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The Value of Building and Perfecting Your Game

And not getting distracted by the techniques that don’t fit.

How do Jiu-Jitsu students find their game?

If you aren’t clear on what a Jiu-Jitsu game means, just watch two athletes battle it out at a competition. One person wins their division in tournaments by pulling guard and tapping everyone with their triangle choke. Another person from the same team is known for strong takedowns and a heavy-pressure top game. Even though they are both from the same Jiu-Jitsu team, they use Jiu-Jitsu in very different ways.

Professor Paulo "Paulinho" Gomes has some insight and advice for Jiu-Jitsu students who want to find their personal game. He shares his opinions on the downside of chasing fancy positions they see on Instagram. He provides insight into why the basic techniques account for the majority of black belt submissions in competition.

Professor Paulo has been training in Jiu-Jitsu for over 20 years, starting when he was 13. He grew up in Victoria, Brazil, and currently teaches at GB Warrington, located near Liverpool in the UK.

Professor Alexandre Cafe Dantas (check out his video series on GB Online) and Professor Naborabner Punk at Gracie Ipanema (an affiliate school in the early days of Gracie Barra) were his earliest influences when he started.

How to start Jiu-Jitsu in the right way

Professor Paulo teaches a lot of private classes, in addition to group classes at GB Warrington.

"I can see the evolution of the students closely in the private classes. I like to talk with them about what is most comfortable with their game," says Professor Paulo

Professor Paulo starts by asking a new student the simple question, "How do you prefer to train?"

The student may answer, "Oh, I prefer to pull guard in the match."

The answer is the start of determining the first steps to building a new student's Jiu-Jitsu game - finding out which position the student feels most comfortable in on the ground. The idea behind this line of inquiry is that early in a student's exposure to Jiu-Jitsu, they will naturally find certain positions that click for them. This should be the starting point to build their individual game.

"Great! You stay comfortable when you pull guard and are on your back. Let's go work after that," says Professor Paulo.

The problem with social media techniques

In their enthusiasm to learn Jiu-Jitsu, students follow Jiu-Jitsu channels on social media and become amazed at some of the flashy, advanced techniques.

The student shows the technique to Professor Paulo, saying they want to learn it, "Oh, this is an amazing position that I saw on Instagram! I love this. Look at that!"

Professor Paulo smiles and says patiently, "Yes, but is this position a part of your game? Does this position make sense for your game?" In many incidences, the answer is no.

Professor Paulo probes further, "Why do you want to learn this position for your game? We must understand WHY."

Information overload and less is more

"In the Jiu-Jitsu world, we have a moment that is dangerous. Where we have A LOT of information. People are learning twenty to thirty positions per week! " says Professor Paulo.

Professor shrugs his shoulders and elaborates, "I'm a black belt for over eight years. I prefer learning and really understanding one position a month!"

He pauses to allow this information to sink in. "Why?" he asks, "When I'm learning a simple cross-collar choke, I know how to use that collar choke in all situations. Closed guard, side control, top mount, I know how to use this technique in all Jiu-Jitsu situations. I know how to use it to submit white belts, blue belts, purple... and black belts."

Professor Paulo posed the rhetorical question to the student excited about an Instagram position: "How many black belts did you submit with this position last week? On how many guys at your belt did you use this position correctly last week? "

Professor Paulo uses the armbar from the closed guard technique to illustrate the concept of the levels of understanding. "People don't (completely) know how to use the armbar attack."

The student asks, immediately after learning the closed guard armbar, "Now I want to learn the flying armbar!"

Professor Paulo shakes his head. "Wait. Do you know the top mount and back? Do you know the armbar transition from the triangle? Do you know the armbar transition to sweep? Do you know the armbar from the knee on the belly? Do you know the armbar in all situations? Do you know how to use the armbar in ALL of the positions with the guy that is the same weight and the same belt as you?"

"If your answer is "No, just on white belts', then you don't know this position yet," says Professor Paulo.

The importance of starting with the fundamentals

Professor Paulo explains, "I started training Jiu-Jitsu for self-defense. I started by learning all of the correct movements. The correct bridge, the correct front and back roll, and the correct self-defense escapes. The correct hip escape. I learned the base. The foundation of Jiu-Jitsu."

The next step was to start sparring and learning which positions he experienced the earliest success using. This is how you begin to identify which techniques will work when developing your game.

Professor Paulo gives an example, "In sparring if I find that I prefer to work on top. I need the takedown, pass the guard, side control."

If the student asks about an interesting but unrelated position, Professor Paulo pauses the student and explains that yes - it is a good position - but it's not important for their game right at this point in time.

Professor Paulo wants us to recognize that once you find a position that you feel comfortable in, you must connect your guard pass to the takedown - which is necessary in order to get to the top guard passing position - and side mount control, which you will find yourself in after a successful guard pass. You must also learn the other positions in the sparring sequence. These positions will be your training priority, which connects to where you feel most comfortable.

