After my somewhat controversial 2nd Volume about "The Jiu-Jitsu Body" I've decided to discuss a topic that I think will not be as alienating or open to misinterpretation as the prior one (at least I hope so)
When I first began training Jiu-Jitsu I wanted nothing more than to get a submission, as in my mind I saw this as the entire point of the sport (to submit my opponent). I had a mental concept that by getting a submission I would somehow be self-validating all the time and effort I was putting into training. Because of this way of thinking I started my BJJ career by throwing up reckless arm-bars and triangles, going for chokes that were not deep or secure, and other such reckless attempts at finishing moves. Even against white belts these tactics failed me consistently; against higher belts, I was punished with devastating counters that led to me being dominated or submitted (i.e. spinning top-side arm-bars off of a lose half-guard Kimura from the bottom, wrist-locks from shallow clock-choke attempts, passes to knee-on-belly than mount from reckless high-guard submission attempts).
It was literally as if the harder I tried to submit someone, the easier I became to get submitted. This was due to a combination of things – my lack of technical experience, my lack of training time, and my lack of physical conditioning. However, and most importantly, it was my lack of understanding the concept of “Defense First” that was leading to me exposing myself in rash attempts to get submissions. I was trying to run a sprint when I was actually competing in a marathon and my initial inability to shift my focus off of offense led to me being submitted more times than I can count.
Chapter 4 of Sun Tzu’s famous “The Art of War” is about Tactical Dispositions and his first two points are:
1. The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then waited for an opportunity of defeating the enemy.
2. To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.
These two points are brilliant when it comes to the essential core of the tactical disposition of fighting, whether in martial arts or traditional warfare. You can’t submit an opponent by creating an opportunity that doesn’t exist, it is your opponent who must create the opportunity for you (you can of course bait your opponent into presenting the opportunity or he/she might make a mistake on his/her own and create it for you).
If your opponent is skilled in the tactics of Jiu-Jitsu, these brief openings for attacks need to be patiently scouted and then attacked with precision. If not you will attack with the inappropriate technique or when the moment has passed and will create an opening in turn for your opponent. That is the essence of a “counter,” since it capitalizes on an attack by turning it into a weakness for the person on the offensive. At higher levels of the game the players are thinking multiple steps ahead in what both they and their opponent will be doing. As a white belt you are usually stuck playing checkers, while higher belts are typically playing chess.
This is why it is critical that white-belts (and even some blue-belts as well) first learn proper defense above all else – if you make yourself very difficult to attack or submit it will make it more likely for your opponent to force moves and take chances. This ultimately leads to your opponent exposing vulnerabilities that weren’t previously there before (“openings”). Without these openings you rely on using your physical attributes and basic techniques without any set-ups to carry you through on attacks, making the likelihood of getting taps very low.
There are of course some exceptions; some people have amazing speed and/or strength and when they learn a move that is effective for their game they might be able to hit it on people with a good success-rate, even higher belts. However, everyone you train with over a period of time begins to understand your game more and more; what your tendencies are, what positions you prefer, and where you are comfortable/uncomfortable. If you rely on a few specific finishing moves that are mainly successful because of your physical attributes, soon your less physically gifted opponents will pick up on this trend and begin to prevent it. Higher belts and those with the same physical gifts will probably end up using these moves against you as the set-up and technique become predictable they can learn to effectively counter it.
This is why people commonly say that true Jiu-Jitsu is chess and not checkers; at higher levels of the sport you need to be able to transition quickly from defense to attack to defense to attack, since you get in the beautiful cycle of where there is a counter to every counter. The person with the most depth of knowledge in these maneuvers and ability to effectively transition between the techniques has the clear advantage, while the person who relies on finishing the one technique they always go for and set-up in identical fashion will soon find them being dominated in the transitions.
I once described true Jiu-Jitsu as an endless series of transitions between positions, with flowing attacks and defense from both opponents creating a whirlpool of technique until one opponent gets drowned in the swirling waters. It is only when we have mastered the art of successfully defending ourselves can we truly feel comfortable jumping into such a whirlpool; until then, the best way we progress is by trying to focus on not drowning so quickly. As martial arts are meant to teach the concept of “Self-Defense,” concentrate first on mastering the art of defense and quickly you will find the offensive part of the game will open up to you with much greater effect.
I hope you enjoyed reading and welcome all thoughts/criticisms.
If you would like to check out Volume 1: Conserving Energy -
If you would like to check out Volume 2: The Jiu-Jitsu Body -