-five, but that’s all I know. Once you understand these principles and guidelines,
you can figure a lot of different ways to pass.
When you begin to put the basic ways of passing the guard together into two and three technique combinations, the amount
of energy you spend to pass will begin to decrease. W hen you can put five and six techniques together into a
solid combination, now you’re flowing. And, when you can pass your opponent’s guard and talk to another student about
politics, mathematics or sports, while your in the process of passing their guard … well, now you’re really flowing!
Submission and Strategy
Learning is a process of time and effort. This process begins with the simple knowns of life and progresses endlessly
towards the very complex unknowns. When a child learns mathematics, he begins with a very simple known value system. He
learns how to count from one to ten by using his fingers and toes. Once he can comfortably and confidently maneuver
around these simple things, he can then be introduced to more complex things like counting to one hundred. Once proficiency
is achieved at this new level, he can then be introduced to basic arithmetic (which is the idea of putting the basics
together into numerous combinations). Once his grasp of basic arithmetic has grown to a high level, he can then be
introduced to more complex mathematics like algebra, geometry, trigonometry and calculus. This is the process of
learning mathematics. This is also the process of learning anything in life, especially Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
The starting point in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is positional escapes. It is your value system, your foundation. Without
this foundation, everything else you learn will not have meaning or substance. If you can not escape from an inferior
position, you will never be able to control or dominate your opponent. You will have to resign yourself to always being
on your back. Always trying to escape but never quite succeeding. Positional escapes must be your starting point because
it will give you the ability to get off of your back and onto a top position. Plus, it will give you the power to further
your education in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu with things like positional dominance, submissions and counters.
Once you have built a solid foundation in positional escapes, you can then move onto positional dominance. The building
block of positional dominance will lay the foundation for your study of submissions. If you can positionally escape
and dominate your opponent at will (meaning any time you damn well please), then you will be able to repeatedly try
submission after submission without regard to whether or not they escape the hold. For example, if your opponent escapes
your attempt at an arm lock, oh well, you’ll just pull him back into your guard, sweep him and do it all over again. If
he escapes again … yawn … you’ll flip him onto his back and try it from a different angle. Positional dominance, along
with positional escapes, will give you the confidence to be able to do this. That’s why it is the second building block
along your path to submissions and set-ups.
Your next building block is learning the specific mechanics of each submission hold. The mechanics of each submission are
what give you the leverage to be able to arm lock, leg lock or choke a 325 lbs. athletic, body builder with ease and
finesse. Mechanics are made up of two thing: 1) the specific position your body must be in to control your opponent while
you place him in a submission hold and apply leverage to a specific joint or appendage, and 2) the correct angles at which
you apply and maintain pressure on the joint or appendage you are manipulating. Once you understand the how’s, where’s,
when’s and why’s of submissions, the rest is easy.
Now before I move on to the next building block, I must interject something here. You must take these three beginning
building blocks (positional escapes, positional dominance and mechanics of submission holds) and master them before
even attempting to think about set-ups. Why? Because the set-up portion of the game is very intellectual. You can’t
be physically struggling with an escape from an inferior position or the mechanics of an arm lock, while at the same
time trying to formulate a “what the hell am I gonna do next” strategy. You must be in absolute command of your
positional skills, as well as your mechanics of submission holds, before you begin the very mental game of set-ups
and strategy.
Now, when it comes to set-ups, you have to play a lot of the “what if” game. You have to take your training partner aside
and do a frame by frame analysis of the game. When your opponent or training partner offers you resistance in one direction
by slamming shut a door of opportunity, you need to take the time and look around to find the other door of opportunity
that exists. Up until this point in time, your learning process should have taught you that there are always two sides to
every coin. So there must be at least two doors of opportunity in every situation. All you need to do is take the time
during your training sessions and find them. Yes, an instructor can show them to you, but you must take it upon yourself
to find them. Here’s an example of what I mean. If my opponent were to lift his head up while I was trying to apply a
triangle on him, I would simply flow into an arm lock. Why? Because the specific energy or pressure that he gave me
was conducive to me taking his arm. He was leading me into an arm lock. If when I tried to arm lock him from that
triangle position by throwing my leg over his face and he ducked his head under my leg, well, I’d flow right back into
the triangle so when he lifted his head up to counter one submission hold, he led me into another one. When he lowered
his head down to counter another submission hold, he led me into another. My opponent could not simultaneously lift and
lower his head at the same time. So, as my opponent chose to close door “A”, I made a bee-line to go through door “B”.
