What a Spider Guard Fail Teaches You About How to Train Any Technique!

Today’s tip comes was inspired from some training I did with a smaller grappler, let’s call him ‘Stu.’

Stu wanted to learn some sweeps from the Spider Guard (an open guard position where you control both of your opponent’s sleeves and have one or both feet on his biceps).

Anyway we worked on what I call the Baiting Sweep.’  In this sweep you keep one foot on your opponent’s bicep, position your other leg across his belly, and… ooops… you ‘allow’ him to pass your guard.

Don’t freak out at this point – it’s all under control.  He’s just jumped from the frying pan smack-dab into the middle of the fire…

Now keep your grip on the sleeve of his trailing arm and your foot on the bicep, bend your leg a little bit in order to load him up, and underhook his lead leg with your free arm.

Then finish the sweep by extending your leg out to the side and lifting his leg with your arm.  The dual action of the kick and lift usually sends him FLYING over your head and brings you to the top position very naturally.

Now it’s a great sweep with the gi.  And I’ve even pulled it off no-gi, on some very good sparring partners. But it’s not the sweep itself I want to talk about.

Instead it’s about what happened next, because it illustrates the right way and the wrong way to bring new techniques into your game.

You see Stu and I drilled the sweep about 30 times.  He seemed to get it, and then we moved on to drilling other things.

A few days later I texted him:

“Have you used the sweep yet?”

“I tried.  But it was unsuccessful.

“What went wrong?”

“I probably set it up wrong. Or my timing was off.”

“Of course you’re starting out by trying it on the smallest, lightest white belt first, right”

“Lol…. Ummm….  Yeah…… Sure…..”

As I said, this email to you today isn’t really about the Spider Guard, or about how to do a particular sweep. It’s about the best way to train ANY technique from from ANY position.  It could be a sweep from Spider Guard, an escape from Rear Mount, or the inside-out, upside-down, cross-collar Jehoshaphat choke, whatever…

So let’s say that you’ve come across a technique that would fit really well into your game.  Or even a technique that would give you the edge in the arms race with that one specific sparring partner with whom you have all those epic dogfights.

First comes due diligence, of course.  Learn how to do the move and get all the technical details correct. Jiu-jitsu is a game of inches, and sometimes it really makes a difference whether you grip with your hand an inch higher or an inch lower.

Next make sure you do your drilling. Grab a body, anybody’s body, and do 20, 40, 100 repetitions of that move with zero resistance every training session. There are, of course, some moves and concepts you can incorporate into your game overnight without any drilling (isn’t that fantastic when it happens?).  But for most techniques, most of the time, you’ve just got to put in the work and do your reps in order to ingrain the move into your body.

Next come trying to use that technique in sparring… Now I think it’s a mistake to head onto the mats and try your brand new move on the super-tough brown belt who outweighs you by 20 lbs and medals at every tournament he enters.

Every technique has a counter, and the odds are good that this brown belt either knows a counter, or will use his strength and athleticism to power out of your still-tentative technique. And the next thing you know you’ll be tapping out to some some crazy choke where both arms are trapped and the only thing left to tap with your pinkie toe.

And epic failures like that will just discourage you.  So instead, try working your way up the food chain.

Let’s say you really like a certain closed guard sweep.  Start by trying this sweep on the lightest and least experienced whitebelt in class. Even sweeping this lightweight beginner might not be easy if you’re missing some of the fundamental details.  So try the sweep, try to do everything right, study his reactions, and try to figure out solutions for the problems you encounter.

(And don’t be afraid to ask your instructor for help – that’s what you pay him for.  If he doesn’t allow questions then find a new instructor!)

After you’ve tweaked your move and ironed out some of the details you’ll probably get to the stage where you you can hit the move semi-reliably on the lighter whitebelt.  So then move along and try it on heavier and bigger whitebelts.

Once you can hit it on most of the whitebelts, regardless of size, then start all over with the lightest bluebell and work your way up the weight classes again.

And then the purple belts too.

Training like this is great for a couple of reasons…

First, you’re accumulate a lot of experience about how people of different sizes and skill sets might react to your technique.  If it’s a sweep then maybe some people posture up, other people base out with their hands, and other people drive forward.  Eventually you’ll learn and internalize the right ways to counter each of these reactions.

Second you’re preserving your ego.  If you try to sweep a brand new whitebelt and it doesn’t work then at least you’ll usually be able to recover your guard and maybe try the sweep again later.  Fail with the same sweep on that hardcore brown belt and he’ll be past your guard and bringing the pain to you in no time at all, which is scarcely the positive reinforcement we’re looking for!

So use a little patience and work your way up the ranks and the weight classes.

Don’t get discouraged, remember that anything worth doing is worth doing poorly, especially at first.

That brown belt competitor stud doesn’t know it, but you’re still gunning for him, only in stealth mode.  Don’t worry, you’ll nail him yet!!

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