Watching a blue belt roll with a purple belt I saw the blue belt attempt a lot of different techniques. She switched rapidly (and half heartedly) between different passes before getting swept to the bottom and submitted shortly thereafter.
Following the roll, the blue belt asked me for some feedback on her roll. She quickly answered her own question, “I need to work more on my guard passes.”
“Actually,” I replied, “I can see that you tried a lot of different techniques. But you were not able to make your opponent feel uncomfortable with any one of them and you changed techniques very quickly.”
I explained that she “kinda” knew many different moves but none of them very well. Certainly not deeply enough to threaten the purple belt.
This is a common characteristic of blue belt jiu-jitsu: learning a lot of different moves. Some refer to this as being a “move collector”.
This is not completely a bad thing, as one must learn a vocabulary of techniques (and proper mechanics for each move). There are moves that are best for specific situations and jiu-jitsu students need to know them.
There is, however, a significant difference between simply knowing where to grip and place your legs in a move, and a deeper understanding required to make the move work against a fully resisting opponent.
For example, let’s take a look at the bullfighter guard pass.
Are your grips tight and actually controlling your opponents knees, or are you just grabbing any possible loose grip on the pants? Does the guard player feel that your weak grips are controlling their legs?
Are you correctly using movement and distance to create an angle to pass your opponents legs, or are you just trying to throw the legs aside and run around the outside before they can scramble and get a hook?
These are but two examples of crucial details that make or break the technique. Remember, when you get discouraged that one of the basic techniques is not working for you, that is not an inherently flawed technique. It is more likely you are neglecting one or more of the important details.
After you have seen a large number of different techniques (how many different guard sweep variations alone have you learned?!) then you must return to the ones that you use most often and dig deeper.
I spoke with a black belt who had scheduled a private lesson with no one less than Rickson Gracie. I naturally asked him what he was going to ask master Rickson? I joked “Berimbolo, lapel guard?”
“No,” he answered. “The basic positions. But looking for the details and the depth that makes a Rickson Gracie mount or rear naked choke impossible to escape.”
These are all moves that every blue belt knows. Yet there are many layers of understanding.
So back to our blue belt guard passer. Assuming that you have a handful of competent moves from each position, the focus must not be on acquiring yet another new, but superficially understood move; it must be taking apart each component of the move and learning it more deeply.
Which BJJ technique do you need to learn more deeply?