How to Make a BJJ Game Plan

A lifelong athlete, Keith Eager played competitive Baseball and Ice Hockey growing up. He found Jiu Jitsu and Martial Arts in 2008, training first under Gordo Jiu Jitsu black belt Marcio Nunes, before joining OpenMat. Keith has been with OpenMat since 2010, and has studied under a myriad of instructors, with the majority of his training being under Elliott Bayev and Val Ostanov.

While the majority of his mat time has been spent doing Jiu Jitsu, Keith has also trained in Wrestling, Judo, MMA and Muay Thai. In addition to instructing and assistant instructing in Jiu Jitsu, Keith has coached in Skating, Ice Hockey and Sledge Hockey, all the while secretly wishing that he was coaching Jiu Jitsu.

More scientist than cheerleader or sage, Keith's interest is in finding, exploring and mapping out effective Jiu Jitsu for self defence, MMA and sport grappling. Keith helps his students to find both a universal Jiu Jitsu and a game that they can call their own.

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Does your mind go void of any ideas of what to do when beginning a roll? Do you struggle with knowing what to do in bad spots, unfamiliar positions and even dominant positions when you achieve them? Are you unable to devise a strategy for dealing with a certain, difficult opponent?

One way around these problems would be to train for years and years, having no plan, learning for the sake of learning, until you've seen every common grappling situation that you could find yourself in. This is referred to as the path of the "technique collector."

Another solution to the problem is to devise and implement both a broader positional map and a specific attacking game-plan. You're still spending half of your time on the BREADTH of your game, but you're also spending half of your time on the DEPTH of your attacks. Whether or not you decide to compete, this is the path of the competitor.

The goal here is to simplify the learning process by focusing only on a couple moves from each position, the ones that you find the most effective. If you're always forgetting the steps for that complicated half guard sweep that you saw on YouTube, leave it on the shelf for later. The advantage of using this approach to learning is that you are constantly testing your game in a live environment and responding to the results.

OK, now, let's get into the activity! You'll be making both a positional map and a specific game-plan. Just follow along for the steps to make both.

1. Your Positional Map:

Write down your ONE OR TWO GO-TO MOVES that you use consistently from every major position (open guard, half guard, closed guard, side control, mount, back mount). If you don't have a move for a position, that's OK, write that down, too, and you will at least know what areas of the game you need answers for.

If you find you have more than one or two moves for a position, break it down further into micro-positions! You might have two moves for collar and sleeve control in the closed guard and another two off of the arm drag. The important thing is to write down only the techniques that you actually use! If you're stuck for what to write down, and you have something that you've used a couple of times, put it in. If you've seen something but never used it, don't put it in.

2. Specific Game Plan:

Now, take the observations you've made about your overall game and streamline them into a path towards ONLY ONE OUTCOME. This will be your "A-Game". An example of this is a simplification of Rickson Gracie's MMA strategy, i.e.:

control distance - close the distance - body-lock take-down - pass the guard - mount - force the turnover - rear naked choke

Of course, in practice against qualified opposition, things don't always go according to plan. In his matches against Rei Zulu, Funaki and Takada, Rickson was put into inferior positions after losing wrestling exchanges, forcing him to draw on his broader positional map before finding an opportunity to return to pursuing his “A-Game”.

Your game may look very different than this! Often, a sport Jiu Jitsu game-plan will be specialized to not only the ruleset of a grappling competition but also for an individual competitors attributes and preferences. Before looking at more esoteric aspects of the grappling game, we might take a look at how a similar outcome can be achieved in no gi submission wrestling.

In his match against Vitor Shaolin Ribeiro, Marcelo Garcia displayed a nearly flawless execution of his back attack game-plan.

hand fight - arm-drag to the waist-grip - secure the seatbelt - over-pursue the back - secure the choke - secure the hooks

Your strategy can be any variation of techniques that reliably take you from the start of a match or roll to a position where you can consistently apply a finishing hold.

The nice thing about focusing on a small set of techniques is that by the time you have established and put into practice your game-plan, you will have put exponentially more time into developing your favourite techniques than your opponents and training partners will have spent studying, implementing and defending against these techniques. Even if you require time for your overall game to catch up to your favoured techniques, you will be able to execute you "A-game" on opponents of equal or even higher caliber than yourself.

When you’re looking to expand your game, take a half hour before or after class to drill both your breadth positions and depth positions with a higher belt or trusted training partner.

Once you've made your positional map, you can find any initial gaps in knowledge or experience to shore up. Your positional map will serve as a guide for the BREADTH of your future training. Of course, once you choose a path to focus on, you can spend time learning every entry to, control for, variation to and alternate finish for your favoured technique. Your game-plan will serve as a guide for the DEPTH of your future training.

When you're looking to expand your game, take a half hour before or after class to drill both your breadth positions and depth positions with a higher belt or trusted training partner. You should be able to get three 5-minute rounds in, each. Try working your way up to an hour's worth of independent drilling, including limited and specific positional sparring.

There are a lot of resources available to beginners that can help with knowing the basic positions and mapping out the game. Stephan Kesting, Nic Gregoriades and Bernardo Faria all have fantastic e-books directed towards beginners that are free to download. Aesopian, Andrew Smith and others have extremely professional Jiu Jitsu blogs that are a great resource for even the most seasoned grapplers. Gambledub, BJJ Scout, and many others have wonderfully specific studies on individual athletes, game-plans and positions available on YouTube.

Lastly, and most importantly, I hope that you can look to your Professors, coaches and senior students in helping you to develop your Jiu Jitsu game-plans. The most important time spent during your Jiu Jitsu journey will be on the mats, and your first hand experiences will be the ones that shape you the most. As you progress, your game will become more and more unique to yourself as you respond to specific problems in training and in competition. But regardless of whether you choose to compete, I hope that you'll be successful in learning Jiu Jitsu.

Was this helpful to you? Have you started working on a game plan? Let us know in the comments below!

p.s. Instagraaaaam: @learningbjj