I often tease students when I ask them to show me a move on their left side. Without any muscle memory from drilling, you can see their brows furrow as they are momentarily confused by how to perform a move they know quite well on their right side.
“Are you a right side specialist?!” I chide them.
The truth is that the majority of us are not equally adept on both sides of our bodies. In fact, it may even be counterproductive to try to train our right and left sides when learning a new technique. We are dividing our drilling time in half between the two sides.
Let’s take a look at boxers, for example. If you are born right-handed, like 70-95% of the population, you will learn how to box in the orthodox stance. Your coach is unlikely to force you to learn from southpaw. Why should BJJ be much different?
Interestingly, the great Marcelo Garcia advises students to get really good at one side first instead of trying to divide their efforts between the two sides. Marcelo says, “If you think that you are really good at both sides, you are not!”.
When I asked another black belt if he was equal on both sides of his open guard, he replied, “No. I keep the same grips and just do different techniques when the opponent switches sides of his pass.”
However, there is one category of BJJ techniques you should train on both sides – your escapes! You need to do this for the simple reason that you can not choose which side you want to escape on. You may prefer to attack the Kimura lock from your right side control, but you have no such luxury when your opponent is dominating the position and you have to defend. If you have only drilled your escapes to one side, then you have a big hole in your jiu-jitsu!
Let me share a little “hack” that I like to use for guard passing: train a few of your passes on the right. Observing most students pass the guard, 90% of them will attempt to pass to their left 90% of the time. Maybe your pass is sharp on that side, but so is your opponent’s guard. Over 90% of their experience is defending the guard pass to that strong side. If you surprise them by passing to their weak side, you can “turn a blue belt into a white belt” by steering the fight to their less dominant side.
The takeaway: train most of your BJJ techniques to a high level on one side before beginning to balance both sides. The exception to the rule is escapes.
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