The ABC’s of Jiu-Jitsu: A System for Continuous Improvement
Improving your technique in jiu-jitsu is a game of inches. The first time you tie a white belt around your waist, you know nothing, and as you begin your jiu-jitsu journey your technique improves by leaps and bounds. But once you reach an intermediate level, improvement becomes more difficult. It’s easy to get comfortable in your training and keep working the same moves you already know while rolling. If you want to continue improving your technique in jiu-jitsu, you must venture outside your comfort zone and practice new moves in live training. You have to get comfortable with making mistakes instead of just doing what you are already good at.
In my years of training jiu-jitsu, I’ve developed a strategy for continuous improvement. I divide my game into three parts: the A game, B game, and C game. Which game I use while rolling depends on who I’m rolling with and what I’m trying to accomplish.
The A Game: Your Best Moves
The A game consists of the jiu-jitsu moves that you are highly comfortable with. These are the moves you could perform in your sleep. Your A game is already sharp, but it’s important to keep sharpening the blade.
Obviously, my A game is what I bring when I compete in tournaments. Outside of competing, I only work my A game when I am rolling with a training partner who is of similar size and similar or higher belt level to me, or a training partner of any experience level who is much larger than me. These are the people who can give me good resistance, so I am forced to perform my technique perfectly and keep my A game sharp.
The B Game: The Backup Plan
The B game consists of techniques that you are starting to master but are not 100% proficient with yet. Your B game has a place in competition as a backup plan if your plan A doesn’t work and you are pushed outside your comfort zone. With the B game we find some room for improvement.
I like to work on my B game when I am rolling with training partners who are of larger or similar size but somewhat less experienced than me. These partners can resist my technique, but being less experienced they won’t resist as effectively as my A-game training partners, which presents the possibility of success even if my technique isn’t perfect yet. As I work the moves in my B game, slowly but surely, I improve. Eventually, a B-game technique becomes sharp enough to move up to my A game.
The C Game: Stuff You’re Bad At
The C game is the moves you have learned recently and are very uncomfortable with. This is where you have the most opportunity for improvement in your game.
Working your C game in live rolling almost certainly means you will make mistakes and “lose” while training, but this is the only way to get better! I like to work my C game when I am rolling with a partner who is of similar or smaller size and much less experienced than me. These are the people who can’t resist my technique well, so I have a lot of room to go slowly and figure things out. As I get more comfortable with these techniques, I move them up to my B game to start practicing them with more resistance.
Working the C game with less experienced partners also has the added benefit that your partner has a chance to find some success in rolling with you, rather than just being smashed by your A game. In this way, two training partners of very different levels can mutually benefit from rolling with each other. Working only your C game forces you to be a good training partner with a much less experienced practitioner.
The D Game: Drilling
It is often said that “drillers make killers.” You need to always be looking for new moves to bring into your game. This is where I’ve developed the concept of a D game: the techniques that are so new to you, you are not even ready to try them in a live training setting yet. Instead, you need to drill these moves over and over until you start to understand how to apply them.
I strongly believe that every jiu-jitsu practitioner needs to find a few training partners of similar size to drill with outside of class time. I like to meet before class with these partners, in pairs or small groups. We share our techniques with each other and drill, drill, drill! When I start to understand how a technique works, it moves into my C game, where I can practice applying it live for the first time.
The E Game: Everything You Haven’t Learned Yet
The jiu-jitsu universe is wide and deep. You could train for your whole life and there would still be techniques you haven’t been exposed to. This is what I love most about jiu-jitsu: you will never stop learning! So keep an open mind, visit open mats at other schools, pick new people to roll with, and keep exploring for new moves to bring into your game.
Next time you slap hands and bump fists, take a moment to ask yourself, what game do I want to work with this person? If you stick to your ABCs, you will never stop improving your technique in jiu-jitsu.