What kind of BJJ player are you? (Style Part 1)

I’m thinking that I’m going to do a little mini-series of posts on style, developing style, and the evolution of BJJ over the years from my perspective.  I am going to talk a little bit about developing yourself as a player today. Keep in mind that this is only my opinion and it doesn’t really count for too much. Don’t get huffy if you disagree, I am always open to discussion. Also, I ramble a lot. You’ve been warned.

Here is my basic BJJ philosophy: three things matter in BJJ. They are strength/physique, technique, and speed, in no particular order.  Let’s talk about that a little bit.

  • Strength/Physique: Strength, to me, comes in two forms; the strength you can acquire by lifting heavy things, and the size/weight you’re born with, which you can’t change as much. I lump these in the same category because I know some freakishly strong little people. This can also mean being born with really long limbs or a really strong grip.  Body build and strength do matter in BJJ.
  • Technique: Having good technique means knowing what techniques work for you and being able to apply them with a minimum amount of strength. I’m not going to open the “but big people can be technical too!” can of worms here. Size doesn’t matter when it comes to technical/not technical. Fact remains that anyone who has been training a while can point to a “technical” player and a “brute force” player.
  • Speed: This guy is fast. You all know this guy. His brain isn’t connected to his body. He just moves and one second he is there and the next he isn’t. Blindingly fast, and usually smiling the whole practice.  He often likes to do crazy guards and cartwheeling guard passes until he gets a stripe or two and learns to use his speed properly.

So now I’ve elaborated on the three things that I think matter most in BJJ. I think that to be a good player, you must have two of these things.  To be a great player, you have to cultivate and care for all three, but some will always be weaker than others. Everyone has each talent in different amounts, and the ratio of strength:speed:technique is what makes people’s games unique. I think it’s important to look at your strengths and your weaknesses when devising a game for yourself.  But I can’t help you with that– not without seeing you play in person. I can help with breaking down an opponent’s style a little bit though, and help you know what to expect from them.

  1. An opponent with a lot of strength/an opponent who is very large/some other physically unique trait. Welcome to my life. In class, I regularly feel like this:

    So… yeah. I’m used to this problem. What can you do?  Well, the most important thing, I think (and it took me ten years to figure it out) is to get on top via any means necessary.  If you can’t get on top, keep as much space as possible between you and your opponent. This is a bad time to try out that new deep half guard, for example.  In a similar vein, if the person has freakishly long arms or legs, you probably don’t want to end up in their De La Riva/spider guard.  Use your brain.

    Main tactic: Someone like this is probably going to be going for squishing the opponent into submission. A good, strong player, like an ex-wrestler or judo player, is going to try to keep their weaker opponent from moving. Against this type of person, immobilization is death. Keep moving, try to stay off the bottom, and keep as much space as possible. This type of player is usually (in a competition) an aggressive player that does not wait for openings– if he/she wants an arm, he/she is going to pry it out and rip it off. Don’t give him/her the chance by keeping them on the defensive. This player is going to come out with every intention of forcing you to play their game. If you play, you’ll lose. It’s hard to be aggressive against someone like this because it feels dangerous, but I honestly believe it’s the only way to win against this type of player.

  2. An opponent who is about your size but technically very sound. Fitness. If the playing field is almost even, and you are in better shape than your opponent, you can win a match against someone who out-skills you.  If this is training, try to resist the urge to go balls-out crazy and try to smash the person. Instead, focus on the flow of technique and try to learn something from the sparring match, and the other person’s technique. If it’s competition, close the space, and try to be as slow and methodical as possible. I’m really guilty of slipping into defense mode when I’m technically outmatched, but I don’t think this is necessarily the best thing. Instead, try for cautiously aggressive. If you’re fast, you can try to race them, but I find people who are more technical than me are also faster than me.

    Main tactic: A technical player is going to try to use as little strength and energy as possible to the greatest effect. This can be overcome by good fitness and a focus on staying tight and reversion to the basics. Elbows in, protect the neck, give nothing away. This type of player is usually a patient, reactionary player; they wait for you to move, and react. Counter this by ensuring that every movement is tight and controlled. Open elbows and lazy feet could easily mean the end of the match.

  3. An opponent who is very, very fast. If you try to fight a match against a speed demon at their pace, you will lose. Guaranteed. They spar at that speed, they walk at that speed, they probably even sleep at that speed. Fighting a match on anyone’s terms but your own is usually just… a bad idea. It’s an even worse idea when the speed demon is probably in better shape.

