No, no, no. Sharpen your blade first!


Friendly rivalries on the mat often turbocharge your grappling progress.

Recently I was corresponding with a BJJ player who kept on getting caught in the same leglock by a fellow student with a Sambo background. I shared a few counters to the leglock with him. He was stoked: “I’m going to try this on the Sambo guy the next time we roll” he said.

“No no no!” says I. “Don’t try it on your sambo guy first; try it with another training partner first. Talk him through the attack and refine your defenses a bit. THEN try it on the sambo guy”

If you spar with someone regularly (assuming you are both roughly the same level), then you’ll inevitably be on the lookout for techniques and tactics you can use against that one specific person.

This is a natural process – after all, your opponent is doing the exact same thing to get a leg up on you – so it ends up creating an ‘arms race’ on the grappling mat.

(I’ve previously written about this in some detail – check out the links below for the whole story about the upside of arms races.)

So let’s say that you have a friendly rivalry, and that you come across a move that would be great to use on your nemesis.

“This would be a GREAT way to tap him out,” you think.

Of course the temptation is use the move on your ‘enemy’ right away. But no matter how perfect this technique is, the odds are that it’s not going to work the first time you try it.

Even worse, by trying it prematurely (and failing) you’ve just given your opponent a heads up about this new trick of yours, and he’ll start formulating his counter strategy right away.

You don’t want to waste your perfect move with less than perfect execution.

So here’s the hard part: when you come across one of these solid gold moves, try NOT using it on your opponent right away. Instead spend a few training sessions trying it out on lighter and less experienced grapplers, refining the timing of the move and working out any kinks in the technique.

Then, once you’re satisfied that the move works on ‘lesser’ grapplers, unleash it on your rival. Once you’ve savored the sweet satisfaction of success get up and do your little happy dance!

So if you really want to have your special technique work on someone, then take some time to hone your skills and sharpen your blade in secret. You don’t want to bring a knife to a knife-fight: bring a gun instead!

But don’t be a jerk about the whole thing either! And after you’ve successfully used the move a few times, I want you to show your rival exactly what you’re doing, and even give him advice on what he can do to counter you. This way the circle of technical development will keep going around.

The technical level of your sparring partners will increase, and this can only help you in the long run. A rising tide lifts all boats!

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