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Rolling and sparring isn't drilling

I love rolling and sparring.  Here  I can test myself, trial new techniques, and validate that all my practicing really works.  This is also when I lie to myself.  I adjust my game to my training partner and my level of fatigue.  If I know he's tough I may try to go to a position of advantage rather than working on the goals I set myself earlier.  I will, consciously or not, adjust my training to win rather than improve.  Thus sparring, the fight within the gym, does not benefit us as much as specific drilling for improvement or competition.  
  • Even Start Drills - Anytime you start in a position that both partners are both offensive and defensive, but not in a normal start position.  The goal is to control this position and improve upon it.  Examples include, passing the guard (BJJ), pummeling to takedown (wrestling), grip fighting (judo), and knee play (muay thai).  The drill can be cycled so that it resets once someone gains the upper hand or simply continuing play once out of the position.  This should of course be prearranged.
  • Uneven Start Drills - Anytime either you or your partner starts in the advantage position (i.e. offense) and the other starts in the disadvantage position (i.e. defense).  The goal here is to teach the offender to finish and the defender to escape.  Given equally skilled partners, the partner in the advantage position should "win" more often than not.  Examples include escaping the side mount / mount / rear mount (BJJ), defending the submission (BJJ), defending the takedown (wrestling) and two-on-one knee play (muay thai).
  • Reaction Drills - Any drill that involves developing speed and coordination by having a one-point "win" rule.  The "win" resets the round.  Examples include first takedown (wrestling), first point (BJJ), steal the tail (BJJ), shoulder /  knee tag (muay thai), or the Shiv game (MMA).
  • Simulation Drills - Any drill where we try and take a specific situation, generalize it, and model it.  With repetition we hope to understand and dissect a situation that causes us problems.  For example, examine the beginning of the fight by sparring for 15-30 seconds to see how long that time period is and what can happen in it.  Other examples include, front hand sparring or grappling only with the figure four submission.
  • Shark Tanks - Uses any of the drill classes above and keeps one partner in with several other (fresh) partners.  This will tire the more skilled / stronger players and force them to work as efficiently as possible while increasing the chance that those with inferior attributes can press the action on them.  You can further complicate the drill by switching between drills for each partner, increasing the "fear of the unknown" for the fellow in the tank.


Chess Puzzles

My father was an accomplished chess player who tried to instill this in his son.  Chess puzzles are the 2-, 3-, and 4- move combinations that should cleanly end in checkmate.  The comparison between combat sports, particularly sport jiu-jitsu, is often made.  The cerebral aspects of strategy certainly exist in both games, however in combat sports size, strength, speed, and athleticism can, and does, beat technique, skill, and tactics.  While the proper game will win chess, the proper game in fighting does not always end in victory.  The pieces and board of chess are equal the difference is only in the intellectual skills of the players.  Being mat smart is certainly an asset but does not guarantee victory.

However as a I play these puzzles I notice certain parallels between the mat and the board, between pieces and positions, in essence strategy can transcend the game:
  • Winning is based on a foundation of position - All chess puzzles are based on an end-game with pieces distributed in specific positions.  The a priori placement of the pieces predicate certain moves for victory.  In order to solve the puzzle some of these pieces may not change position but without their current placement, movement of other pieces would not insure victory.  In combat sports the relation of your body to your opponent makes certain attacks and counterattacks possible.  You cannot execute an attack without position, submission and placement are equal, the felling blow and footwork need each other.  Even if your legs and hips don't perform the motion of a kimura that your hands and arms do, the placement of your lower half is paramount for the submission.
  • Attack with intent, intending to defend is initiating defeat - The old adage that the best defense is a good offense holds true.  If you attack with the intent to finish, i.e. checkmate, you will placing your opponent in check for two reasons.  First, by forcing them to defend "check" they will change the configuration of the board to prevent losing now but increase the chance of defeat later. Second, they cannot finish you, if they are one the defensive.
  • Play one move ahead, allow one escape - We are told to think several moves in advance, which is extremely difficult given the number of permutations in what our opponent can do.  We can limit the number of moves we need to think in advance, by being one move ahead.  By being one move ahead you have already limited the number of options your opponent has available, making your calculations simpler.  When closing the noose of the endgame, we allow only one escape, this is the epitome of a chess puzzle, if the moves are done appropriately your opponent is not initiating moves nor even reacting, they are behaving in a predetermined way due to the rules of the game and what you did.  Your fighting should be the same, be that move ahead and recognize the hole for them to go through should your attack not finish the fight.
  • Victory can be solved by brute force or elegance - Sometimes the endgame is a series of captured pieces as we zero in on our opponent's king, this is brute force, literally battering our way through our opponent's defenses.  Alternatively the endgame can be elegant, placing pieces in jeopardy even as other pieces close in on your opponent's king.  The epitome of good gamesmanship the elegant solution is not better than the forceful one, both are needed, in different games to win.
  • You cannot win without risking losing - When completing the endgame pieces will be exposed to capture or you might be one move away from being checkmated, however as long as they are in checkmate none of this matters.  Woulda, coulda, shoulda, does not stack up well against done.  Often times when we fight, we worry more about losing than we do about winning, and this can be a detriment to performance.  To inflict harm, to attack, means exposing yourself to the same.  Your game needs to be strong enough to be aware of this and transcend it.


A Guide to Belts in BJJ

A white belt is dangerous because they don't know they don't have a clue. A blue belt is dangerous because they have a horde of white belts trying to kill them. A purple belt is dangerous because they know enough to hang with the brown and black belts but still think they are competing with the blue and white belts. A brown belt is dangerous because they are trying to prove they are a black belt. A black belt is dangerous because you don't last that long in BJJ without picking up at least a small bag of wicked tricks.