If there’s one thing that people know about jiu jitsu it’s that it involves submissions. Casual fans of MMA often see guys win by rear-naked chokes, or armbars, both moves in jiu jitsu. I’d say most whitebelts want to learn submissions. And with it being a competitive sport a lot of time focus is placed purely on submissions (usually not by instructors, but by eager students.) In fact, I believe my first week, if not my first day, I learned an armbar.
But in the past 5 months, I’ve learned that jiu jitsu is about more than submissions. There is defense, and a lot, and I mean A LOT, of positional awareness and body movement. I’ve discussed shrimping earlier, and that is as much, if not more, a part of jiu jitsu than armbars.
When I’ve gone to sparring I’ve tried to focus on “what do I do in this position?” That meant one night I was armbarred probably 5 times from the same position, because I wound up there and didn’t know what to do. After that night I started thinking “What was common in all of my armbars?” That lead me to realize I was 1. Giving up the back easily and 2. Leaving my top arm wide open. The next sparring class I wanted to 1. Turn into, and not away from my partner so that I didn’t give up the back, and 2. Keep that top arm close. I focused on that, and I believe was only caught in one armbar.
That was a lot of my focus, a lot of times I was going against guys that were way better than me, and already knew all the attacks I know, so I started wanting to see how long I could survive. And if I went against another whitebelt, I’d try to see if I could do any kind of attack.
For our sparring class on January 8th, there were probably more than 20 people there. For some gyms that might be normal, but since I’ve been going our average sparring class size is probably closer to 8-10 people. It was the single most whitebelts I’d seen in a sparring class (I think I counted 9.)
We started the night in groups of 3 playing “pass-sweep-submit” from full-guard. Then we went into different groups of 3 and played from half-guard, and finally from side-control. So by the end, we’d gone 45 minutes of playing pass-sweep-submit and most, if not all, of us were pretty tired. We then started sparring. We did 5 minute matches and if someone was submitted they stayed in and the odd man out came in to start another match.
First 5 minute match I went against 2 guys, losing one and having time expire on the other. I found another guy to go against to start the 2nd round and he was able to triangle choke me after about 4.5 minutes of us scrambling from different posistions. For the final 5 mintue match I went against someone I’d gone against probably 10 times in sparring. I like going against him because while he’s better than me, we usually have a decent match, this time was no different.
I started in his guard, and tried to pass. He went for an arm and couldn’t quite get it. He wound up in a dominate position, I think probably side control. He started to try and set up a choke. I moved around some and he started angling for the armbar (the same one I was talking about a few paragraphs back.) I locked on my defense and kept moving. I then turtled up and was trying to think how to get out of that position. He still had his right hand on my lapel, but I was defending it with my right hand to keep the choke away. Then he threw on a body triangle (which means he stuck his right leg across my gut, and put his right ankle underneath his left knee, and closed it tight.)
I knew if he started squeezing that, I would be tapping soon as he would squeeze out all my air. That’s when it hit me, I had been in roughly the same position before, only I was the one with the back. It was the in-house tournament, and when I crossed my ankles, I was tapped out about 2 seconds later. I thought his leg was too far off to the side, and I thought if he felt me move he’d adjust to keep me from going for it. But honestly, it was my only shot. If I didn’t attack his ankles I’d be tapping in short order. I threw my left leg over, pushed it down towards the mat and felt him tapping my chest.
Getting my first tap was thrilling because I finally actually “won” a sparring match (for whatever that’s worth.) However, it was also frustrating, because I kind of felt like I just lucked in to that submission. I mean, I didn’t think “I’ll let him take my back, roll me over, hope he crosses his legs, and then attack his ankles.” It was more of “I’m in a world of hurt here, if I don’t do something quick this is over.”” It was also humbling. I’ve been doing jiu jitsu for just over 5 months, and this is the first time I was able to submit someone. I also had gone against 6 other guys (and had 11 matchups of either pass-sweep-submit, or sparring.) It was litterally the last possible moment for me to get my submission, after he tapped, within 15 seconds, the buzzer sounded and we circled up to stretch to end class.
So my first submission was thrilling, frustrating and humbling. In other words, it was a normal BJJ experience.