As I have begun listening to the excellent BJJ Mental Models podcast, it has really helped me to forward my game and always have overarching goals in every position, even if I don’t know any specifics. I’d like to share some of the basic concepts that have helped me.
Concept 1: Posture
I have recently started doing regular grappling sessions with a coworker – let’s call him Mark. Mark was a college wrestler and has a very solid MMA record, fighting competitively with several guys who are now in the UFC. Then Mark started having kids and got out of the fight game until we connected.
Why do I bring this up?
Mark is constantly messing with my head and neck! When I first started grappling with him, I would get an underhook and try to go into a half guard. The problem was, I was not doing a good job of framing or clearing his arms. The result was a bunch of nasty crossfaces, cradles, and chokes.
If there is one major takeaway from grappling with Mark, I am always more aware of keeping good posture. Specifically, this means keeping my head and spine in a straight line, and keeping my shoulders and hips aligned. It sounds simple, but my partner will be trying to affect this a lot of the time!
Once Mark starts to bend my spine, it severely weakens my overall posture. If I don’t regain my spinal structure, it’s just a matter of time before Mark passes my guard or chokes me.
One the other end, if someone is defending well when I’m on top in side control, I’m looking to weaken their posture by bending their spine, twisting their hips or head, or something of that nature.
Takeaway: Disturb your partner’s posture – it weakens them and leads to other openings. If your posture is compromised, look to regain it immediately.
Concept 2: Structure
Structure in this context means “the efficient use of your limbs”. So first, can you establish a grip on your partner? Are all your limbs available to use against your partner?
But let’s highlight a specific word in this definition – efficient. In some of his conceptual videos, Rob Biernacki shows a push-up position with either the arms locked, or slightly bent. Which one is easier to maintain?
Clearly in this case, a locked arm is preferable. In this situation, you are mainly using the strength of your skeleton rather than your muscles. There are times where you will want to lock your arms and rely on your skeletal frame (particularly in guard retention), but this is an area where you need to be careful that you are not gift wrapping an armbar to your partner!
Most commonly, where this framing and structure comes into play is in the use of parts of your limbs – specifically your humerus (bone connecting your shoulder to your elbow) and femur (bone connecting your hip to knee). When you are in either a bottom inferior position, or playing a style of guard, these bones are incredibly important. Use your knees and elbows to create/maintain space, and not your muscles!
This is one of the telltale signs of a new grappler – they do not use structure efficiently and rely too much on their muscles. As a result, it is easy to tire them out and ultimately submit them.
Takeaway: Always attempt to use good structure, and at the same time take away your partner’s structure.
Concept 3: Base
When people hear the term “base” they often think about a good fighting stance, or maybe a good passing stance where a strong passer cannot be swept. That is only a portion of “base”.
In this context, base means the ability “to apply and absorb force”. So if you lay down in a snow angel position you will never get swept, but are you able to generate any force yourself?
One aspect to focus here is the activation of your toes – in top side control, are you on your toes? If so, you can generate and absorb force from your opponent much better than if your toes aren’t active.
Another example – in bottom mount if your partner is “grapevining” your legs, you likely cannot post them on the mat to generate a bridging motion. You have no base and must address that fact in order to escape!
Takeaway: Look to constantly establish a good base while removing your partner’s base.
Putting it Together
Now that you know the three aspects of Alignment, you can look to a “score card” to help understand who has an advantage in a match. Posture, Base and Structure each count as one point. If both grapplers have 3 points, it is likely that neither has a large advantage. But once either of them starts to get an advantage (3 to 1), submissions become mush more likely. You can find various examples of this through GrappleArts, BJJ Mental Models, or Rob Biernacki’s videos.
There is a lot more here that could be expanded on. I recommend looking into the BJJ Mental Models podcast, as well as Rob Biernacki’s BJJ Formula series. No matter what your game is, they will benefit you.
Credit: Matt Peters