BJJ is the art of a million moves. At least it can feel like that to a beginner. If your gym follows the common “3 techniques a class” philosophy, you’ll be exposed to several hundred techniques a year. How can you simplify and make sense of all this information?

An easy approach is to simply ignore most of the techniques and only focus on the high percentage ones. (A high percentage technique is one that it is used effectively in high level competition by multiple competitors). The problem with ignoring teaching is that a lot of your instruction time is wasted.

A better approach is to group information into similar chunks. You remember the overall chunk, and anything inside is simply a variation on the overall theme.

Forlogos demonstrates spider guard passing

No reason for the image, it's just cool.

Let’s use guard passing as an example.

The novice approach is to remember each individual guard pass as a sequence of steps – left hand grabs the collar, right hand grabs the sleeve, right foot steps up… A sure path towards information overload.

Perhaps we could try categorising the guard passes. e.g. Standing vs kneeling guard passes. Or even: under the legs vs over the legs vs around the legs. This groups the different passes and makes remembering them easier. It is a good approach for brainstorming and for organising your thoughts while you try to better understand guard passing.

Categorising techniques does has several problems. Like the novice approach, it’s a descriptive approach. It addresses guard passing as a collection of techniques to be mastered. It doesn’t address the transition between the categories – you might start passing by standing but finish on your knees. And it doesn’t help you understand why the passing techniques work, or how to modify them to make them work for you.

A different approach is to realise that there are a small number of objectives that occur throughout the different guard passes. The focus of passing becomes a matter of fulfilling objectives, not the mechanics of how to do so. If the objective is to pin your opponent’s knee to the mat, you can do that with your hand, your shin, your belly or other body part. Different body parts may lead to different passes, but the objective is the same.

This objective based approach is similar to how guard passing works in practise. You have a collection of possible objectives and you try to achieve the easiest one based on the resistance your opponent is giving you. As you try to achieve a particular objective, your opponent may change position and a different objective may become easier to achieve, so you switch to that one.

Here are a few common objectives that occur in guard passing.

  • Control your opponent’s feet, then knees, then hips and then shoulders. If you lose control of one of these then backtrack and start again.
  • Pin either one of your opponent’s knees to the ground, or pin both knees together.
  • Keep your hips as close to your opponent’s hips as possible.
  • Establish the underhook before completing the pass to side control.

There are multiple ways to organise how you think about BJJ. Don’t just stick to a single approach. Try different ways to get the benefits of them all.