When he saw me making a bee-line for door “B”, he tried to close door “B” instead. Either way, I was gonna make it through
one of those doors of opportunity sooner or later.
So, when it comes to set-ups, you must realize that you are talking highly complex issues! This is not the kind of stuff
you talk about with children, but with University Professors. So now that I have made you a University Professor, you
should not ask childish questions that relate back to positional escapes, positional dominance or the specific mechanics.
For the person who is concerned with setting up an arm lock on a highly talented, equally skilled and knowledgeable
individual, they should first be able to setup an arm lock on a unsuspecting and unknowledgeable individual like taking
candy away from a baby! If they can not do this, then they are not ready for this complex issue. Setting up an arm lock
on a highly talented, equally skilled and knowledgeable individual is a very difficult task. It is one that can be done,
but it can be a lengthy process.
You must start the process by establishing control of his body. Once you have established control, you must determine his
skill level by what you feel. Next, you must begin you the process of attacking a joint or his neck. Should you
encounter physical resistance (meaning power or strength), you just have to wait it out because he will tire in a minute
or two. Should you encounter technical resistance (meaning he knew a technical counter to your submission attempt) you
should flow into the submission hold he is leading you into without giving up control of his body. Following someone’s
pressure is like water finding the path of least resistance. It is there, it just needs to be found.
Yes, you can plan ahead and try to stay ten moves ahead of your opponent, but that usually doesn’t work. Why? Because
you’re doing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu kata. You may think you can plan what your opponent is going to do, but if he surprises
you, then you’ll find out that your kata was your worst enemy. It misled you into battle. You must not plan on doing this
and doing that. You must learn how to respond to what pressure your opponent gives you. If you always try to force an
issue, you will one day more than likely encounter an issue that is a lot bigger and stronger than you can force. Then
what will you do? You’ll probably get tired and panic, expend more energy than you really had to, and maybe even lose
the fight. Maybe luck will be on your side and you will win the fight. But you will have spent so much unnecessary energy
that you will be unable to continue fighting other fresh opponents.
Your planning, strategy, and set-up must happen during training. You must address every little nook and cranny of the issue
at hand before testing it out in live action. You must also have an instructor who is willing to share with you the
flowchart of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. You must see and learn how each technique has several individual counters, and you must
learn and memorize each and every counter. Then, you must see and learn how each and every individual counter has
several counters to it. For example, if I were to show you a simple arm lock from the guard, and then show you ten
(10) different counters to that one arm lock, you would say WOW! Then, if I took each individual counter and showed you
five counters to each of them (i.e. five counters to counter #1, five counters to counter #2, …, five counters to
counter #10; fifty counters in all), your mind would be blown. And then if I asked you to memorize them for your
up-coming match with Jean Jacque Machado, you’d think I was crazy! Well, welcome to the intellectual world of set-ups
and strategy. It is a world of complex factors and exponentials!

Submission Holds

Learning and practicing submission holds is one of the funnest parts of learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. What’s even funner
is making the opponent tap to an arm lock, choke or leg lock. to be proficient at submission holds, one must be proficient
in the following areas:
  • The mechanics of each submission
  • The positions of control that accompany the submissions
  • The transitions that occur between the positions and submissions
  • The physical attribute of sensitivity
  • An understanding of the principles involved with joint manipulations and chokes
Learning the mechanics of submission holds is so important to develop good submission skills. I have seen numerous
grappling matches where an aggressor tries to effect a lock, yet struggles with getting it on just right. He fumbles, and
the opponent escapes. Why? Poor mechanics. He had an basic idea of how to do a lock, but he used strength to apply the lock.
If he’d had good mechanics, his opponent would have tapped and he would have been declared the victor.
Learning the mechanics of a specific joint lock is more important than anything else. It lays the foundation for
your understanding of specific limb placement and the use of leverage. Knowing the mechanics of a specific joint lock is
also important because contained in the mechanics are the escapes. (And we all know how important it is for us to know how
to escape a submission hold.)
Finally, learning the mechanics will help you at the intermediate and advanced levels of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Intermediate level Jiu Jitsu is nothing more than putting the basics together into numerous two and three
technique combinations. However, once you begin to put these basics together into two technique combinations, you must
maintain the integrity of both techniques as well as the transition, otherwise, you leave your opponent a chance to escape.
