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"A good plan violently executed right now is far better than a perfect plan executed next week." -- George S. Patton

Planning is simultaneously important and futile.  Important because it is critical that we examine what we intend to do and make the best prediction as to how we might accomplish it, but futile because no matter what we won't see all the variables and the other guy (the competition) has a bad habit of not following the plan rendering it less than completely successful.  Victories are won by planning more times than they are by improvisation, but adherence to a failed plan in absence of free thought has also led to far more losses than improvisation ever has.  Plans are like cookies, they should be made, must be made, but should be discarded if they get burned or go bad.
Looking back at my competitive career, I have been a far more careful planner when it came to striking (muay thai and mixed-martial arts) than jiu-jitsu.  Perhaps this is an artifact of competing in many more sport jiu-jitsu tournaments than muay thai or mixed-martial arts.  Things that feel more routine require less planning.  However, at the higher levels of competition, every competitive edge and especially planning becomes more important.
An important aspect of being "game" is willingness to enter the fray or the joy of locking horns.  Too often, and I see this in myself, planning is a list of reactions to what the other guy does.  To quote Marcelo Garcia, "Play your game, don't worry about what the other guy does."  If something doesn't work you have a back-up to that, but don't wait for your opponent to do something before you.  This isn't an conversation, it is not even an argument, you are giving a lecture and maybe you will grant your opponent a few questions at the end after your presentation is complete,
To that end I have designed a first draft of a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu / Sport Jiu-Jitsu / Submission Wrestling Game Planning Worksheet.  It begins with a goal statement describing what tournament this is for.  It then has brief section on the stand-up phase and how you intend on getting the fight to the mats and where you would optimally like to be when that happens. You then describe how you would attack from your goal position followed by the position you think is the back-up or most likely position you would end up in when not in your best position.  Then you review what you would do if you screwed up, i.e. what happens if you make a mistake and end up in the position you hate most.  Here you describe how you would escape and get back to winning the fight.  Finally you should list two variants to attacks you described earlier in your plan as well as three things you need to improve on.


Building a Simulation Drill

Technique does not make competitors, drilling does, but a place on the podium is earned by sparring in the gym.  Recently I discussed different drilling formats.  One type was the simulation drill, an interaction with your training partner suggested by what happens in non-training situation.  In sport jiu-jitsu it doesn't matter if you get on the podium by a single advantage or by submitting your opponent, different medals are not awarded for different types of wins, and first place is only earned if you don't lose.  Pressure in Brazilian jiu-jitsu wins fights.  Pressure is exerted by superior position, i.e. points, and pressure leads to submission.  You can be down on points and win by submitting your opponent, but if you're ahead (and you don't lose your head) in general you will have more opportunities to submit your opponent because you have superior position. Superior position has an associated point reward.  I think it is important to look for points and go after them, without losing sight of the submission or losing position for a submission attempt.
Example of sport jiu-jitsu openings and points awarded
From this schematic we can list the positions and point deficits that you could find yourself in, if your fight doesn't go your way.  These are listed below.

Guard / Half-Guard

  • Not down points
  • Down 2 points
  • Down 3 points
  • Down 4 points
  • Down 5 points
  • Down 6 points
  • Down 9 points

Side Control

  • Not down points
  • Down 2 points
  • Down 3 points
  • (Down 4 points*)
  • Down 5 points
  • (Down 6 points*)
  • (Down 9 points*)
*An opponent can transition from a mounted or rear mounted position to side control due to a scramble or feeling of greater control.  No points are awarded for either side in this case.

