Last night, after we got all stretched out and situated, one of the white belts asked a question. He asked, “How do I close the distance? I mean, what do I do after we slap hands at the beginning of our sparring match? I kind of just wait for the other guy to make a move and I’d like to know how to initiate more.”
Whether you know it or not, that’s probably one of the most common questions out there. I used to hear it all the time. I haven’t lately, and perhaps that’s because the guys who I roll (or rolled) with have gotten things all sorted out, but it’s bound to be asked more of the newer white belts I’m being confronted with. I actually asked that question a long time ago and then I studied up for the answer.
Okay, here’s what I think: The first thing I do is to size up my opponent. If I think I can get away with pulling guard, that’s usually what I’ll do. If I’m about to roll with a higher belt I don’t know, I’ll pull closed guard, simply to see where things lie. I need to know who this person is and watching them try to open and pass guard is a good enough measure for me.
If I’m rolling with a lower belt, I don’t need to be so aggressive. I’ll usually just get my grips and kind of fall to my side in some sort of open guard. I’ll play with my legs for a while in an effort to get my opponent to do something so we can get the ball rolling. If they get jumpy, I’ll crank things up just a tad to keep the match where I’m comfortable. I rarely roll with a lower belt more then 50%. That is, unless they’re extremely obnoxious. In those cases, I…
In the case of a lower belt who’s added far too much sugar to their morning coffee (and I know this beforehand), I’ll take top right off the bat. I have a few tricks to get to this position almost immediately and after I get where I want to go, I’ll use some severe pressure to quell them and bring them to the place they should be. Really, no one needs to see a white or blue belt flying all over the place in an attempt to get lucky. I’ve seen this through the years and it’s not helpful to anyone’s game. I actually remember yours truly doing this during my first few months of training. My buddy Pete, ever so politely, informed me that I was, in fact, not practicing Jiu-Jitsu at all. He wasn’t sure what I was doing, but he was certain what I wasn’t.
Mind you, what I just wrote above is my strategy for each partner I roll with. I wrote nothing about the specific techniques I need to execute in order to have a successful match. I think, for younger players, that strategy has to be determined first (or like Pete used to ask me, “What’s your plan?). Strategy’s a funny thing though. When asked, “What do you want to do?” you’ll find many people not having many answers. By nature, we’re a reactionary bunch. We just jump out there and start fighting. We’ll see what the other guy does and then adapt to the situation. More seasoned players take the lead and if we’re ever to find ourselves at their level, we need to start thinking like this.
To get ideas with my own rolling, I watch and read like it’s nobody’s business. I study Jiu-Jitsu probably at least 5 hours a day. It’s actually part of the reason I started this blog. This is the perfect venue for me to flesh ideas and scenarios out.
I’ll tell you one thing, studying the games of top level guys is extremely beneficial. Simply watching the grip fighting of the Mendes Brothers is helpful and watching Marcelo Garcia dabble in his De La Riva guard is exciting. If you’re going to imitate, you may as well imitate the best.
I found a really great video today that shows Marcelo Garcia rolling with Rafael Lovato Jr. I thought of the white belt who asked that question last night as I was analyzing the starting positions and strategies of each of these guys. I’m planning on giving him this blog address so he can watch the video as well. Perhaps it’ll give him some ideas of his own. After all, he’s a very promising student and I told him that last night.
Marcelo Garcia rolling with Rafael Lovato Jr.