One major reason I am drawn to BJJ over a multitude of other martial arts is realism. I am able to train on a regular basis with just about 100% intensity. I get real responses and real feedback to my inputs. It teaches us what works, what needs refinement, and what is downright not worth doing. Training live is a big piece of what makes BJJ the powerhouse that it is. I have seen techniques from other styles that you just can’t train with, because they would cause too much damage applied full force. If I can’t train the technique fully and with realistic resistance, I can’t count on it for a real situation. Rolling is crucial to developing your game. I think many tend to lose focus in their rolls and miss out on some of the technical development they could be gaining. Even worse, many let positional sparring lose focus and become just a roll that starts from a certain position.
An idea popularized by Malcolm Gladwell is that 10,000 hours of practice are required for mastery. It’s often missed that the rule is 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. It’s not just enough to be there, doing a task, you need to be there, doing a task in a way that is structured and focused on improvement. That’s the beauty of positionals, more parameters make for a more focused approach. Rolling and positionals should be done in a manner that raises questions and seeks answers. “Why did I get swept from half? How do I avoid this armlock? Oh! If I grip lower on the pants he can’t lift his leg so well.” Granted, some questions and answers we won’t completely build out verbally. We will simply ask and answer through grooving patterns and responses subconsciously. Both the conscious and subconscious formation of problems and solutions are what push our game forward. Letting our positionals be a battle and letting what happens happen ignores all the conscious learning we could be doing. We lose at least half of the progress we could be making. Next time you train positionals think about what exactly you are doing, try to create more structure.
Slow your positionals down, and lighten up. Chances are your partner is going to meet you where you’re at intensity wise. This means strength and speed might become more heavily emphasized. It’s easy to fall into this habit. Try instead to focus on technique, fluidity and timing. If a technique falls short due to less muscle being applied, it probably isn’t the best technique for that particular situation. Your partner’s positions and actions are the locks and your techniques are the keys. A technique may fit in a few situations, but we should not try to force it in any situation. It just won’t work. When it fails, we don’t push harder, we need to move on to trying the next technique before our partner presents a new situation. Cycle through your encyclopedia of techniques until you hit the one that fits, build that association between the situation presented and your answer to it. If you’re developing those cause and effect relationships, you’re doing positionals right.
You might get a lot out of positionals, even without winning. Don’t make winning a huge priority. I’m guessing you’ve heard that line before. Learning that something is a mistake is still learning. Pay attention to your mistakes, so that you don’t have to repeat them. Not to mention we are in a room full of teammates. They need to learn just as much as you do. It’s a give and take. We need to feel successes and failures. Discussing the outcomes of a round of positionals, what went well, what didn’t, and why can help us to a higher level of understanding the position.
The value of positionals stems from getting numerous repetitions with realistic resistance. They are a huge asset to anyone’s BJJ game. Approach them with focus and a critical mind. Going to hard will not be the most beneficial approach. Playing to win will not be your best bet either. Give your partners a shot at some success, and if your own attempts fall short, don’t scramble to save them. Approach positionals with the right mindset, and they will pay dividends.