For example, an arm lock has six different components to it and a triangle has seven. To put those two techniques together
into a combination, one must coordinate sixteen different components (six for the arm lock, seven for the triangle and
three for the transition between both submission holds). That’s a lot of stuff to remember and coordinate. If you can
not coordinate all of the above components, you must stick with learning and mastering the basic mechanics. Also, if you
can not coordinate all of the above components, it means you must fill the gaps in the mechanics with speed, power,
strength and explosiveness. Now, theres nothing wrong with filling the gaps with speed, power, strength and explosiveness.
All it means is that you better not grapple with anyone who’s bigger, stronger, faster, more explosive and as equally
skilled as yourself. Otherwise, you’re gonna end up real tired, real quick.
The second thing you must devote yourself to learning are the positions of control that accompany the submission
holds. Contained within the mechanics are the control positions that allow you to maintain positional dominance over
your opponent. When you opponent frees himself from your grip, you must learn how to adjust your body to maintain control
over his body without relinquishing your hold on the submission. You must also learn how to deal with those walls of
resistance that present them self as you go for the submission (e.g. while attempting an arm lock on your opponent, he
grabs his forearms with both of his hands and pulls his arms to his chest.)
Next, you must learn how to control the transitions that occur between the positions and submissions. When you find
yourself locked into a position of control and dominance, you feel secure. However, as soon as you begin to go for
that submission hold, you struggle with the thought of giving your opponent too much space to escape. Or, you struggle
with the thought of taking your w eight off of your opponent too long which will also give him an opportunity to escape.
So, what do you do? You wait and wait and wait and wait, hoping your opponent will give you his arm or neck. OR,
you ballistically shoot for the arm or neck, only to find yourself on your back again, wishing you had not gone for it.
Well, all this ads up to is your unfamiliarity with transitions and your inability to set your opponent up.
Transitions are very important to your BJJ game. You must have them at high levels. Too many people become focused upon
the positions and the submissions and ignore the transition that occur between the two of them. Just as you practice
holding someone down from the mount, and just as you practice finishing a spinning arm lock from the mount, you must
also practice the transition that occurs between the two.
The next thing to train is the physical attribute of sensitivity. Sensitivity is the ability to read and feel pressure.
Once you obtain this attribute and can apply it from every position, it will make your game much easier. Especially
against much larger and stronger opponents. Additionally, sensitivity is one of those attributes that is easily
maintained. Unlike speed and power.
Finally, you must have a firm understanding of the principles involved with joint manipulations and chokes. When you apply
a joint manipulation or choke, you are applying a certain amount of pressure on a specific location, at a specific angle.
If you change the angle of pressure, you make the lock ineffective. If you change the position of leverage, you make the
lock ineffective. The same applies with chokes.
As you can see, learning how to effectively apply a submission hold is an uphill battle. You will encounter a variety
of difficulties along the way. But keep going, it’s worth the battle. When you can repeatedly make muscle bound guys tap
with greatest of ease, you will feel proud of your accomplishments. Don’t worry so much about that big monstrosity in your
BJJ class. He is the exception to the rule. He knows the same BJJ that you know. Focus on the new students that come into
the class. The ones that are muscle bound. If you can make them tap, you have a lot to be proud of!
I remember the first bodybuilder I made tap. He was 6’2″, and weighed 315 lbs. He was a high school wrestler to boot.
His curiosity led him to my school and we rolled. He took me down and I placed him in my guard. He put his hands on
my shoulders to pin me down and I took his arm and made him tap like an experienced conga player. he asked to go at it
again and I obliged him. He took me down again and I immediately placed him into my guard again. He reached under my leg
to pass my guard and I triangled him. Again he tapped. He asked to go again and I said, “SURE!”
Smiling like a Cheshire cat!) I took him down this time and mounted. He rolled over to his knees and I choked him. He
tapped again, but this time he was angry! He said, “You can’t do that!” I said, Sure I can. I just did.” He said, “Thats
not allowed in wrestling.” I told him, “Of course it isn’t. That’s the Jiu Jitsu stuff you said would never work on you.
How did it feel?” He said, “Man, I’ve never felt anything like that before. Can you teach me some of that Jiu Jitsu
stuff?” Sure, I said. I’ll never forget that day. I was still a blue belt at the time.
So my point in saying all of this is:
  • Learn and master your mechanics
  • Learn and master the positions of control
  • Learn and master the transitions that occur between the positions and submissions
  • Develop the physical attribute of sensitivity
  • Develop your understanding of principles
  • They will turbo charge your current skills!

The Process of becoming Skilled

I have been practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu since 1991. Since that time, I have made several observations about training.
Allow me to lead you through my observations.
