As a young martial artist I once debated whether a certain Kung Fu striking technique could actually work in a real fight.
To prove my point I mentioned that a bouncer I knew had successfully used that technique on a drunk in the bar the other night.
The guy I was arguing with shut me down with a devastatingly simple rebuttal, “Yeah Stephan, that doesn’t prove anything, because ANYTHING will work on a drunk.”
And he was right.
If a guy is drunk enough then you might just be able to land your spinning-flying-monkey-fist, or apply a standing aikido wrist lock against him. But the fact that something worked once against an inebriated opponent is NOT proof of the intrinsic effectiveness of the technique.
The sad truth is that low percentage techniques like the spinning-flying-monkey-fist (or whatever) will occasionally work against inferior opponents, but then completely fail you against strong, sober and determined opponents.
If the monkey fist really worked then every boxer and MMA fighter in the world, motivated by the desire to knock his opponent out and collect the prize money, would be monkey-fisting in every fight against every opponent.
By contrast, high percentage techniques like the jab, cross, push kick and knee from the Thai clinch have been proven many times against high quality opponents in the ring and in the street. That means you can rely on them working more often and against a better quality of opponent.
BJJ techniques are much the same way.
There are techniques that will work against white and blue belts that will not work against higher belts. Or, if by some crazy fluke they catch a higher belt with it once, then you’ll never catch him with it a second time.
If you get tricked by your early initial successes with these novelty techniques and make them your bread and butter then you’ll end up down a major blind alley – you’ll waste months or years of your training time stalled out exploring some blind alley.
By contrast high percentage BJJ techniques work again and again. In fact, if you refine them then they work even when your opponent is expecting them and is doing everything he can to shut them down.
To figure out the high percentage techniques the general rule of thumb is to look at what the high level guys are doing – if they’re doing it against the best black belts in the world then it’ll probably work for you at your club too.
(The only thing you have to be careful of are the techniques that require some crazy attribute, like extreme flexibility or super high levels of strength…)
Rob Biernacki and I discuss this concept – of modelling the top level guys – extensively in the immediatey video below. Give it a watch or a listen if you want to do a deep dive into figuring out which techniques to add to your game, and/or read on below.
Now it’s OK to spend a little bit of your training time doing crazy experiments and exploring weird ass techniques. Who knows, maybe you’ll discover the next big thing in jiu-jitsu…
But make sure that you spend the majority of your time on techniques that work the most often… the high percentage stuff… the moves you know will work against black belts.
For example, when it comes to submissions, how many matches at the Mundials ended with armbars, chokes from the back, kneebars and triangle chokes? Answer: in most years these account for the majority of all submissions!
So if you’re serious about submitting your opponents I would spend quite a bit of time developing my armbar and/or my chokes from the back and/or my kneebars and/or my triangle chokes.
Let’s finish up with one more real world example about defending the guard pass…
I often train with a really good purple belt. He’s tough, strong, smart and has been training a looonnnnggg time.
He complained to me that his jiu-jitsu development had stalled out, and I took that as an invitation to give him s*** for a bad habit that might be part of the reason his pesky plateauing.
I told him that whenever I was close to passing his guard he would concede the pass, lie flat on his back, and swim an arm around my head in an attempt to get my lapel noosed around my neck. It’s sort of a weird inverted loop choke.
(This choke-attack-as-a-guard-pass-defense is unorthodox; I can recall a few times that I’ve had to scramble like hell to escape the choke. But once you’re wise to this choke it’s pretty easy to shut down. And by flopping to his back the guy on the bottom has given up his final opportunity to stop the guard pass.)
In general, I advised him, going flat onto your back when your guard is about to be passed is a bad idea unless you’ve got some crazy-ass flexible legs.
Therefore the best thing he could do to make his guard harder to pass was to STOP falling to his back and going for this tricky choke.
Instead I told him to put a frame in place, fight like crazy to sit up, and escape his hips backwards.
This is the ‘Frame and Hip Escape’ style of guard retention (video below).
Now the frame and hip escape isn’t the only effective method of guard pass prevention.
But it is very effective, it works for almost everyone, and it combines well with other guard retention methods like the half Granby roll (which you can learn in the second video in this guard retention article on Grapplearts).
Want proof that it works?
Well, if you watch footage of Marcelo Garcia sparring or competing you see him do this style frame and hip escape guard pass prevention again and again.
Torreando pass: Frame… Situp… Hip Escape!
Over-under pass: Frame… Situp… Hip Escape!
Leg-on-shoulder pass: Frame… Situp… Hip Escape!
And he’s not the only only competitor using it. A ton of other high level grapplers use variations of this movement to prevent the guard pass, which is a pretty good indicator that it’s a high percentage reliable technique.
We’ve talked about submissions and guard pass prevention techniques, but the same approach applies to every area of jiu-jitsu including takedowns, pin escapes, taking the back, sweeping your opponent, passing the guard, and breaking grips…
Training time is precious. Unless you can spend 8 hours a day at the dojo spend the majority of your time working on the high percentage stuff.
So focus on the techniques the black belts use when they’re fighting other black belts for real.
If it’s their bread and butter when the rubber meets the road then maybe you should consider making it your bread and butter too.