Breakthroughs on the mat are very exciting times for grapplers: you work, sweat, toil and labour for the longest time and your game does not improve. Then, without warning, something happens and your game jumps to another level, making all that work worthwhile.
Sometimes it is possible to know exactly what caused the breakthrough. In my own development, for example, my no-gi guard game lagged behind my gi-based guard game for the longest time. Try as I might, my closed guard would get opened, my open guard would get passed, and my training partners were rarely in any danger from my submission or sweep attempts.
The breakthrough happened rather suddenly, when I finally realized that I wasn’t controlling my opponent’s head in no-gi sparring.
When I started controlling, holding, shoving, stuffing and pushing the head it became much more difficult for opponent’s to make good posture and to pass my guard. Anytime my opponent tried to pass my guard on his knees, for example, I would push his head up, sideways or down to the mat, creating the room I needed to reguard and block his guard pass.
This may seem like a simple revelation, but the bottom line is that my no-gi open guard game probably jumped a full belt level in less than a week as I started incorporating this strategy. Sometimes simple is good!