A new white belt comes to a BJJ class after watching some UFC and Youtube. He begins to watch other members roll (spar) and he thinks to himself “hey, this looks easy. I think I can roll and even do it better,”
Then in the next free roll session, the white belt goes into the mat and soon learns that rolling against trained opponents is not as easy as it looks. The whole class literally whipe the mat with his ass and this is the moment when a person finds out whether BJJ is for him or not. Yes, you do not choose to train BJJ but the other way around.
It is a familiar story for anyone who has trained BJJ. Rolling is practically a chess match and inexperienced students such as the white belts should expect to tap out a lot against their seniors.
There is no shame in tapping out. The more you tap out, the more you learn. I tapped out at least twice per minute of rolling when I started. Which means I tapped out at least 12 times in a standard six-minute role.
Now a two-stripe white belt after a year of training, I have learned a lot about the survival skills in BJJ so I can roll longer without tapping out. For me, at this level, not tapping out to a senior blue belt or a purple belt during a six-minute roll already means victory. If I can somehow catch and tap one of them out, then it is a bonus.
With that being said, here are some survival tips that have helped me a lot in my BJJ journey so far:
1. Close your elbows and tuck your chin
This is perhaps the most basic survival skills I learned from my coaches. During my first weeks of training, the coaches constantly reminded me to close my elbows and tuck my chin to defend against arm locks and chokes. Even when they rolled with me, they liked to whisper in my ear about the holes in my defence before they went for their submission. After weeks of being constantly reminded, it has slowly become a muscle memory for me. My guard getting passed? Fuck the grips, close the elbows and tuck chin. Got trapped in bottom side control, mount, back, and so on? Yeah, elbows closed and chin tucked first, figure out the grips later. Just by using this principle I always manage to add at least two minutes of survival without tapping out against strong opponents.
2. Don’t get flattened
Closing elbows and tucking chin are the first line of defense to survive. An additional layer that can strengthen your defense significantly is to remember to not get flattened on the mat. Sure, there are some moves that require you to flatten your shoulder blades but for most of the time, you want your body to tilt at an angle when you are on the bottom. If you are flattened, your lungs are subject to a massive amount of pressure from the top and this makes it very difficult for you to breathe properly. Without proper breathing, you will get tired more quickly, making you even more prone to submission.
3. Don’t let your opponent get the cross-face
One of the most common ways for your opponent to flatten you out is to get the cross face. You must not let him get it in the first place. Tucking your chin also comes in handy for this situation. You can also try to put your head as close as possible to your opponent belly or hip area to prevent the crossface (particularly in half guard situations).
4. Fight for the underhooks
Most of the time, the person who has the underhooks wins the roll. The underhooks also allow you to secure your body tilted at an angle when you are at the bottom. Therefore, you have to keep fighting to get an underhook, whether it is under your opponent’s arm or leg. Your opponent most likely need to address the underhook before he can attack you or secure his position and this will buy you some time to roll longer or even attack him. Keep on pummeling those hands to get the underhooks.
5. Maintain good posture
Do not easy bow down or getting your posture broken when you are on top or trying to pass your opponent’s guard. When you are on top or in the guard, you want your posture to stand firm and tall so that you prevent any potential chokes or locks from happening. Most posture breaking move begins with a grip on the collar and therefore, if your opponent grips your collar, you have to break it first before going into your next move.
6. Address the danger first
You need to be able to identify the most dangerous grip from your opponent when you know are about to get submitted and address it first. For example, if your opponent gets your back and about to lock a rear naked choke, the first thing you need to address is his choking hand (the one that goes across your neck). You have to do everything in your power to not allow that hand to go under your chin and wrap your neck. Other submissions have different stuffs that need to be addressed first and you will learn all of those through rolling and getting submitted.
7. Grip first, grip hard
Finally, the best defense is to attack. If your opponent gets the first grip, you will be in his game and gameplan. You need to break grips and so on, making you waste a lot of energy before you can do your own attack. Always try to grip first and make sure that first grip sinks hard. I personally prefer to grip on the collar first if I can and from there pull guard into whatever guard I am comfortable with. And even if you cannot grip first, grip anything that is available just to stall your opponent a bit and look for ways to launch a counter attack.
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