In 2009 I attended a seminar with Carmen Janke. I was a few months into my blue belt at the time and while I had respectable offensive success against females of my size and skill level and, on rare occasions, against big male noobs, I was all about survival and escaping against the (almost always) bigger and stronger dudes I train with at Dartford BJJ. Carmen, who also weighs in around 60 kilos, said something that day that struck me and has stuck with me: ‘I really didn’t develop my offence until purple belt’. Snap!
Since mid-2010, as I got closer to purple belt, I began to see green shoots of an improved offensive game and over the three months since my purple belt promotion areas of my offence have really started coming together. Let me quantify what I mean by that. My goal is offensive success against larger, stronger and more powerful opponents, ultimately of my own skill level. For me, evidence of an improved offence is consistent success versus a wide range of heavier, stronger novices. While this may not sound like much to those who had offensive success when white belts, themselves, this has been a long journey for me as a smaller ‘out gunned’ player, so it is a significant step forward in my personal jits journey. I attribute the evolution of my offence to a convergence of several factors: very good instruction, dogged persistence, improved self-belief and the re-introduction of both no gi and BJJ basics/self defence into my weekly training regime.
I have been focussing on my triangle for 12-18 months. In particular, I’ve been refining my ‘shoulder walking’ and transitioning from the triangle to an arm bar/inverted arm bar. I am cracking this on folks of all different sizes now, rarely on people of greater size and similar skill, but reliably on much larger opponents of lesser skill; while I’ve been able to survive and escape from less experienced big ‘uns for some time, it is a recent development to regularly submit opponents with a 20-50 kilo weight advantage. I’m pumped!
From the beginning I have been taught defence first. A basic delineation of the early belts in my Academy is survival at white belt, escape at blue belt. That’s your job. Coach has been assuring me over the years that, with time, I would gain enough confidence in my defence to being to dismantling opponents with my offence. Don’t get me wrong! I still tap like River Dance and I’m not ashamed of that, but, I foil enough attacks and escape enough uncomfortable positions to feel that I have a solid defence, a defence which can now serve as the backbone of an emerging offence.
When I write that I have been working on my triangle combos for some months now I mean trying it in sparring against every sort of opponent regardless of how much they might outclass me in weight, strength, skill, youth or speed. Working this flow in sparring has often resulted in being passed and crushed. Demoralising as consistent failure might be in the shorter term, I play a long game and trust that only through persistence will my game grow over the longer term.
Coach often advises us: ‘You must believe in your offence more than your opponent believes in his defence.’ Confidence in the offensive area of my game has long been lacking and as accurate as Coach’s prediction was that improved defence would make room for improved offence, so too was his insistence on the importance of self-belief. As new offensive skills did indeed reveal themselves, my confidence grew. A month or two before my promotion, I remember coming away from one of many private lessons working through the kinks in my triangle flow thinking, ‘I *can* submit with this triangle!’; I finally believed in it.
When I began my grappling-journey, no gi was a regular part of my weekly training routine. Changes to my training schedule during ’09 meant that this aspect got lost, to be re-integrated in ’10. I believe the speed of no gi allowed me to better capitalise on an RNC-opportunity which was pivitol for my self-belief. Likewise, I regained BJJ-basics/self defence in 2010. Drilling this material, which looks at technique in context of a striking attacker, gave me new perspectives on transitions to the triangle, in particular the utility of controlling the opponent’s wrist while getting the feet behind the opponent and maintaining that control while locking it up. Following on from my earlier discussion of BJJ as a ‘martial art’ or ‘combat sport’, I feel convinced that it is essential to balance training with a competition-focus with training for self defence, and indeed, complementing gi work with no gi. At least for me, this combination of approaches has been essential to consolidating a discreet area of offensive capability, a foundation upon which I hope to build and expand.
I accept that the ideas presented here aren’t original and I have certainly learned the importance balance in all things from teachers and mentors inside and outside of BJJ, but I have progressed to where I *know* these things for myself, on a visceral level, I see how they have contributed to my growth and I am simply here to testify!
19 Jan 2011 @ 6:22 pm
Oh goodness, so reassuring 🙂 🙂
I've heard that skill defeats size/strength when there's about a two-year skill advantage… UNLESS it's woman (skill) vs. man (strength), in which case it's more like a six-year skill advantage. Something to do with the inherent upper body strength advantage… anyway I'm finding that to be somewhat true, maybe more like a 2-3 year skill advantage if I'm lucky..
