This post is in the same vein as my previous one about chess. Not completely, but since we’re talking about board games here, there’s definitely a relationship.
And trust me, there’s a point to this post, but it’s toward the end. Bear with me and read the entire thing – you may get something out of it.
This is a story of how a friend and I used to play the game of checkers. It was a fairly long time ago, so every detail isn’t exactly “there anymore,” but rest assured, I remember the important ones. And the important ones are the ones I’m going to discuss in this post. It’s the important ones that have helped me considerably in my game of Jiu-Jitsu and the important ones that have helped me turn the page from fighting from a “technique based” strategy (which isn’t much of a strategy at all) to a “strategy recognizing” strategy. Now that’s a strategy, for lack of a better term.
This friend and I used to play a lot of checkers. He was taught how to play by his father and I was taught how to play…well, by him. He taught me how to play after he whooped the pants off me time and time again. Actually and more accurately, he taught me how to defend – not so much play. And like so many other things in life, it’s the art of defending that opens the door to the art of playing.
We’d play games almost every time we saw each other, which was pretty much every day. And every time we saw each other, he’d beat me at the game of checkers. This was so, so, so frustrating and after my billionth time losing to him, I finally got over my ego and asked, “How do you keep winning? I continue to mix things up – I make the first move and lose. I make the second move and lose. I change my game and lose. What in the world are you doing?”
My friend only smiled at me. He seemed so relaxed and after I asked him – he was only too happy to fill me in on his little secret.
He said, “My strategy is to surround you. I create a “V” with my checkers and force yours to the middle (The Side Route Strategy). Once yours are all clustered, I simple wait for you to sacrifice yourself or I take you out. That’s where the battle is – in the middle. No matter what you do, you’re unknowingly forced into the same situation – time and time again.” He continued with his big grin and offered another game.
Do you want to know something strange? As soon as I was informed as to what my friend was doing to me and as soon as I began blocking and acting appropriately, he never won another game. We had stalemate after stalemate from that point on. Once I recognized that he was forcing me into a compromised arrangement, I stuffed him and held him where he was.
Now, he got frustrated at this and we later stopped playing the game of checkers altogether. Unfortunately, his father only taught him one strategy for winning the game and once he let the cat out of the bag, he had nowhere else to turn. But if that one strategy had helped him win that much, just imagine how much he would’ve won if he had known multiple strategies. Or even theories, principles and concepts! That would’ve been something and I suspect that his wisdom in the game of checkers would’ve been much more difficult to stop.
Now, your probably wondering what this has to do with Jiu-Jitsu. Well, let’s talk about an imaginary scenario – a scenario that would never happen because I know we’re all better players than the one I’m going to describe below.
Let’s imagine that there’s a guy who’s been training BJJ for a few years. Let’s say that he’s a fairly decent player and that he has his fair share of ups and downs. But let’s also say that this guy feels as though he’s plateaued. Ever been there? Ever feel like you’ve plateaued or even gone backwards? I’m sure you have because we all have. If you’ve trained long enough, there’s a whole gamut of emotions you’re likely to go through.
To continue on with our story – let’s imagine that the player we’re talking about has had enough of running into brick walls and that he feels like he needs some advice from his instructor. He asks for personalized help with his game and his instructor suggests he watch one or more of his sparring matches. The instructor will sit on the sidelines and pretty much take mental notes. This happens quite frequently and can be an eye opening experience.
The student agrees and begins rolling with multiple opponents. As the student is rolling, the instructor begins to notice a trend – a trend that’s leading the student into the same pit every time he’s confronted and forced into a defensive position or a submission opportunity. Now, one of the student’s main deficiencies is that he’s oftentimes unable to effectively escape from or submit his opponent.
The instructor sees why this is and after the student is finished rolling, pulls him aside.
“Good news, my friend.” The instructor proclaims. “I’ve found your issue. I want you to…” and whispers something in the student’s ear. The whispered instructions took a few minutes to complete. The instructor sent the student back out to the mat for a few more rounds and witnessed a complete transformation. The student seemed more relaxed, determined and beyond that, was victorious in his escapes and submissions.
I was going to post what the instructor said to the student here, but as I was writing this post, I thought it would be more fun to gather a few comments with guesses first. Do you know what the instructor said to his student? What could have possibly transpired that would have that much effect on a student’s rolling?
Okay, let’s talk about what the instructor could have said to the student. I think it went something like this.
“Let me ask you something. Would you walk into a bar full of 20 drunken sailors and start a fight?”
“No way. Are you crazy?”
“Say you had to, for some reason or another. And if you had to, would you handle the fight with 20 guys the same way you would handle a fight with one individual you knew was weaker and less skilled than you?”
“No, I’d definitely go about the fight with the 20 guys differently. I’d be much more cautious and size them up according to skill. Then, I’d pick off the weaker ones first and line up the stronger ones. I’d create some sort of a strategy. As for the individual, I’d probably just play around with him.”
“That’s good to hear.” said the instructor. “It’s also the foundation of something I’d like you to try. Listen up as I give you a few suggestions.”
1. I want you to begin sizing up your opponents. I want you to devise the proper plan for the proper player. Instead of running nilly willy with everyone you spar with, I want you to only attempt the moves you think you can achieve. Don’t run in – be cautious and rely on the techniques you learned during your first year of BJJ.
2. If you remember back to your blue belt test, you’ll remember how difficult it was to accomplish the escapes I set up for you. We started you off in terrible, static positions to see how effective you were at getting out of them. Those were false scenarios designed to test your knowledge. In your sparring matches, you have the capability of predicting and preparing for your escapes a few steps ahead. If you’ve sized your partner up appropriately, you’ll know what to expect and what you need to do to successfully stay out of danger. Start preparing a few steps ahead.
3. Transform your game from a technique and reaction based one to a theory and strategy based game. Think ahead and roll according to plan. Begin to predict where your opponent wants to go and what he wants to achieve. Instead of reacting at the last possible moment, begin blocking very early on – three to four moves early.
4. Come out with a plan – a strategy. Think of what submission you want to accomplish and build your game around that. Each and every move will then have a purpose instead of randomly and aimlessly pushing ahead to react to every scenario you come across. This isn’t a game of luck, it’s a game of thought.