Do You Fall Victim To False Positives In Training?

Photo Credit: Issys Calderon Photography/ Instagram

For a long time, I thought I knew how to do moves that, in fact, I didn’t know how to do.  I thought that stuff worked that didn’t actually work.

The main reason for this is that I accepted false positives.  I trained with people who didn’t know much about jiu-jitsu and assumed that, because I could make things work on them, I knew how to do those moves.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

As jiu-jitsu grows, so does charlatanism within the community.  I see it all the time.  Perhaps the most common example involves practitioners who only roll with people with whom they can have competitive rolls, or whom they can control and submit.  Rolling with the bigger, stronger and more technical people will inevitably be more physically taxing and will challenge the ego.

Another example I see all the time are practitioners who, through no fault of their own, have been sequestered in a small circle for far too long and don’t know what works and what doesn’t.  If you haven’t taken your moves outside of your own circle, how do you know if they’re any good?  Just because Jim, Bob, and Steven at your gym tap to your ankle locks doesn’t mean that you could actually do any damage to anyone else. If you run into someone who is willing to call your bluff, you may wind up having a rude awakening.

When we drill techniques, we are supposed to “let” our training partners do the technique. But that sometimes translates into people letting their training partners get away with bad habits.  For this reason, I always advocate controlled resistance.  That is to say: accept that the move is going to be done to you, but don’t just “let it happen.” Force your training partners to actually go through the motions correctly, as they would in a live setting.  You’d be surprised how many moves you think you know require certain details with which you are not yet familiar.

False positives are everywhere in martial arts.  It’s how fighters like “Chi masters” come about.  Ever see a video floating around of someone doing “moves” that don’t make any sense? People fall all around them as though the moves are working, but they clearly couldn’t possibly ever work.  Yeah… that’s what I see when I watch people who have been exposed to false positives in jiu-jitsu for too long.

Test your jiu-jitsu.  There are a few ways to do this.

Have your training partners actively resist moves that you are drilling.

The better you get at doing the move, the more they should resist.  Obviously, keep it structured and within reason, because otherwise you’ll just be rolling. But see what happens when they give you a bit of tension.

Test yourself in live rolling.

Actually try the moves you’ve drilled against people who are better than you. If you can’t make them work, drill them more. Better yet, ask the person who can beat the move what you’re doing wrong.  It may be a subtle detail.

Visit other gyms.

There can be etiquette rules about this. Talk to your instructor and see if there are funky politics in play; and obviously, if there’s about to be a super-fight between one of your teammates and another gym’s member, you may not want to go there. But, if you can go, it’s a great way to test yourself.


The best way to see if your jiu-jitsu is actually working is to test it against people who don’t care if they hurt you and will be more likely to force you to hurt them than in the gym.

Intent is important when rolling.  You need to learn the difference between showing another person that you might have the move, and actually applying the move.  For a long time, my heel hook game was far weaker than it is now because I did what is referred to as “catch and release”: I did not put any pressure on the other person’s ankle.  At a certain point, this started hurting me in competition because I didn’t understand how to finish the heel hook. My opponents were getting out of heel hooks that I thought were tight.  Then I found training partners with whom I could actually work on the finishing dynamics of the move, and I realized how little I actually knew.  The same thing happens with just about every move.  You need to actually learn how to apply the moves you are learning.

Of course there needs to be a big asterisk with this. It’s better to not learn how to finish a move than to injure someone. However, if you’re training with higher belts who understand the moves and are applying them with control, you should learn what you need to do to actually execute the techniques.

These concepts can be difficult for beginners. You should always train safely and respectfully.  But at a certain point, if you want to take your game to a higher level, you need to abandon the false positives and figure out what is real and what isn’t.

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Emil Fischer is an active purple belt competitor under Pablo Angel Castro III training at Strong Style Mixed Martial Arts and Training Center near Cleveland Ohio ( For more information, other articles, and competition videos check out his athlete pages at and Emil is sponsored by Pony Club Grappling Gear (, The Original Amy Joy Donuts ( mention Emil Fischer when visiting), Valor Fightwear ( discount code COOKIES), Impact Mouthguards ( discount code EMILIMPACT) and Gladiator Soap ( discount code EMIL.FISCHER) as well as a brand ambassador for Ludwig Van ( discount code FAMILY).