    Main tactic: This type of person is usually small and in good shape, so their main tactic is movement, although not necessarily aggressive movement. The whole idea is to force you to react. They will move until you make a mistake, and then capitalize on it. The one downside to this type of game is that a lot of movement also means that they are potentially making mistakes of their own. Don’t get mentally defeated by an opponent who is jumping around– be patient, get good grips, and kill their movement as fast as possible. Pinning hips and shoulders to the ground is a good start.

I found myself figuring out these types, for lack of better word, over years of training, in an attempt to understand my opponents better. I find them helpful because it gives me an insight into the psychology of a person’s game– if I can figure out what type they are primarily, and which type they are secondarily, I can go into a sparring match or competition armed with a much more comprehensive game plan.  In competition, I don’t want to play my opponent’s game, and knowing the basic goal behind their game gives me a leg up when it comes to choosing how I will fight my fight.  Does this make any sense at all? I feel like my words are a little muddy today.

Anyway, lastly, what I like to do is think about my weaknesses in terms of this little theory/philosophy. I know I’m going to lose to a 110kg man, so that’s kind of a moot point. But if we’re talking about someone generally my size or a little bigger, which skill set am I weakest against? What can I do to mitigate the effects of their advantage?  Should I be lifting more? Is there a technique that consistently allows someone to pass my guard? Should I drill more and work on my speed?

I hope this little rubric gives you something to think about– when I wrote it out, I thought of a few areas that I need to improve. Did I miss anything?

6 Comments

  1. I felt like you nailed it with the very large opponent. Even against other very large opponents I immobilize, play top game, and harvest arms like they’re corn in October (I promise that’s funny in the Midwest United States). What was most priceless is that a very skillful, female judo blackbelt describes playing with me standing as feeling like a puppy running about a larger dogs feet because no matter how strong she comes in, without even stiff arming I’m just large enough to stuff her off-balancing.

    • I like fighting with big opponents sometimes if I know I can stay on top. I’m usually faster, so there’s that… I really don’t like the small, jumpy white belts, because it always ends with a knee to the face or something. And it’s usually my face.

      • I think it’s ASTONISHING how many new BJJ blogs pop up on almost a daily basis. But more sadly, how FEW stick aruond more than a month. C’mon people. Yes, most of the time the first few months or a year is like talking into the wind but Julia has hit upon the secret. Ask questions of general interest to your audience, and comment on other peoples’ blogs, and you will get readers Then it’s just like sitting down for a good gab with friends. It’s gotten to the point where I feel like if I don’t blog it, it doesn’t happen. (I need to figure out the blog-by-cell-phone option and quick )

      • What’s your blog link, Hadeer? Always cool to read new ones. :)

    • Thanks for this really hsneot post. I will third the hippie comments. A belt is just a belt. On some level, it would be nice if it weren’t even there. There are so many other things that go into the practice, and there have been many posts on exactly what does the belt mean. If you are getting fulfillment out of it for yourself, what does a stripe really mean? Thanks also for posting about being an outsider. I feel it, too. I try to look at my time on the mat as professional. I have been at my gym now for 9 months and I am just beginning to joke with the people who have been around that long. I wouldn’t dare with the new guys. I ask about my classmates’ current events and offer my own. But I know when other people go out for a beer afterward that it’s not really my place to go. And I wouldn’t contact someone from class without a really good reason, and never on the phone. Here is an example of the awkwardness that could crop up. The other day my instructor mentioned a mulitple-day seminar that he was thinking he would travel to if anyone wanted to go. First off, I know that he does not mean me. He means some of the other guys. If there was a whole crew, I might be welcome. The seminar was expensive and would mean a weekend away from the kids. I thought of responding to my instructor’s e-mail with something like, That would lead me to divorce court! because my husband already gives up so much for me to practice BJJ I couldn’t possibly ask him to watch the kids for a whole weekend and then dish out over $1,000 to travel and take a seminar. But then I thought that message could be construed as sexual, and just didn’t respond. Not a big deal, really, to not respond. But I had to think a lot more about that than any guy would have to. OK sorry. Rambling! It’s much too late for School Shark Girl!Hugs!

  2. My goal is to develop a game that still works when I’m 10, 20, 30 years older. So, it can’t rely on physical attributes. As BJJ takes so damn long to learn, that means I need to focus on what works when you don’t have any strength or speed, meaning at best I’ll only ever have the technique out of your three options.

    Which is fine, as I’m not a competitor. ;)

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