Posted: December 27, 2021 at 10:27 am

The time right around the new year is often one of both reflection and looking forward.  Many people think back to how their last year went, and make plans / set goals for what they would like to do and achieve in the upcoming year.  At Industrial Strength we teach both strength training and Jiu Jitsu, the former of which lends itself to setting goals that are objective (lifting a certain amount of weight, doing a certain amount of pull ups, and so on), whereas Jiu Jitsu is not as easy to do that with.  One of the most important pieces of advice that I can give when it comes to your Jiu Jitsu development is:


When we spar in BJJ there are dozens of common positions we find ourselves in, especially if you consider both top and bottom of each position.  From my experience, when someone is in a position that they are not confident in they tend to respond in one of three ways:

  • Rely purely on physical attributes to try and advance (i.e. use a lot of strength / power).
  • Clam up and don’t do much of anything at all – basically just try to stall it out until the position changes
  • Slowly and calmly work on trying to understand the position and use your best problem-solving skills to figure out the best course of action.

As you might imagine, the first two options are significantly more common than the third.  People who are naturally strong and athletic tend to go for the first one, people who have less physical attributes tend to do the second one, and only a small number of people go for the third one.

This is a good opportunity to consider the common saying in BJJ of “check your ego at the door.”  I think this saying sometimes get misconstrued and interpreted almost like you should not have confidence in your abilities – I would strongly disagree with that.  The whole idea with training is that you WANT TO develop confidence in your abilities should you need to put them to the test.  On the other hand, not every single moment on the mat is a proper occasion to put them to the test, and it is important to understand the difference.

Sometimes when we are grappling we want to rely on our best moves and include all of our athletic ability – a good example of this is entering a tournament or doing hard training leading up to one.  The combination of emphasizing your best moves and taking advantage of whatever strength / athleticism you have will give you the best chance to win.  On the other hand, if that is all you do all the time, it tends to hinder your long-term development because you are not expanding your repertoire and growing your skill set.  It is important to take your foot off the gas pedal and work on all parts of your game, even if they are not where you are currently the strongest or most adept.  As you might suspect the latter is also easier on your body, because you can only handle so much “pedal to the metal” before something starts to give.  A saying I’ve heard once is “you can’t fix the car while you’re still driving it” – I think this makes a lot of sense; if you want to fix something you need to take your foot off the gas, stop the car, work on it, and only after you have spent time addressing the problem do you want to test it a bit by putting your foot back on the gas.  

OK, so let’s circle back to the initial topic of working to have a “Jiu Jitsu solution” for every common position.  We all have some positions that we like more than others, or that we feel more comfortable in than others.  This has less to do with how good or bad a position inherently is, and it has more to do with how much training and retention of techniques we have from that position.  An example might be helpful: in my experience people tend to be more comfortable having their back taken compared to standing grappling working for takedowns.  On the surface this makes almost no sense – having your back taken is the worst possible position in BJJ, and working for takedowns is the most neutral position in BJJ. 

So why might this be the case?  In my opinion, it has everything to do with where people spend their time and energy in training.  If you have spent a significant amount of time working on a certain position or scenario you are bound to be more comfortable there – and reciprocally positions where you have spent less time and have fewer skills developed will inherently make you more uncomfortable (possibly even panicked).  

Given that, you might be asking yourself “So what do I do about it?”  I would recommend you start by assessing all the major positions of BJJ, dividing them into sub-categories, and asking yourself how comfortable you feel with each one.  Naturally there will be some that you feel more comfortable with than others, and whichever ones you are least comfortable with should be at the top of your list to work on and improve.  Keep in mind, “being comfortable” with a position or scenario doesn’t mean that you are always successful from there – you can be “comfortable” with side control bottom but still not get out every time; it’s more of a measure of how confident you are in having an idea of WHAT to do than it is your ability to successfully DO IT against an uncooperative opponent (at least at first).  Here are a few points to consider when doing this breakdown:

  • Is the position fairly common, or is it a weird fluke that you only found yourself in once or twice?
  • Is the position one where you can typically dictate which side it is played on (right vs. left), or is that more up to your opponent?  If it is the latter, you should work on addressing both sides; one of the most common instances I see of feeling uncomfortable / flustered is when someone gets put into a position where they feel good on one side, but unconfident in the opposite side.
    • However, if determining which side is played is up to you, then having only one strong side is probably OK.
  • Does the position exist in both gi and no gi?  If so, is there a big gap in your comfort level from one to the other?
  • Are there any positions you commonly find yourself in that seem to leave you feeling a bit panicked, with a sense of urgency that you want to do SOMETHING but you don’t really know what to do?
  • Are there any positions where you commonly find yourself that your reaction tends to be balling up and hoping to stall it out, rather than actively working to improve your position?
  • Are there positions you commonly find yourself in that you simply do not even know where to start?  Or, similarly, where you find yourself continuing to make the same mistake over and over?

My hunch is that after reading through that you have one or two positions / scenarios that jump out at you – I know I have mine, and I suspect you have yours too.  The next question you probably ask yourself is “OK, so how do I improve in those scenarios?”  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Many gyms have rotating curriculums they go through, so make sure to attend as much as possible during those particular classes.  For example, we are just finishing “takedowns” month in my classes, and will be moving to “closed guard” for January.  
  • Some gyms have open mat time where you can drill or spar.  Use at least some of this time to work on your position(s).  Start by drilling and making sure you have a basic understanding of what you are trying to do, and then move to light positional-isolation sparring after that.  Note the emphasis on lighter training here – do not jump right into full-speed sparring when you are just getting your feet wet with a certain position or technique.
  • Seek resources outside of class time.  These days there are tons of options online to get great instruction, so don’t be shy about looking into those.  You could also seek out a private lesson from your instructor, or attend a local seminar from a travelling instructor who you know to be well versed on that position.

Are you local to Portland and interest in getting started in BJJ (or do you have a friend who you have been trying to recruit for a while)?  We offer your first class free – use the button below to learn more.

-Tony Gracia


Tony GraciaView Posts