19 Jan 2011 @ 6:40 pm
Georgette, thanks for commenting! That is super interesting. Are there URL citations for this rubric of size v strength with gendered variables (lots of tech work today, can you tell)? That *is* reassuring. I've been grappling since autumn 2004 but I had 9 months out in 2005 with (my first) knee injury and for the first few years I was doing more cross-training with other styles than I do now and only grappled 1/week with regularity. So, maybe that settles to about 4 years proper grappling experience (versus 6 years of elapsed time if you see what I mean)? In which case, this '4-year' skill gap gives me pretty reliable success versus strength and yes, with luck on my side, 2-3 is possible but seriously tricky. Interestingly, if the skill gap is there, at this stage, suddenly, the size gap doesn't really matter (everyone is at least 10 kilos heavier than me with most 15-25, but they can go up to nearly twice my size). It is as if once you get over a certain threshold of skill differential the weight thing is just a matter of degrees that is pretty much conquered. More experimentation needed and I suppose now the Big Boys will see this and prove me utterly wrong – haha 😀 This is a really exciting factoid, Georgette, and I want to know more! Can be helpful for setting goals and not being so hard on myself. Just try to keep working towards decreasing N where N is years of skill advantage 😀
19 Jan 2011 @ 6:54 pm
Excellent post Meg!
19 Jan 2011 @ 6:56 pm
Thank you for reading, Triin, I'm glad you liked it!
19 Jan 2011 @ 11:55 pm
Yeah, I certainly hope that is true, as I've been pretty much 100% defensive since I started in 2006 (small guy rather than a woman, but a certain amount of cross-over in terms of the common situations I face when sparring bigger guys). It would be nice to imagine an offence might start to creep in somewhere in the next couple of years. 😉
20 Jan 2011 @ 12:37 pm
Hi slideyfoot! Certainly seems to be an intuitively 'true' rubric, and I hope to find the provenance of the stat soon. While there are clearly physical attributes at play in this issues of size/strength/skill/sex I do think, for me, that I can get stuck in a comfort zone of defence and I'm at the point where I really need to let go of the fears that are blocking me so that I can take it up a notch. So what, I'm going to get caught out, smashed, tapped (more) and mess it up, but if I persist with seeking to attack more and better I will get there. Easy to say and just when I think I've got the ego in check… 😉
Thanks for commenting!
20 Jan 2011 @ 4:08 pm
I had a very eye-opening conversation about my game yesterday. For as long as I remember I've been concentrating on getting to a dominant position and maintaining it. I was told that I'm too afraid to go for the submissions even though there are plenty of opportunities and would rather sit comfortable on top of the opponent 🙁 I tried to justify as much as possible but at the end I had to admit, it is true.
I liked the journey with no pressure to finish anyone, now as I'm getting close to purple belt, the things have to change. Need to get more confident. Thanks Meg, I needed the reminder.
20 Jan 2011 @ 4:13 pm
Triin, sister, you remind me! I will surf a dude for ages and ages, maintaining the mount, rather than go for the subs. And after a while they do start to get worried and sloppy with the arms – arm bar city – but I too am to afraid of losing the top position (that I worked so so hard for) and going back to Crushville on the bottom. BUT, darnit, I've got a good grasp of getting to and maintaining the top position so need to step up, lose the ego and go for the opportunities. The old adage 'position, control, submission', seems ours games are at the point where it is time to look more deeply at the third aspect 🙂 For me, much more consistent results with one offensive flow has improved my confidence, but there are still a lot of demons and their talk. Part of the challenge and reward matrix of jits 🙂
20 Jan 2011 @ 4:20 pm
That sounds very familiar, Triin. If I get on top, I'm always much more concerned about maintaining rather than than submitting, even when I manage to settle into a good position.
Last session, I was sat on top with a mounted triangle nearly locked in, and I ended up mostly just staring at him rather than doing anything with it.
20 Jan 2011 @ 4:22 pm
BAHHAHA! I am imagining the chokees face ;D Do all smallies love triangle from mount?
20 Jan 2011 @ 5:55 pm
Oh my, glad to hear we are all in the same surf team! Cheers!
