Back when I was a brown belt I rolled with a large, strong, aggressive and completely unskilled white belt.
This white belt was absolutely determined to illustrate the size difference between us by using all his weight and all his strength at all times. You know the type…
At one point he was in my guard with his forearm across my throat. Essentially he was giving me the classic trigger position for the armbar from guard.
I should have gone for the armbar immediately, but instead I overthought things, having the following conversation with myself…
“Hey, I could armbar him easily from here… Hang on… Waitaminute… Maybe he’s baiting me to go for the armbar so he can stack me and pass my guard – better be careful…”
So for fear of ‘a trap’ I didn’t apply the armbar. He kept his arm dangling there ever so tantalisingly, begging for the armbar, for quite a while.
Then it hit me!
“What the hell are you thinking Kesting?!? He’s a bloody brand new white belt. He’s probably never even seen an armbar. Friggin’ go for it!!!”
So I swung my body into an easy armbar, popped my leg over his head, and applied the armbar. It was basically the armbar from The Easiest Way to Learn the Armbar from Guard.
He tapped out, but it was I who learned the lesson: don’t overthink jiu-jitsu when you’re rolling.
This doesn’t just apply to white belts. It applies even with brown belts and black belts.
Elliott Bayev of Spider Guard Masterclass fame told me about how something similar happened to him in tournament.
One of the most fundamental, most powerful sweeps in the Spider Guard is the Kite Sweep.
And if your opponent is sitting with one knee up and one knee down then he’s especially vulnerable to it. This position, also known as ‘combat base’, is basically asking to be hit with the kite sweep.
Elliott was competing and his experienced opponent got into combat base. This is such a fundamental error that Elliott was concerned that he was being drawn into a trap.
But he decided to go for the kite sweep, his opponent toppled over, and Elliott won the match.
Despite being in an advanced division his opponent had made a mistake, plain and simple.
Freud said “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” And I’m here to tell you that sometimes a mistake is just a mistake; take advantage of them when your opponent makes them!
Take all the time in the world when you’re riffing with friends about coming up with a gameplan, figuring out counters, and trying to find the most efficient way to apply a technique…
But rolling, especially in competition, is NOT the time to overthink the situation. Just go out there and do what you’ve been trained to do.
Less thinking equals faster reactions. Every additional option, possibility, or contingency you have to evaluate takes time, and that means you’re going to move slower.
Skilled opponents can screw up, but usually they self-correct pretty quickly. If they screw up you may only have a brief window to attack, so go for it!!
Also, in a match with a lot of movement it’s not terribly likely that you’re being set up for some devilishly elaborate Machiavellian trap.
People compare jiu-jitsu to chess. And yes, a large part of chess is laying complicated and difficult-to-spot traps for your opponent – he takes one of your pieces but in exchange you get him in checkmate.
But BJJ is more like really fast speed chess. A game in which you only have one or two seconds to decide on your next move.
That means that when an opportunity to attack come up, jump on it. Don’t check behind every bush for a hidden ambush – by the time you figure out whether it’s safe to proceed the opportunity will be gone.
This is ‘go for it’ mentality is ESPECIALLY true if you’re wondering whether to use one of your favourite, high percentage moves. Since these are your favourite moves you probably know how to finish them against resistance, and understand the whole counter-recounter game.
If your A game is includes a certain technique – the sleeve choke, say – and you see an opportunity then go for it!
Either it will work or it won’t.
If it works – great!
If it doesn’t work – no problem.
If it doesn’t work and your opponent squishes you and taps you out – then still, no problem.
Here’s why it’s no problem…
When you’re in a match that really counts – in a tournament, for example – bring on your ‘A’ game. Your best techniques. Your most reliable combinations. Your most powerful gameplan.
But if your opponent can shut down your A game then it’s likely that he’s better than you and you would have lost anyway. Go back to training and get better than him.
But if you hesitate and never unleash your top techniques then you might lose to someone who isn’t as good as you, which really sucks. Don’t die with your biggest guns still in their holsters.
Be decisive! In the words of Mr Miyagi from the Karate Kid, “Walk on road, hm? Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later – Squish!”