Lots of people get into jiu jitsu because they want to learn how to choke people the right way, and to be fair, that’s a pretty good reason to get into it. But what many beginners don’t realize is that there’s a lot that has to happen if you want to get from point A to point D’arce. Working submissions is great, but one thing that many jiu jitsu practitioners forget about is the importance of how space is managed between you and your opponent.
While every situation on the mat is unique, a good rule of thumb to go by is that you should be eliminating space when you’re on the offensive and creating space when you’re playing defense. It’s a concept that seems simple on paper, but when you see someone hunkering down on their opponent’s belly when they’re trapped in their closed guard or trying to pull off an armbar while their hips are a foot away from their opponent’s torso, you realize it doesn’t always click in the middle of a roll.
Just like many BJJ techniques, learning to create or eliminate space is best learned on the mat rather than from a post on the internet, but there are smarter ways you can roll in order to maximize your space education. The first thing you should be doing is analyzing what your opponent is trying to do with the space between you two, then trying to do the opposite. Are they trying to squish you? You should be trying to get un-squished, not pulling them closer to you. Are they trying to shrimp out from beneath you? You’d better find where they’re getting all that space they’re using and close it up. Doing a bit of positional grappling can work wonders for figuring out how to negate whatever moves your opponent is trying to make to use space in their favor.
Training with your smaller partners is another great way to learn how to work even the tiniest gaps between you and the person you’re rolling with. Smaller jiu jiteiros are like mice in the way that they can squeeze through spaces even when you could have sworn you had everything sealed up. And since they can’t use their weight to squash larger opponents when they’re on top, they know how to make everything super tight to compensate for it. Pay attention to the tiny adjustments your tiny partners make, and then try to roll as they do.
If you want to see just how much of a difference space management can make, focus on it during your next training session. If you’re trying for a submission or a guard pass, try to create an airtight seal between you and your training partner. If your focus is on avoiding a submission, I want you to create so much space that Matt Damon has to be rescued from it. Whether your goals focus on winning your next tournament, belting up, or just being better than you were yesterday, you’re going to get there a lot faster if you focus on how much air is between you and the person you’re rolling with.