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What's All This Gripping About?

What's All This Gripping About?


It’s all about that grip.  Gripping in Jiu Jitsu CAN be everything… It can also be completely useless.  I’ll never forget, mainly because it still happens every time we roll it seems, training with a good friend of mine and feeling like I was just killing it with my grips.  I mean my grip game was on point. For being out ranked, I thought I was doing pretty good. Although, he kept tapping me… over, and over and over again… What gives? I finally asked him after one of the rounds, what am I doing wrong?  I feel like my grips are on point, but you keep tapping me, why? HELP ME! He laughed and said yeah you have a really tight grip… on all the things that don’t matter, you’re focusing on the small things like holding my arm over here, meanwhile my hips are free to do whatever I want.  Focus on gripping what matters, he said.

While I still make mistakes with my grip game, I feel like this advice is in my head for every match.  Rather than burn out my grips trying to pin an arm down or do something else that is insignificant at the time, I try to focus more on two things.  First, only gripping what matters, this means if I’m exerting energy to hold onto something, there needs to be a good reason why. Secondly, only gripping as tight as I need to.  I don’t need to have a Hercules grip every time I grab something; the grip can tighten and loosen as needed to preserve strength and endurance capability.

Professor John Danaher’s video titled “Gripping” discusses, as you might imagine, gripping.  Beyond that though he takes the approach of positive gripping and negative gripping.  Positive gripping is, as he defines it, gripping that is progressive, gripping that moves the match forward, setting you up for submissions attempts or transitions to a better position.  While negative gripping is a much more reactive grip. Professor Danaher refers to negative gripping as grips that happen as a result of something your opponent does. The example here is, your opponent grabs your wrist, so you grab his wrist in order to break the grip and free your hand, reacting to what your opponent did.  Lastly, in effort to fully explain positive versus negative gripping in enough detail, Professor Danaher explains it to be gripping that results in you actively trying to negate your opponent’s control, whereas positive gripping is gripping that is actively trying to assert your control over the opponent. This should go without saying, but just in case, the goal is to focus on using positive grips as much as possible in training.  Remember, you will perform how you train, so train the way you want to perform.

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In listening to Professor Danaher explain his goals when using grips, it becomes very apparent that to be successful in positive gripping, or Jiu Jitsu matches in general, you need to have a plan.  In the video Professor Danaher starts off seated with his feet on the inside track of this opponent’s legs. The opponent kneeling in front of him. Now here is where knowledge comes into play. Professor Danaher knows that he wants to attack the leg and to do that he wants to be in an Ashi Garami position.  Now in order to accomplish this, he opts to try an arm drag, knowing that the opponent will have only two options. Option one, accept the arm drag and have his back taken; certainly, a win for Professor Danaher, or option two, step his foot up on the same side that the arm drag is occurring. This will prevent the arm drag from being successful.  

Now depending on the knowledge level of the opponent in this moment they may be thinking they did the right thing, which, in this case they did, they shut down the arm drag.  The problem is, Professor Danaher was using positive gripping, meaning he threatened the arm drag fully expecting this response. This now allows his to use a two on one grip on his opponent’s leg and pull the opponents leg toward him, putting him in the position of Ashi Garami where he can start working leg attacks.

It’s always easy to have a plan, until something doesn’t go as planned.  I think it was Tyson who said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face”.  This statement couldn’t be more true. While we likely aren’t getting punched in the face on the Jiu Jitsu mats, there is still a Jiu Jitsu equivalent of getting punched in the face, it could be the opponent shut down the technique you were going for.  It could be that you planned 2 moves ahead, and they planned 3. The takeaway here is, examine your game. Are you a positive player, or negative player on the mats? Do you slap hands and wait for your opponent to do something so you can react, or do you take matters into your own hands and impose your will on them?  It is obvious that the intelligent aggressor has the upper hand in Jiu Jitsu. Step on the mats with a plan. Slap, bump, and get to work trying to achieve the positive grips you need to advance to the next necessary position in your plan.

It seems the key to positive gripping is to have a plan, make sure that each grip is useful and moving you closer to the desired end result and that you are not exhausting yourself gripping with more force than is necessary to get the job done, especially in competition where you could very well have matches back to back, or very close together.  


Professor Danaher’s approach to Jiu Jitsu coaching is incredibly detailed and efficient. Check out any one of his Enter the System series for an extremely granular look at whichever technique you are interested in.  If you are looking to add one of the strongest grips to your game Kimura: Enter The System is for you!



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