Mount / Rear Mount

  • Down 4 points
  • Down 6 points
  • Down 9 points
Based on this list we can design drilling scenarios.  For example, starting from the guard and being down two points with two minutes on the clock.  Thus the top player who is up two points might chose to stall, forcing the bottom player to look for a sweep and pass.  Or the top player may feel that a two point lead is to shallow, and strive to increase that margin.  Or either player might go for submission seeking to end the action.  Note that the behavior of either player should be affected by the position, point differential, and time remaining.  Being mounted and down six points should produce significantly different strategies than being no points down in the guard.
These simulation drills can be arranged a number of different ways.  Preselected time periods of 1 to 5 minutes could be used or they could be randomly selected by rolling a die.  Cards with position and point deficit so that these might be randomly selected can be found here.  Alternatively they could be prearranged, working on the guard for one training session and side mount another.  It should be noted that it is more likely that a narrow point differential exists with more time in the round remaining than a large point difference.  While I think it is important to drill pure escapes, there is a difference in strategy and energy usage when you simply escape versus having to escape and make up a point differential.
While we do not want to train our athletes to expect that they will be in a bad position, knowing how to deal with it if this should happen is important.  For me, I drilled from bad position was a way to work on conditioning and to work on my confidence.  If I knew I could deal with a mistake, I felt more confident taking even the small risks needed to attack an opponent.  Furthermore, this is a series of tutorials in the scoring system, how long it takes to score points, and strategies for scoring those points.


I have been doing martial arts for a long time.  Through years of intensive study, I have found certain to make you unbeatable.  Granted you sacrifice things like improving or winning but at least you can proudly state that you never lost

  1. Apply a sparring filter.  Whenever the opportunity to apply and test your skills presents itself, find an excuse not to wrestle, roll, spar, whatever with anyone who is bigger, younger, more athletic, or experienced.  Choose small, injured, white belts/novices for your partners, until they improve too much.  Be careful not to call attention to yourself by beating them so badly that they complain or get injured.
  2. When the pupil searches, the teacher will appear.  If your filter fails, fall back on this strategy: if they have more experience than you, just as you are about to eat a punch too much or get submitted call a pause to the action and seek their guidance.  Ask them what they did, ask them to demonstrate it, ask to try it yourself, i.e. anything to eat up the clock.  If you have more experience than them and they are suddenly doing a little too well, stop them and correct their form.  Explain what they were doing wouldn't work and had they done it another way they would have finished you for sure.  Eat up the clock if you can and be sure to reset in a neutral position.
  3. Knowing is half the battle. Prior to your round mention your age (older or younger), conditioning level, preexisting illness or injury to your opponent.  Do it firmly but softly.  If your partner has any human feeling they will lower their expectations and you can blitz them early to obtain an advantageous position.  If they manage to get ahead, cry out and blame the excuse from earlier, i.e. a lack of conditioning, a recent upper respiratory tract infection, or aggravation of a preexisting injury to stop early.
  4. Resting is training, too.  This works particularly well if there is an odd number of people training.  Be sure to vanish when ever drilling, rolling, or sparring is to start, this will allow you to skip the first round.  After this round has begun, position yourself strategically in the instructor's blind spot, you will be able to let your team mates tire themselves out.  When the coach finally spots you, you will have an advantage over everyone else.  Be sure to sit out as often as possible, or better yet, find a partner to alternate rounds with one guy who stays out every round.
  5. Psy-ops. These are advanced level techniques which take years to develop. They are not for use by the inexperienced:
  • Humor: If you are funny guy, crack a joke so hilarious that you partner loses it.  If you are not, start laughing hysterically at something somebody says, pausing the action.
  • Chemical warfare: Carefully prepare training gear by using it and never cleaning it, until it starts having a heady aroma of devastating body odor and cat urine.  If you are stinky, nobody wants to get close to you.  If they can't get close to you they can't win.
  • Be helpful: True story, one of my training partners actually told his opponent while they were grappling that it was against the rules to knee bar.  His opponent thanked him, let go of the knee bar, and subsequently lost the match on points.
  • Bathroom emergency: Without explanation make a sudden bee line for the bathroom.  Hide in the bathroom for several minutes and return with some toilet paper hanging out of your gear.   Attempt to restart with your partner, in a neutral position, of course.