In addition to studying the details of different positions, I enjoy listening to the philosophy and strategy of different top jiu-jitsu guys as a way to direct my training and rolling.
A simple phrase shared by an instructor can often serve like the turning of a camera lense, bringing a vaguely held idea into sharper focus. Recently, I heard John Danaher say that leg lock master and ADCC Champion Dean Lister posed the question “Why would you ignore half of the human body?”. This seemingly innocuous question was a catalyst for Danaher to direct his training to study leg locks and formulate his by now famous DDS leg lock system.
Listening to Professor Danaher talk about entering for a leg lock attack, he shared a general principle of combat that he teaches to his students in the DDS “Deny what your opponent is trying to do first.” Defense first. Your first priority is to shut down your opponent’s attacks.
In the video below, world class competitor Keenan Cornelius shares a similar philosophy. Deny the grips and distance that your opponent is seeking before you look to start your own offense.
When discussing strategy of fighters before a big MMA championship fight, the panel of commentators will assess the strengths and weaknesses of each fighter and explain how one fighter will try to shutdown the strength of the other. A perfect example is how wrestlers Tyrone Woodley and Kamaru Usman used strong takedown defense to prevent jiu-jitsu fighter Demian Maia from taking the fight to the area that he is well known to be most dangerous. Instead of just getting in there and seeing how the fight unfolds, they had a clear strategy for victory: deny the offense of Maia.
Grandmaster Helio Gracie had a similar philosophy, “Defend and then win.” Helio’s strategy was to first and foremost to survive. Then later, as the opponent fatigued, they would inevitably commit a mistake and Helio could take advantage of the opening and finish his opponent.
It is worth noting that this is not the final word in fight strategy. Many fighters elect to push the action and try to impose their will on their opponent, pressing forward and bringing the match to their area of strength.
I’ve heard fighters say “I don’t worry about what my opponent is going to do. I’m going to take the fight to them!”
When I think of this offense first approach, two jiu-jitsu fighters come immediately to my mind.
Kron Gracie is known for his submission oriented style where he is constantly attacking and keeping his opponent on the defensive. The idea is that the opponent is so busy defending Kron’s attacks, that they have little opportunity to formulate their own offense.
The 2nd would be Marcelo Garcia (who seems to be on everyone’s list of favorite BJJ fighters). He fights for grips aggressively from the first seconds of the match trying to get an immediate advantage over his opponent. Marcelo pushes the pace and always tries to stay a step ahead of the opponent to keep them reacting to him.
What is your philosophy of jiu-jitsu? Offense or defense first?