The most effective submission in BJJ

Rickson Gracie demonstrating the rear naked choke

There are many different submissions in BJJ. Some are more effective than others. If our goal is to submit our opponents, then it makes sense to focus more of our training time on the most effective submissions.

In BJJ, we get very good at almost breaking our opponent’s joints. We take the joint to the limit of its normal range of movement and then our opponent concedes the submission. We don’t actually break the joint.

An armbar, kimura or heel hook is devastating only in theory because we never follow through to the end of the submission hold. We need practice to gain competence in a skill, yet we can’t gain that practice in a friendly gym.

A successful joint attack involves moving the joint to its limit of movement and then moving it beyond that limit. We regularly practice taking the joint to its limit of movement, but we don’t have experience in applying the force and movement necessary to move it beyond.

Chokes and strangulations differ to joint attacks, in that they can be trained in a way that gives us confidence we can complete the submission. A successful strangle involves a squeeze, a hold and then a wait. Our opponent concedes the submission during the wait portion. Completing the submission only involves maintaining the hold and waiting longer. No additional force or movement is required, only endurance. This gives us more confidence that we can take a strangle or choke to completion than we can a joint attack.

The most effective submissions are those that we have practiced to completion. We can’t take submissions to completion in the gym as we need to respect the health of our training partners. So the most effective submissions are the ones that we can practice the closest to completion, namely chokes and strangles.

The 6 positions of Jiu-Jitsu

To understand something complex, we often break it down into to smaller chunks. Smaller chunks are easier to understand but we lose understanding at the boundaries between chunks. If the chunks are too small and numerous, we have many boundaries between chunks and hence lots of grey areas where we can lose understanding.

A problem with the traditional jiu-jitsu teaching methodology is that there are too many chunks. Consider guard passing. Guards: closed, seated, butterfly, spider, lasso, worm, half, deep half, z, de-la riva, 50/50, koala, rubber, reverse de-la riva, de-la spider plus a bunch of others. To pass guard, we have to first identify the guard then choose one of several passing techniques we know for that guard. This is too complicated. If you chunk guard passing this way, your thinking is likely to be slow and you will find it hard to flow.

A simpler chunking scheme for guard passing is to either pass or your feet or on your knees. If you’re having difficulty on your feet, switch to your knees and vice versa. Notice that when the number of chunks is smaller, it is easier to consider the boundary between chunks.

Understanding the chunk boundaries, and being able to transition between chunks is a major part of flow.

Here is my chunking scheme for jiu-jitsu. As you read this, keep in mind the transitions between and within the positions.

  1. Both Standing This is a symmetrical position (gravity affects both opponents the same way), so strength has a big effect. Get to the mat to exploit the asymmetry of the other positions.
  2. Guard top You’re winning (55/45) but only barely. It’s difficult to submit from here so transition to a dominant position.
  3. Guard bottom You’re mostly safe, but don’t be lazy. Your use of all four limbs almost nullifies your opponent’s gravity advantage, so ensure each of your limbs have a purpose. Defend the guard pass and get on top.
  4. Dominant position Mount, side, back, 411, north/south – it’s all the same. You can submit your opponent much easier than they can submit you (90/10). Transition within the position and catch a submission when your opponent opens up to escape.
  5. Inferior position Sucks to be you. Maintain protective structure and transition to any other position when you can.
  6. Both butts on the mat Also a symmetrical position, but more skill based. Very flexible as it allows easy transitions to the other ground positions. If you win the leg pummel then consider it a dominant position. Don’t try to submit unless your position is dominant. Dual leg lock battles are bad jiu-jitsu.

To be effective with jiu-jitsu, you must be effective within each of the six positions, and you must be effective at transitioning between the positions.

That’s not a real move

Would you tap to this?

Jiu-jitsu is a contest between two people to see who can make the other give up. It’s fun and we want to do it every day, so we have rules that ensure no-one gets injured.

The rules are simple

  • stop when the other person taps
  • use a mat on the ground to prevent wear and tear on the body
  • no moves that will cause injury before the other person has a chance to tap out (no biting, scratching, striking etc)

And that’s it.

The art of jiu-jitsu is to be able to make someone bigger and stronger than you submit. This is the goal we keep in mind when we train. To do this, we train sophisticated moves that require minimal strength and athleticism as these moves have the greatest change of defeating someone bigger and stronger.

There is a problem that many practitioners face after they’ve been training for a couple of years. They forget that the game of jiu-jitsu is to make the other person give up. They think that the game of jiu-jitsu is to make the other person give up by using jiu-jitsu moves. This happens because they have become so used to looking at the small details of jiu-jitsu, that they have forgotten the overall larger picture.

At the end of the day, a tap is a tap. Whether it is due to an armbar or a simple head squeeze, makes no difference.

Overlooking this will slow your growth at best, and result in injury at worst. Practitioners at this stage of their development will say things like “I had to take a week off from training because my neck was so sore from being cranked. It hurt at the time but I didn’t tap because it wasn’t a choke”.

There are sophisticated moves that require skill to perform, and unsophisticated moves that only rely on brute force. Both are valid.

To be good at jiu-jitsu means being able to defend both types of moves. When something hurts, tap and then learn how to prevent it so it doesn’t make you tap again.

Beginning frustrations

When you first begin jiu-jitsu, you feel like you’re fully awake and alive. The stars are brighter when you leave the gym at night. Your body feels like it has a purpose. You hunger for answers to the questions that arise on the mat.

These feelings stay with you as long as you do . . . → Read More: Beginning frustrations

Paying homage to Jiu-jitsu

I’ve played many sports over the years. Some I’ve passionately enjoyed. Many were fun ways to pass the time. Other’s were boring and only done out of a sense of obligation. Jiu-jitsu is the only sport that has made me cry.

What jiu-jitsu brings, that the others don’t, is honesty. Honesty about yourself and . . . → Read More: Paying homage to Jiu-jitsu

How to begin a roll

Ideally, every roll would start with both opponents standing. Potential collisions with other people rolling nearby make this impractical on a crowded mat. Additionally, takedowns often result in wear and tear on the body. Most gym rolls have an implicit agreement that both opponents will avoid standing at the same time.

The naïve compromise . . . → Read More: How to begin a roll

The Right Way(tm)

When we learn a new move in jiu-jitsu, we want to learn it correctly. We want to perform it the right way.

A move is a collection of concepts and tradeoffs. There is no right way to always perform a move in the general sense. The specific way to perform a move will depend . . . → Read More: The Right Way(tm)

Ever thought about why you love/hate the gi?

Gi or no-gi is a polarising question in BJJ circles. Most people have a preference for one or the other. Calling it a preference is a little understated. Religious fervour would be more accurate.

The main difference between gi and no-gi is that you can grip the clothing. Essentially, gripping the gi acts as . . . → Read More: Ever thought about why you love/hate the gi?

Safety and Illegal Moves

As a coach, my job is to provide a training environment where people can learn BJJ safely and effectively. But there’s more to it than that. My job is to ensure that they learn how to keep themselves safe while training and competing.

These two things are not the same.

The most important thing . . . → Read More: Safety and Illegal Moves

Why the IBJJF rules can’t be fixed

The majority of BJJ competitions follow the IBJJF ruleset or a variation of it. The objective in a BJJ match is for two competitors to battle to be the first to submit the other. This simple objective sounds like fun for the competitors and promises excitement for the spectators. So why aren’t IBJJF matches . . . → Read More: Why the IBJJF rules can’t be fixed