Short & Long Term Problem Solving


Grappling is problem solving, and part of improving in Brazilian jiu-jitsu is maintaining enough awareness during sparring to figure out precisely what your problems are.

Let me explain…

An opponent in grappling is always presenting different problems to you: he won’t let you separate his hands when you’re trying to armbar him, he holds your leg when you’re trying to pass his guard, he bridges out of your mount: all these are ‘problems’ to be solved.

As you grow as a grappler you will accumulate many solutions to these sorts of problems. These solutions are the counters and re-counters (counters to the counters) that transform grappling from a mere strength and endurance contest into game of physical chess.

No matter how knowledgeable and experienced you are, you will eventually going to run into problems that you don’t currently have a solution to. This is normal, because you simply can’t anticipate every jumble of limbs and body parts that is ever going to occur on the mats.

When facing one of these unanticipated problems you can sometimes solve it right there in the heat of the battle. This on-the-fly problem solving, if it works, is very gratifying: some of my nicest jiu-jitsu moments were the result of creatively and spontaneously finding a solution that solved an unusual problem posed to me by an opponent.

Not all problems can be solved on the fly however: sometimes you need to take the problem away with you, digest it, work on it, and try to solve it in a cool and systematic way. Here is where the awareness I spoke of earlier comes in: it is often too easy to get frustrated by a problem, curse under your breath, and then move on with the sparring match. Instead of forgetting about the problem, make a mental note to work on it later.

Sometime after sparring is finished take the time to figure out some solutions to the problem you encountered earlier. Some approaches to finding a solution include:

  • Re-creating that position with a training partner, and seeing if you or he can think of a technical solution
  • Asking your instructors and other training partners for input
  • Checking your DVD and book collection for ideas
  • Going to the internet, looking on Youtube, and/or asking a question on a training forum
  • Dwelling on the problem for a while and letting it ferment to see if your unconscious mind can come up with a better solution than your waking brain

For some reason I’ve had a lot of luck with sleeping on a problem, or rather, brainstorming about a problem as I’m trying to go to sleep. Some of my signature moves were created during semi-lucid daydreaming just before bed. Of course that approach is also a fine way to set myself up for insomnia, but that’s the cost of coming up with a great move!

I recently noticed that one of my main training partners has been consistently escaping from my sidemount using the same unconventional escape again and again. When I successfully solve this problem, using one of the methods I talked about above, both his and my jiu-jitsu will grow a notch, and we’ll both be better grapplers for it.

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