There are ten major areas of training. Each area of training contained a lot of new information. Each area provided me with
a new and more enhanced understanding of Jiu Jitsu. Here are the areas of training:
  • technical knowledge – large gross motor movements
  • coordination of different body parts
  • timing – knowing when to use the appropriate technique
  • sensitivity – feeling when to use the appropriate technique
  • basic strategy – knowing which techniques work for different body types
  • small, very precise movements – movements become smaller and more detailed over time
  • the combination and coordination of multiple movements and techniques
  • intermediate strategy – the use of counters and set ups
  • the development of mental attributes: patience, focus, determination
  • advanced strategy – planning to feel, not think
The first major area of training involved learning techniques. This is where you learn specific techniques for
specific encounter situations. Technical knowledge is the starting place for many who begin their journey in Brazilian
Jiu Jitsu. Unfortunately, it is an area where a lot of students plateau and become frustrated.
Learning techniques involves familiarizing one’s self with the individual components of each move and then learning how
to orchestrate them into a sequence called a technique. For example, the spinning arm lock from the guard involves
nine individual movements:
  • grabbing the top of training partner’s left forearm with your right hand
  • grabbing the inside of the training partner’s right thigh with your left hand
  • spinning your body to your left by raising your hips up off of the ground, swinging your right leg over the
    training partner’s face and pulling your head to their thigh with your left arm
  • pulling both of your heels to your buttock
  • squeezing your knees together
  • pulling the training partner’s elbow into your belly button
  • pulling the training partner’s wrist and pinky onto your chest and maintaining control of it
  • raising their hips even higher to hyperextend the training partner’s elbow joint
  • releasing the pressure when their training partner taps the mat
Do you see how that even a simple move is not so simple when broken down into separate components? Do you remember what it
was like the first time you did this arm lock? Do you remember the difficulty you had? I do!)
Too many student take the technique portion of training for granted. They have the “Yeah, I got it” attitude. They are
so anxious to move onto the next technique that they harm themselves. They do not realize the importance of developing
a foundation of fundamental movements that will help them with more highly complex movements at a later point in time.
When the student learns a new technique, it is the instructor’s responsibility to teach them not only the specific
components, but also the strengths and weaknesses of the technique. The students must also be taught that no one
single technique will work all of the time. They must be taught that every technique will not work for every
student. Techniques have limitations. Therefore, it is important for the student to understand these limitations.
In the beginning, students are usually taught very large, gross motor movements which involve the use of large muscle
groups. Fine motor movements (those that involve small muscles like the fingers and thumb) are too complex for the
beginning student. Usually, the student has enough on their mind with large amount of gross motor movements. Once a student
has mentally grasped the idea of a technique, he can then move onto physically coordinating his body to move in a
sequential order. This is where coordination comes into play.
For most students, coordinating the movements of one’s feet, knees, hips, shoulders, elbows and hands in a sequential order
can be somewhat difficult. If the movements are performed out of sequence or on the wrong side of the body, chaos
usually occurs. For example, do you remember the first time you did the elbow/knee escape from the mount position? I do. It
was rather difficult. Yes, I know, most of us muscled our way through it and made it work. However, we noticed that the
brown and black belts seemed to have no problem using this technique at all. Why? Because they had put in the required
time necessary to develop a skill in this one area. We, however, were just going through the first phase of learning. We
were trying to coordinate each of the movements in the right sequence and not look stupid while doing it. The coordination
of movements is an extremely important area to train. Although we might KNOW a technique, being able to perform it
under pressure is quite another.
Once we KNOW a new technique, have a good understanding of it, and can coordinate our movements into a smooth technique,
we must now begin our journey with timing. Timing involves knowing and feeling when to perform a technique. For example,
when your opponent is in your guard and he begins to lean his weight onto his left knee, when is the best time to sweep him?
A good understanding of timing would tell you that the best time to sweep him would be when he is beginning the process
of shifting his weight onto his left knee. If you were to sweep him after he had placed all of his weight onto his left
knee, you would find that his weight had settled and that the sweep was still possible, but it required more effort on
your part.
Good timing only comes with diligent practice at slow speeds. Diligent practice at slow speed only comes with a
disciplined mind, perserverance and patience. Knowing when to perform a technique is crucial in developing skills in Jiu
I have spoken with a number of students who feel that certain techniques are invincible. I have been told that once a
person put this lock on you, it is impossible to escape. Well, then I would allow this person to put me in that lock and
would ask them to apply pressure and make me tap. Once they began to apply pressure, I escaped. They asked to perform it
again because they “weren’t really trying the first time” and I gladly accepted. Again, like the Great Houdini, I escaped.
