BJJ is about defense too!

Have you ever watched a BJJ or MMA match and seen someone try to execute a submission and not be able to?  Perhaps the guy tried a triangle choke, or an arm-bar and his opponent didn’t tap. When that happens, what’s usually discussed is that the guy attacking didn’t have it locked in right, or possibly that he just didn’t have very good technique. Both of those might be true, but I think there’s another option, what if his opponent was just exercising really good defense?

For example, if you know how to do an armbar, you know that for it to work, your elbow has to be exposed so that the other guy can use his hips as a lever to hyper extend it. Or in a triangle, your shoulder is used to cut off blood supply on one side of your neck. This means that if you can defend by scooting your elbow below your opponent’s neck, or you can prevent one artery from being cutoff you have a chance of surviving.

This dawned on me last week in sparring class. At one point, I was rolling with another white belt, and we’d been going back and forth (covered about 1/2 the mat in our previous roll.) While we’re rolling, my instructor is shouting at me “If you tap him, I’ll give you another stripe.”  That did motivate me a little, but truth be told, I was more focused on being competitive than I was the stripe. That is, I was trying to give him everything I had, and if I happened to get a stripe out of the deal, then that was all the better.  The timer sounded as I was trying to work an armbar from back.  As I was talking with my teammate later, we were discussing the efficacy of BJJ. He said that he wasn’t just going to give me the submission, to which I replied, “If BJJ works, then it should work, and I don’t need welfare.”  My point being, I don’t ever want someone to “give” me a choke or an armbar. I want to get my technique right and execute it.  But his response stuck with me. He said “It does work. Which is why you didn’t get me.”

The reason he’s right in saying that is I had his back, I couldn’t get a choke, he was defending it too well. However, he stuck out his elbow, as I wrapped it up and tried to spin to the side to get the armbar, he smartly smashed down on my bottom leg. The leg I needed to throw over his face to complete the armbar. I had my right leg over his chest, my arms firmly gripping his arm, it was away from his body, he wasn’t grabbing his other hand, but I couldn’t move my left leg. My mobility was limited, which meant I couldn’t squeeze his arm with my knees. At best I was stretching his arm, but I wasn’t really even doing that. If he’d been a brand new white belt, he might have tapped. Maybe. But he wasn’t, he knew he wasn’t really in any danger. Without that left leg across his face, he had way too much room to move.

He used BJJ to defend me using BJJ to attack. He executed his BJJ better. He created space, he took away something essential I needed for the attack (my leg.)  His defense using BJJ beat my offense using BJJ.

I think sometimes we get caught up on the offensive side of BJJ, that it’s all about chokes and submissions, and we forget that there is a defensive side as well. In order to prevent you from attacking there are fundamental things I need to do as well. It may or may not win you matches in a tournament, but defense, done correctly, can mitigate an attack.