You’ve Got to Know When to Fold ‘Em: Beginning BJJ Transitions

Have you ever been really, really close to finishing a guard pass, only to be reversed at the last second?  Ever had someone sweep you right into side control because you were fighting really hard to stop the sweep?

There’s a lot to be said for being stubborn at the right time.  There is definitely a time to impose your will in jiu jitsu, to fight to stay on top, to struggle against what your opponent wants.  However, one of the most important lessons in your jiu jitsu journey is knowing when the battle is lost, conceding the loss, and moving on so that you can win the war.

A very common example of this is the aforementioned sweep scenario.  You’re on top, looking to pass the guard.  Your partner has some pretty solid grips, and you are keeping your balance pretty well.  Then it hits you:  you are off balance.  There’s a really good chance you’re going to be swept here.

In this moment, you have a decision to make.  The moment will seem like a split second at first, but after you develop this skill, it will seem like far longer.  The decision is, essentially:  do I fight to try and stay on top, or do I realize that my desire to remain on top is futile at this moment, and start working to recover my guard as I’m swept?

The benefit of fighting to stay on top is obvious:  you don’t want to be swept.  Being on top is terrific!  You can exert excellent pressure on your opponent, making him or her more tired than you are as a result.  However, when you are losing this battle, there is a tremendous opportunity in the transition to recover a preferred type of guard, perhaps returning the favor with a sweep of your own, or even managing to set up a submission in the scramble.  At the very least, you will have the golden opportunity to recover your guard while your partner is expending all of his or her mental and physical energy in simply coming up on top.

Another very common example of this, apparent to any white belt in BJJ who has been training for more than a few weeks, is the cross choke you’re going for from side control.  As your opponent recovers to guard, you have to concede that you have lost this small battle.  What if you don’t?  Well, you had better learn to enjoy tapping to armlocks, if that’s the case.

I’ll give you one more example:  suppose you’re fighting as hard as you can to maintain the person in your guard, but your opponent is working technically and diligently to pass.  At a point, it becomes evident that he will pull his foot free and finish the pass into side control.  You have a simple choice:  will you continue to clamp down on his foot with all your might, or will you start to work your defensive posture in order to start defending from side control, and (ultimately) work to escape?

What separates a great jiu jtisu practitioner from an average one isn’t necessarily a lot of great moves, but it definitely is an excellent understanding of these types of transitions.  Conceding the loss and moving on to the next position before your opponent is able to capitalize on your stubbornness is the very first type of transitional movement you can hope to learn in BJJ.  Learn when to appropriately salvage a lost position, and you will start learning how to add transitions to your arsenal.

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