The Importance of Testing your BJJ Techniques
I wanted to write a post about the importance of actually testing out the BJJ techniques you are learning. BJJ is a martial art, and as such, should be tested for its effectiveness in real situations, against real opponents. Now, before you get concerned, and begin imagining a crazed white belt pulling guard on the defenseless shoppers of New Seasons market, what I mean by this, is that testing the techniques being taught against progressive resistance, in class, provides an essential part of effectively learning, questioning and developing your BJJ.
BJJ & Progressive Resistance
A recent class at SBG Portland helped reaffirm the way testing against progressive resistance can really ensure the effectiveness of BJJ. The class was centered around a certain situation in closed guard bottom; specifically the breaking down of your opponent’s posture, trapping his or her arm across your body, and holding your opponent in that position of broken posture by reaching your arm over and across their shoulder, and securing a grip in their far arm pit (various attacks/escapes to be worked on from this point).
We proceeded to go through a reset drill to test this position against progressive resistance. SBG BJJ Coach Cane Provost would start the drill, and we would work to hold the position outlined above whilst the opponent attempted to escape and regain their posture. I was in the position of trying to escape from my partner’s grip first, and found that the arm supposedly trapped across my body between my torso and my partner’s was easy to pull free… almost too easy. With the drill only a few seconds old, we were resting and waiting for others to finish, with a few other pairs are in the same situation. Coach calls ‘reset’ and we get back in the same position, and as the drill restarts I find I can free my arm with the same ease, despite my partner tightening things up and delivering more resistance. This continues with each reset, and with each freed arm, I can begin the process of building frames with my arms against my opponent’s abdomen and regaining my posture.
Essentially, the technique we’d been shown in the introduction stage of the class had seemed fairly ineffective in practice. But who knows, perhaps I was just amazing at freeing my arm? Perhaps the skinny biceps and slender shoulders that had resulted from months of skimping on lifting weights had resulted in surprise benefits? The belief that I had some uncanny Houdini-esque escaping ability was sadly short-lived as we switched roles and I had the task of trying to hold my partner’s broken posture in closed guard bottom. I found the required position; knees tight around my partner, heels pulling down, my hips up off the ground and against my partner’s, and my arm reaching over and pulling tightly down across my partner’s shoulders. The drill starts and despite trying to keep everything locked down, even pushing my belly up against his arm to take up as much space as possible, my partner managed to free him arm with relative ease, repeatedly.
The drill comes to an end and Coach Cane Prevost asks how it went and if anybody found any issues. Before I or my partner had a chance to speak up, a couple of other students mentioned running into the same problem we had been having. After watching an example of the problem, Coach Cane provided a potential solution. Upon breaking our opponent’s posture, we should begin to work our way up our partner’s torso; opening our guard and using feet on hips where necessary, before closing our guard again with our hips up higher, under the chest, or employing a pit-stop guard. As with some much in BJJ, we can use our hips to control the situation, and in this case take up the space that was being so easily found previously. We were sent out to drill the position again, using this new approach, and lo and behold, what had previously been fairly easy to escape became much tighter and locked down. Both I and my partner found it near impossible to posture up and/or free our trapped arm regardless of the resistance applied, once the guard was moved up higher on the torso.
So why do I mention this story? It’s an excellent example of the importance of training against real resistance in BJJ. Had we not done so, we would never had identified the problem outlined above. We would’ve nodded in understanding and assumed that what works against a completely compliant partner will obviously work when someone puts up a struggle, despite any proof of that fact. It is an example of how the isolation stage used at SBG keeps BJJ training honest, allows errors and issues in your game to be identified, and solutions and workarounds to be implemented where necessary. It is also a small example that confirms why BJJ is so effective as a martial art. It relies on constant testing in real situations to prove its usefulness, instead of relying on assumptions and traditions. Testing what you have learnt against resistance, and in sparring situations, is a great way to confirm the effectiveness of your BJJ, as well as identify questions that need asking and problems which need working on.