Now their curiosity was peaked. They thought, or had been taught, that once a certain move was applied, that no one could
get out. What they did not know or understand was the concept of timing. Timing is a very important skill to develop. It
will enhance your techniques!
Now that we have some technical knowledge, we can coordinate our movements with ease and we have a good sense of timing,
we must pursue the attribute of sensitivity. Sensitivity is the ability to feel and read pressure. To fight power with power
is inefficient. To use an opponent’s power against him is the efficient use of knowledge and power. This is what
sensitivity does for the experienced Jiu Jitsu practitioner.
Sensitivity is an attribute that takes time to develop. However, once it is obtained, it is very easy to maintain.
Sensitivity, like timing, comes with diligent, disciplined practice. It does not come very soon. Neither does it come by
always training with a competitive attitude. Rather, sensitivity comes by learning how to be humble in your attitude and
allow your opponent to dominate you entirely. Only by the controlling of one’s own self and emotions can they develop
good sensitivity. Good sensitivity will bring your Jiu Jitsu skills to a high level.
Next, comes basic strategy. Strategy is a plan, a set of predetermined tactics. Good strategy must be flexible. It must be
able to adapt to an ever changing environment and mind set. Your strategy must allow for different body types, because if
it doesn’t, you’re in for a BIG surprise.
Basic strategy allows for certain walls of resistance. For example, your goal may be to sweep your rather large opponent
onto his back from your guard. However, he widens his base and prevents you from even thinking about going for another
sweep. You, being the strategic Jiu Jitsu practitioner, know that the only way to widen one’s base is spread their knees
and lower their buttock to the ground. SENSING this, you immediately jump onto his back and hook your feet on the inside of
his thighs. Then, you choke him out in front of everyone! Mentally, you prepared for the widened base and were ready for
it. You knew that it was impossible for your opponent to widen his base and simultaneously maintain good mobility.
Therefore, sacrificing mobility, your opponent chose to widen his base and there you were, waiting for him to do it so that
you could go to his back. You knew he would do this because he was so much bigger than you. You would probably have
another strategy for a much smaller and faster opponent because he would probably race around you like speedy Gonzales.
Basic strategy allows for different body types and the most common types of resistance they will provide.
Next, you must move on to the smaller game of Jiu Jitsu. You must learn the tiny little details that make the game much
easier physically, yet much harder mentally. When I first started doing Jiu Jitsu, my movements could be measured in yards
or meters. After a few years, you could measure my movements in inches and centimeters. At this point in time, my movements
are now measured in millimeters.
I have heard some people say, “Blue belts know the same techniques as black belts. It’s just that they are not as good at
them as the black belts are!” This statement, in my opinion, was obviously made by a blue or purple belt, or someone
who measured their skill against a black belt who was out of shape. For me, the Jiu Jitsu game keeps getting smaller
and smaller. The tiniest of movements many times determines the outcome of the effort. For example, in one of my
competitions, I had my opponent in a tight arm lock. I mean that baby was sunk in tight. REAL TIGHT! However, there was
one small detail that made the difference between the tap (which I did not get) and the escape. The difference was this:
my opponent’s elbow was resting on my left nut. The harder I squeezed my knees together, the more it hurt. The higher I
raised my hips, the more it hurt. The more I pulled my heels to my buttocks, the more it hurt. Had his elbow been one
inch higher, he would have tapped. One inch made the difference between a tap and an escape.
There were times when I was training with my instructor Joe Moreira and he would show me some tiny little detail that made
such a difference in my game. I could not believe what I was hearing, seeing and feeling. How could such a tiny little
detail make such an improvement on my game. I am now convinced that as one progresses in Jiu Jitsu, their game gets tighter
and tighter, smaller and smaller. It’s the tiny little details that will make the game much easier physically!
Now, at this point in the game, I am sure you are wondering, “How much deeper can this game go?” Well, the answer is:
MUCH, MUCH DEEPER! I have only scratched the surface of each of these topics. Let move on though.
We now move on to the combination and coordination of multiple movements and techniques. This is where the game becomes
highly complex. You must now combine your previous training together into a tightly knit ball of motion. Five techniques
must now flow together as one. Your timing and sensitivity must be at a very high level. You must no longer THINK about how
to do a technique. You must respond reflexively! Your ability to flow from one technique to another is crucial to lowering
the amount of energy you expend to accomplish a specific goal! Coordinating all of the previous information into a tightly
knit ball of fluid motion is much easier to describe on paper than it is to perform. How does one perform a five technique
flow into one constant ball of motion? Simple! Train, train, train and then train some more. And then when you’re
done training, train some more. This is the only way to make Jiu Jitsu an art of fluid, yet very precise and
powerful movements!