How many techniques do you know vs. how many can you use?

Professor Paulo says that, as an instructor, he knows all of the GB Curriculum techniques. Yet he distinguishes between how many techniques you learned and could demonstrate if your Professor asked you versus how many techniques you can apply in sparring against a fully resisting opponent of the same level as you.

"In sparring against other black belts or good brown belts, many of the positions are very hard to apply because all of the positions are not part of my game," says Professor Paulo.

To illustrate his point, Professor Paulo uses an example from the recent 2023 IBJJF European Championships. Black belt Kaynan Duarte won his division using certain positions. Duarte had used the same positions in his previous victory in 2018.

"The same techniques in five fights. Why? Because Kaynan has a game. And he is more comfortable with his game." This world-class competitor is well aware of what his strongest positions are and brings those to the championship year after year. And at that level, we can assume that he knows and could demonstrate many other techniques he doesn’t take into matches with him.

Knowing your strengths and weaknesses

"I love the omoplata sweep," says Professor Paulo, "But I'm not comfortable in the omoplata position."

Professor Paulo explains that he simply doesn't feel comfortable holding the omoplata shoulder lock position. He prefers to immediately go to the omoplata sweep and go to the top position. "I don't like the omoplata attack," he says, "I know how to teach the omoplata attack to you. I know it. But normally, I don't attack the submission on the guy. I attack with the sweep. I love this position."

Professor Paulo believes that Jiu-Jitsu students must find not only which positions they feel most comfortable in but HOW they use those positions when there are several options.

Progressive Jiu-Jitsu

Professor Paulo says that when the white belt student is learning a specific position, they must think of what is likely to happen next in the flow of the match. How does one position lead to the next position in the sequence?

Professor Paulo says that the Jiu-Jitsu student must think, "And then? And then?"

"My instructor (Professor) Café always said to me: Paulo, progressive Jiu-Jitsu!”

Professor Paulo asks us to look at training the different positions in the sequence.

For example, practicing the takedown to guard pass to side mount attack sequence. He gives the following example of a training week to help work on the progression of positions.

1- Takedown - single leg takedown. Repeat for repetitions

10 minutes of repeating

then add 70% resistance

finish standup training at 100% intensity

2- Guard Pass

Repeat your favorite guard pass with your partner

3- Top control

Side mount top or half guard top

Repeat your best side control attacks for repetitions

4 - Return tomorrow for the next class, takedown again, pass the guard again... and so on. The next week? Same routine.

5 - Not changing the techniques- different guard passes. Sticking with the same techniques. You will accumulate hours of experience in your best positions.

Let’s not forget the famous Bruce Lee quote.

"I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times."

This quote emphasizes the higher importance of focused practice and a high level of proficiency in a select number of techniques compared to a surface knowledge of a wide variety of techniques.

Professor Paulo says that as you progress, you will naturally add more techniques to your arsenal that complement your existing game and fill in technical gaps.

Stay focused on your game

"I'm not teaching you today to pass guard and tomorrow guard retention, and after three days a triangle attack...etc. And then after six weeks, we come back to the first takedown," Professor Paulo says. The student will have difficulty remembering the first takedown that was taught.

Professor Paulo prefers staying with the same set of techniques for a longer duration and working on the sequence in the student's game.

Professor Paulo teaches classes at his Gracie Barra school utilizing the GB Curriculum, but he looks to implement the concept of progressive Jiu-Jitsu from week to week in the Curriculum.

"If this week is a sweep from guard bottom, I will show pull guard. Two or three different ways to pull guard. Because if I have not shown the position before, how can I train guard bottom?"

Why do the basic techniques work on black belts?

If you watch the brown and black belt divisions of a major tournament, you might be expecting to see some really crazy submissions and black belts getting tapped by techniques that you have never seen before. Yet, at the end of the matches, you likely will be surprised that the submissions were from basic techniques like collar choke from the back.

And those fancy, multi-step Instagram transitions? Nowhere to be found.

Why is this?

Professor Paulo has an explanation for this seemingly paradoxical outcome. "How many times, after learning the position, will you do that position?" asks Professor Paulo, "Maybe one time every two weeks?"

If a cool move that you saw in your social media feed isn't really part of the best positions that you regularly use in rolling, you won't use it often enough to achieve a high level of proficiency. If you like the top game in your Jiu-Jitsu, your opportunity to enter into a Beriimbolo position is rare. The fundamental techniques are used so frequently that it is more common to become proficient in performing them.

So when you are deciding on building your game, remember to ground it in the fundamentals. Then layer onto your game the positions and submissions that you feel most comfortable with. Over time, your game will evolve into a well-developed plan.

Blog written by Mark Mullen, a Gracie Barra Black Belt

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