Don't Forget the Wrist Lock
The longer you train BJJ and the more techniques you become exposed to, you begin to build a base of knowledge of techniques. Some techniques might tend to come easier to you, so you will naturally gravitate towards those favored techniques that you are inclined to and most likely avoid those techniques that don't come to you easily. This is human nature and entirely normal, but as you continue to train and move up the ranks, it's important to take an objective look at your grappling game and see if you can improve areas where you are weak and make yourself a more well-rounded and ultimately formidable jiu jitsu practioner.
How often should you take stock in your BJJ arsenal? This is an entirely personal choice for each practitioner, but an initial recommendation would be at minimum, once a year. Perhaps around the holidays, when your gym may be closed a little extra for the winter holidays, it would be a good time to take a look at your game and see what things you can work on into the new year.
Another option, would be to review your progress around your stripe and belt promotions. Once your instructor has conferred on you a new rank, it's a great time to ask yourself, what can I do to be the best (insert new belt rank) student in the next year or so. Take some time and sit down with your instructor and ask them what their advice would be and maybe they will share some stories from before they were a black belt that could save you some time and effort. Most times when I've asked this question of my instructors, the best advice is usually not them telling me exactly what to focus on, it's them sharing their mistakes that allow me to see where to not focus my efforts and not fall into the wrong path like they may have.
Once you've determined the frequency with which you are going to assess your progress, it will help you to have some sort of system to be able to help in the assessment and also help you put together a plan of attack to begin working on the most pressing areas and get yourself moving towards being that well-rounded ground assassin we all want to be.
What Are Your Favorite Techniques?
Have you ever written down a pro versus con list for a difficult or important decision? It's amazing how putting something down in writing can help clarify your feelings and put them in an objective form for your review. This gives you a concrete list that you can then take action. By listing out your favorite techniques, which coincidentally for most of us, are the techniques that come the easiest to us, you will get a sense of where your strengths are. Once you have completed this task and listed out the BJJ moves you gravitate towards, you will start to see the areas where your game might be lacking.
You may even take a look at your game from the perspective of offensive and defensive techniques or positions. By objectively reviewing the positions you find yourself stuck in or caught in from a submission perspective, you will immediately see the areas where you need to work to fill those wholes in your game.
What Rank Would Your Techniques Be?
Once you've got a solid list of let's say, "Things I'm good at" and another list (probably longer and that's ok) of "Things I'm not as good at", let's take a look at a way to 'rank' these moves and be able to better prioritize how you drill and train these moves to make them better.
Let's stick with a ranking system that we're all somewhat familiar with to some degree, the belt ranking system in BJJ. The different belt colors have a depth of meaning that can be as individual as the practitioners on the mats around the world today, but to keep it simple, let's use something like the system below. Keep in mind, these references are for the individual technique, not the practitioner themselves as a whole.
A white belt level of familiarity with a technique would be a move that you are just learning in class today or on an instructional video. Maybe it's something you've heard of before, maybe it's not. But you've never physically attempted the move or maybe you are learning it today and are still getting all the steps together in your mind.
A blue belt level of familiarity with a technique, position or move would be the ability to complete the steps on a willing partner with little to no resistance. This would be a technique that you may attempt in live rolling, but you really don't have much confidence in your ability to pull it off. If you landed the move on someone, they would most likely be a brand new white belt who might not know how to defend or counter the move at all.
A purple belt level of familiarity with a move or technique would be indicative of someone who knows a position or technique pretty well. Perhaps at this level, you know a few variations of the technique from different positions or angles. You are beginning to learn what to do when faced with the most common counters or opponent reactions. The technique is definitely something you would go to with some confidence and your percentage of successful attempts continues to grow.
A brown belt level of familiarity or awareness of a technique or position would be the beginning of full assimilation of the technique into your game. Your training partners in your academy call these moves "your moves" and do everything in their power to try to stop them, but in the majority of rolls, they find themselves stuck in them. These are most likely the moves that you gravitated to early in your jiu jitsu journey and have spent the most amount of time working on them. Usually only the toughest or most experienced partners or opponents give you any trouble in these areas.
The coveted Black Belt level of familiarity would be a level of understanding that would ideally be represented by an appearance of almost effortless execution of a technique. At the highest level, this could be seen as a knowledge of a technique much like Roger Gracie's knowledge of the mounted collar choke, which at the 2009 World Championships, Roger beat every single one of his opponents by the exact same choke. That was 9 straight matches where he defeated some of the highest level practitioners to ever grace the mats with the same choke that we all learn in our first month of training.
Now that you have an understanding of the different levels of technique familiarity, let's take a look at an example. Let's say you have trained at a predominantly Gi-based academy for 6-7 years and you find yourself as a multiple stripe purple belt. You haven't really trained much No Gi at all in that period. Let's also say that you are in your mid-late thirties and you've only competed a few times.
You are probably pretty decent at a few simple passes that you use all the time. Let's say you love side control, with Americanas being your favorite submission from that position. You even got one of your coaches once in an Americana and no one ever gets your Coach in an Americana.
If you take a moment and sit down and list out your strengths and weakness honestly, you might say, yeah I'm a purple belt at the X pass because it's my go to pass, but maybe I don't get it everytime. Every now and again someone might do something weird or move their hips and throw me off. You might even rank your knowledge of certain techniques as higher than your current belt rank, if it's something you work on all the time and you catch everyone in it. Be honest though. This list is not meant to be something you brag about. It's meant to be an honest self-assessment.
Now on to the weaknesses, because you've only trained in the Gi for the majority of your time, you've probably done little or no practice on leg attacks. Perhaps the straight ankle and the rare knee bar, but an inverted heel hook, no way. You would rank those techiques at white belt level.
Once completed you will see a mix of techniques each ranked differently with none that are at the black belt level, most likely. This will give you a color coded way to prioritize what you work on. If your side control escapes are ranked at white belt level, it's going to be way more important to work on those than to work on any specific submission you may want to add.
When it comes time to look at all of your white belt techniques, chances are that wrist locks are in the white belt category for most of us. Though maybe not as high of a priority as getting our side control escapes up to par, wrist locks can be a very valuable addition to our games. For more information about the importance of staying well-rounded by adding those sneaky wrist locks into your game, check out this article from BJJ Fanatics where we explore the science of the wrist lock.
In the video below, Keenan Cornelius, never one to over dramatize in his videos, shares his seven deadly wrist locks.
Judo Olympian and John Danaher black belt Travis Stevens demonstrates a wrist lock that can be gained off of a kimura attempt.
Wrist locks can sometimes be forgotten or simply ignored in the training academy. It's crucial to take responsibility to fill this potential hole in your game and seek out the best instruction you can find to help improve your game. What better source then BJJ black belt and Olympic Judo medalist, Travis Stevens to learn how to secure those wrist locks from all positions! Check out his instructional "Wrist Locks from Everywhere" here at BJJ Fanatics!
Another great wrist lock specialist is Jamico "Jay" Elder. Check out his extremely detailed wrist lock instruction below.
If you want to continue your immersion into the world of wrist locks, it may be time to take advantage of this "Masters Level" course from Harvard-educated black belt Jamico Elder and get his latest instructional "Scientific Wrist Destruction" in a variety of viewing formats. It is available here at BJJ Fanatics!