Friday, April 26, 2013

Worth fighting for?


If you're attending a regular-sized gym, you might be rolling daily with white through purple belts. You might notice how strength is less and less required as the skill gap increases. However, when skills match, strength matters yet again. This is why we have age sex and weight divisions. But why is it so?

Quite simply, I believe that with experience, one learns which fights are important to win, and which are distractions. For example, from the open guard, a novice won't blink an eye when someone controls both his pant legs, but will expend all his energy trying to bench press someone off of side control.

As my jiu-jitsu evolves, my fights become a lot more focused. With time, I have even learned a bit of anatomy. I know instinctively the parts of the body which are worth controlling, how much each joint is supposed to bend in a normal person, etc. I want to share this knowledge hoping it will help others. This is stuff I would have wanted to learn even before focusing on techniques. In other words, these are simply points of control which you either want to gain, or protect.

One of the most overlooked point of control are the armpits. Why is that control important? Because if you control the armpit, the person's elbow is not connected to his ribcage anymore. Fight to control it and suddenly the whole forearm becomes exposed for a nice kimura grip. Or use the underhook for your favorite pass and keeping the guy on his back.

Then, there's the elbow. The thing about the elbow is that it gives you leverage over the whole arm. Pull it through for chokes, or nullifying a side control escape, or arm barring. Another essential point of control.

If you're a guard player, you might also discover the importance of the knees. As long as you can use one knee to separate your hip from your partner's, you still have some mobility left for your guardwork. Don't let your knees get stapled to the mat, or even gripped, especially both at the same time.

I am sorry for the brevity, but keeping these things in mind has really made me more successful controlling stronger people, and if you know how to control these points, your jiu-jitsu will open up.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The secrets to a good guard

I enjoy playing guard, and I am sometimes flattered when people ask me for advice. By explaining different aspects of how I approach the guard, I've come to realize there are three aspects which really do matter, regardless of what kind of guard you choose to play. There is, of course, generic advice such as moving your hips to create angles, get your favorite grips, etc, but I believe there's something more to it.

So let's stop beating around the bush, and get right to it. I call it the three P's : Push, Pull and Posture. A good guard will allow you do to exactly this : Push your opponent, pull him and control his posture. These three aspects are crucial to get your guard to be successful. Let's examine these in depth.

Pushing is mostly a defensive maneuver, but not only.  You absolutely have to be able to push your opponent away when you get in bad spots, and your angles are all wrong, or your grips are funny. This allows, from a defensive point of view, to stuff different passes your opponent might try. On the flip-side  pushing is awesome because it creates a reaction you can capitalize on. Ok, I will let you in to a little secret of the purple belt and advanced blue crowd. Don't tell anyone, but we love momentum, especially when we get it for free. Why ? Because we can use it to our advantage with proper timing and technique. If we fight similarly skilled opponents, it gets much harder to work, because they just won't try to push through us, without having proper technique and timing.

Pulling is the second aspect of a good guard. The idea is to be able to control the distance between your opponent and yourself. You absolutely have to be able to go both directions to generate either sweeps or submissions. As the level gets better and better, this allows you to build techniques which work in opposite directions. The clearest example I can think of off the top of my head, is the armdrag to kimura sweep from the closed guard. First, you pull your partner initiating an armdrag. He reacts by pulling full force backward. At that specific moment, you let go of the armdrag and initiate a kimura sweep. You have effectively pushed and pulled to get your point across.

The last aspect of a good guard is probably the most overlooked, in my opinion, and that's Posture. I can't stress posture enough, especially since it matters for both people. If you control your opponent's posture AND can push and pull, you will upset him quite a bit because he not only has to worry about getting swept, but he can't start attacking until he gets proper posture himself. On the flip-side, if you allow your posture (especially your neck and hips) to be controlled in any way, your opponent now has the upper hand. An innocuous-looking collar grip, especially from experienced black belts, will definitely cost you five moves later, and you'll only know how important that grip was when you get to it.

So in short, I'm sorry for the long post, but essentially a good guard all comes down to being able to Push, Pull and control the Posture. The beautiful thing about it, is there are a million ways to do that : there are no limits to how this can be applied.