20 Jan 2011 @ 6:03 pm
'Surf team'. I love it!
22 Jan 2011 @ 3:45 am
So there IS light at the end of the crsuhy tunnel!! I am so glad I read this post. Sometimes it really messes with my head who hard I have to fight just to defend against big, strong white belts. I really like what you said about having to believe in the techniques you know. I chicken out on leaving my guard with big guys a lot of times because I am afraid. Not going to get me anywhere except smashed. 😉
22 Jan 2011 @ 11:03 am
Thanks for your comment, A.D. McClish! I hope I didn't suggest that I was on the other side of being crushed and of taking a smashing! I'm not and there are so many areas for improvement, but you know that, that's the fun of jits! I have learned/re-learned in a new context a valuable lesson about persistence, letting go of fear, trusting in the technique and that sort of thing. Very difficult to put into practice, but bringing this one area of offence together has been a huge confidence boost, just takes time. Lots of time and practice and faith in yourself and the technique. Another one of my Coach's bits of wisdom is 'trust the technique', it is a hard way to work but for those of us without the option of 'muscling it' it is the only option you know this! My team mate Charlotte is 40 kilos. She has a very hard time, as you can imagine. The only thing better than her RNC is her clock choke which is INSANE. She is working working working for the back and if she gets there, she will close the deal! Very inspiring and that ability is the product of so much determination. Heard something on the radio this morning about the mark of a successful person is 'not know what you can't do', want to keep that close to my heart 🙂
22 Jan 2011 @ 9:37 pm
I just wanna hug you for this post. <3
Allie and I were talking earlier about how sometimes it can be crappy to be the most senior girls in our school. (Her far more so than I for sure, even more so now due to my extended break.)
We don't have any team mates, or coaches who truly understand what it is to be a female grappler, and while they are encouraging and supportive, it is a whole different ball game for females. Sometimes we wanna hit out heads against the wall because they just don't get it… not through any fault of their own, just their generic makeup. =)
I'm so glad to have you, and other female bloggers like you who are willing to share your experiences and advice with us younger (in grappling time) grapplers.
It helps so much. =)
23 Jan 2011 @ 3:28 pm
Thank so much for your comment, Stephanie! I am moved and humbled that you find my story useful for your own journey. The response to this post has made me really aware that I'm not alone and it is very heartening! I suppose we may all fall into a trap of feeling frustrated and be too tough on ourselves when we compare our abilities on the mats to others. At least that is the case for me and I try to remind myself that we all have different demons and challenges to face in our jits journeys and we just gotta stay the course and we'll get there. I would love to know how really elite female grapplers do with the guys that they train with; black belt women's experiences of the strength/skill gap – I suppose we'll know ourselves one day but would be nice to have an understanding of how senior grade females fare with offence and defence with their male training partners.
Thanks again for reading, means a lot 🙂
30 Jan 2011 @ 4:37 am
Very good post, Meg. And good comments, too!
It is good to hear that others fare just like I do. It confirms that there is nothing wrong with me 🙂
30 Jan 2011 @ 1:37 pm
Too kind, cy! Thanks for commenting and I'm so pleased to hear the conversation is meaningful to you.
I would love to know how elite black belt women get on in their day to day training with big strong dudes…
4 Jun 2011 @ 1:12 pm
Getting confidence in your offence is really important. I don’t know how many risks you take when rolling, but I reckon we should all be taking more…
Not being a fan of wrestling on my knees, I took to playing guard really early on. This meant that guard developed quickly and became a safety net for me. I am not afraid of losing position any more. The consequence of this is that I try stuff all the time offensively, if I fail really badly I’ll sweep, pass and try again.
John Will has a post about BJJ safety nets: http://bjj-australia.blogspot.com/2009/03/fear-of-consequence.html, and http://bjj-australia.blogspot.com/2009/03/building-safety-net-pt2.html
4 Jun 2011 @ 2:32 pm
Hi Patrick, thanks for your comment and the link. Really appreciate it! Indeed, personally, I have started to take many more risks over the last three months as I’ve settled into my new belt and, eg putting myself in danger of a triangle to work my escape or in a side mount to work that escape, means that I’ve been able to improve those escapes (even if there was initial failure) – not tapping, not learning!