Next, we move onto intermediate strategy. Intermediate strategy involves the use of counters. It also involves setting up
an opponent for the next move. Intermediate strategy is usually the first thing that most beginning students want to
learn after they have gotten get arm locked or triangled. They get tired of tapping out and want to learn how the blue
and purple belts arm lock them so easily. However, they do not understand that this strategy is far too advanced for them.
They beginning student must first work on the basic techniques, the coordination of their body, the timing of the
basic techniques, sensitivity, basic strategy and then learning how the BJJ game gets smaller and smaller as they train
hard and harder. intermediate strategy is fun, but it requires a functional working knowledge of all basic techniques. If
a student has to think about where to put his legs or arms for an arm lock, then he/she is not ready for intermediate
strategy. To be able to counter a specific technique, a student must first have a thorough understanding of the
original technique. Without this understand, the counter does not have much meaning. It is nothing but a fancy move!
The type of strategy where you purposely lead your opponent into his next move is sometimes referred to as a feint.
This strategy involves putting the basic techniques, combinations and strategies together into a pattern that is designed
to lead an opponent down an alley where there are a limited amount of choices. To do this requires an extremely high level
of skill and patience. Not only must one possess great skill and patience, but he must also be a technician. He
must intrinsically know that when he does a certain move, he opens certain doors and closes others. For example, when I
am mounted on top of my opponent and I place my left hand into my opponent’s collar (for a choke), I allow the opponent
to perform the upa technique on his right side. I also allow him the opportunity to perform elbow knee escape on his
right side. Intrinsically, I know that if he performs upa, he opens himself up to an arm lock. I also know that he
opens himself up to an arm lock when he does elbow/knee escape on his right side. How do I know this? Because I have
been through that series of techniques a thousand and one times, and because I have drilled them a thousand and one times,
and because I have practiced and drilled the counters to each move a thousand times. That’s how I can purposely and
confidently place my hand into his collar and wait for him to perform upa or elbow/knee escape on his right side. This
is intermediate strategy.
Next, we must move onto the development of mental attributes. Mental attributes, just like physical attributes, fuel
your techniques. Mental attributes, such as focus, concentration, determination, pain tolerance, the will to survive
and patience are what fuel your physical attributes. Some times, mental attributes are more important than physical
attributes. Mental attributes give you the edge you need in those tight and uncomfortable situations. Have you ever heard
of the mom that lifted an overturned burning car to save her child? Well, that was mental attributes in action. Granted, it
is an extreme example. However, I must point out that the mind is a very powerful tool and should not be overlooked
in training. The development of mental attributes will play a big part in a person’s overall effectiveness in Jiu Jitsu!
Finally, we come to advanced strategy. This is where you put it all together: technical knowledge, the coordination of
your body parts, the timing of your techniques, sensitivity, basic and intermediate strategy, precise movements, as well
as physical and mental attributes. Your previous training has lead you to this stage of training: advanced strategy. Because
of your vast experience and disciplined approach to training, you are now able to think and plan ahead of your
opponent. Granted, things may not go as planned, but you are prepared for the worst. Your experience, disciplined
training habits and unrelenting spirit has put you in a class by yourself. You can not only think for yourself, but you
can also think for your opponent. This is the level where most of your techniques are performed without thought. You
simply respond to a given stimuli out of habit. Why? Because you have been there a thousand times before. You are now set
free from thinking and can focus on what you feel. Based on what you feel, you are able to predict the next series of
movements from your opponent. Jiu Jitsu has now become a highly strategic chess game that you play in your mind and feel
in your skin. You have forgotten more variables than most brown belts know. When someone ask you what to do in a
specific situation, you immediately responds with the correct answer. When they begin to ask you how to counter that move,
you interrupt them and by showing them not only the counter, but five counters ahead. Jiu Jitsu is now a feeling, not
a thought!
It takes years and years of consistent, disciplined practice to reach this obtainable level. Some reach it before other,
and others never reach it. What’s important is that a person understand the path that lies before them and that they give
their best effort to attain it!
I hope that you have gained insight by reading this article. I wish you all the best in your training!

Roy Harris

Free Team - No Drugs, No Steroids, No Gangs


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