The Positions Between Positions
What’s the difference between a beginning Jiu Jitero and an advanced Jiu Jitsu player?
There are a lot of possible answers to this question. Most people would respond by referring to a belt color. Others would say it had to do with how often you submit your opponent. And some would answer this question by referring to the number of submissions you know.
But the more I practice and train, the more convinced I am that none of these are the real answer. I have to thank my coach for this insight, because, one day, he said exactly the right thing at exactly the time I needed to hear it.
It wasn’t a lesson he offered. Or a technique. It was a philosophy.
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He pointed out how most white belts (and even some blue belts) play a position-to-position game. For instance, if they have their opponent in their full guard, a white belt will hold on to that position for dear life. Even when it’s obvious they’re about to lose the guard and get passed, they still try to retain that position.
Then, when their guard gets passed, they allow their opponent to establish side control before they attempt to do anything about it.
In a way, this type of position-to-position game is to be expected. After all, we have to start somewhere, and the best way to familiarize new teammates to Jiu Jitsu is to outline the basic positions: full guard, half guard, side control, back control, and mount.
But your game has to grow up sometime. And the sooner the better. The position-to-position approach blinds you to a lot of opportunities.
Instead, my coach encourages us to look for the positions between positions. Using the guard passing example above, there is a moment when a more experienced player will recognize that the guard is lost. This is a freeing moment, because it allows you to think about what comes next.
More important, it allows you to do something to prevent what comes next. As your opponent is passing, there is a moment when they are not in your guard, but they aren’t in side control yet. They are in a position between positions.
That moment is your opportunity to prevent your opponent from establishing side control. The most obvious response? Shrimp. Create distance between yourself and your opponent so that you can swing your leg between the two of you and re-establish guard.
Suddenly, instead of you being demoralized because your guard was passed and you’re stuck in side control, your opponent is frustrated because they’re right back where they started: in your guard.
This small victory comes about because you admitted defeat when it was obvious you were going to lose guard. By dealing with the situation at that moment instead of clinging to a moment that is already in the past, you can recognize the opportunities in these transitional positions between positions.
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As you roll, start looking for these moments. Spot the instant when your opponent is between your guard and side control. Recognize the momentary imbalance when your teammate is switching from side control to mount.
When you start to think of these transitional moments as actual positions in their own right, you’ll start thinking about responses to them and seeing the opportunities they present.
In contrast to teammates who are still thinking in terms of only the fundamental position-to-position moves, this mindset will allow you to see the opportunities in front of you and will seemingly speed up your game as you learn to stop waiting on your opponent to establish a position before you act.
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