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14. React rather than recall January 11, 2008

Posted by Adam Adshead in BJJ, Chaos theory, Chess, Conceptual BJJ.
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phrenologyA lot of people think that Grandmaster chess players play/see 7-8 moves ahead at all times, when this really isn’t the case.

This common misconception of having a photographic memory that is as equally analytical as it is profound is probably quite accurate for some, but for most (including rookies like me) reacting to the situation in hand is the preferred choice.

It’s the same for BJJ, trying to recall all the moves and strategies you’ve ever learnt or have seen at will is increasingly harder to do the further you look ahead because of the chaos involved.

Whereas in Chess you get more time to think, during a roll in BJJ most of the time if you think then you’re usually too slow and have missed the boat of opportunity, that’s why I promote reaction over recalling. Not to say you can’t analyse your position or think about what you’re doing, but should favour certain moves to cut out the hesitation that trying to recall the golden ‘right move’ creates.

The biggest difference I see between guys who roll like a ball and those who roll like a brick is this ability to limit these hesitations when rolling. If you know what you should be doing from every position and/or have favoured moves it will limit your thinking time and really focus your game. Again not that you need to strictly stick to certain moves or build a competition mindset for everyday training, far from it, but having an idea of what you should and should not be playing will limit this hesitation.

For example although crude and basic:

In Guard – Always Pass

Using Guard – Sweep, Submit, get back to knees.*

From Knees – Take back, use guard, wrestle to pass guard.*

(Preferably prioritise depending what you’re going for/working)

If you expand that from a fundamental concept and make it recognisable to your game (i.e. I always favour a high guard when playing closed guard and escape north-south a certain way etc) then you’ll find that you’ll see your decision making process change for the better as you’ll know what to go for – instead of having to try and decide on a whim.

So you are actually recalling but only what you can react on with muscle memory and flight time.

Think of it this way, BJJ is a complex encyclopaedia of moves, strategies and tactics. If you try and memorise the whole of it and then try verbatim to perform it whilst hopping on one foot whilst sewing with the other, then you’re going to fail.

If you’re a really experienced veteran than you might be able to pull off an improvised attempt of a few chapters of this book, maybe a section if you’re phenomenally good. If you’re only a mere mortal and less experienced this will be limited to a page or a few paragraphs. Now, move down the scale and have only been training a few years then this performance is limited to the odd line or two.

As the experience level goes down this one man show is limited to the odd word and then down to those who can only physically recall a string of letters that make up these words.

I’m not saying that you should only train with your instinct and primal grappling ability but use what you know to develop your game. There is a time for experimenting but if you only know one sweep – refine it, work at finding the conceptual understanding of how a sweep works and you’ll be able to translate that knowledge to any sweep. If you compare this to someone who tries every sweep in the book and only knows a few but not in there entirety, a jack of all trades and a master of none type, then you’ll soon see who develops over time.

Remember you may only know a few letters but they make up words, which make up sentences and before long you’ll be a grappling savant able to react with physical verbose soliloquies that’ll bring a tear to my eye.

Adam Adshead

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1. supercrap - January 12, 2008

I started reading an extract from this using my tag surfer, and I loved it.

Right on.

That’s the beauty of BJJ, it always offers you a gameplan. At its most basic, it’s get a good position, then get a submission.

Before tournaments, I try to consolidate in my mind a couple of moves that I can execute with some regularity from each position–a couple of escapes, a couple of sweeps, a couple of submissions. Nothing too fancy. I definitely find that it’s best not to overburden yourself with too many options, especially if you can’t perform those options quickly and effectively.

It’s pretty simple, really: the longer (and better) you train, the more options you’ll have from each position, the better you’ll be at executing them.

I’ve just discovered this blog and I’m looking forward to reading more.

2. Adam Adshead - January 12, 2008


Thanks for the comment and kind words, I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

I know exactly what you mean about the beauty of building up a game plan on the mat. I really love tweaking, developing and exploring what works and what doesn’t, it’s what keeps training fresh and exciting.

I like this concept, it doesn’t matter if you’ve been training a few months or a few years – you can still use it to improve your game regardless of whether you’re using it to refine a competition game plan, discovering BJJ for the first time or both.

All the best with your training.

Adam Adshead – ConceptualBJJ.wordpress.com

3. christoferhoff - January 13, 2008


Great post.

I think there’s another interesting perspective that really addresses beginners (and I *are* one) which is the notion that before being able to “learn” how to kinesthetically program one’s muscle memory to flow between one or more branched techniques, BJJ demands a certain level of “un-learning” before that programming can begin.

I’m a two-stripe white. I’ve been suckered in to the sexiness of chained attacks and the virtues of stacking flowed moves together. This has really polluted my training because, as you alluded, I still lack the benefit of mastering the fundamental building blocks.

My bet is that incrementally once I am proficient and can execute any one of the fundamental moves on command, the connective elements of options *will* actually already be there. It will just “click.”

Situational awareness only comes from experience. Once you know where you are, getting to where you might want to go becomes much easier.

I think we obsess about the map too much and don’t recognize that for quite awhile, simply experiencing the journey — with all it’s ups and downs — is what we should focus on.

I really enjoy your site and approach; it’s visual and cerebral and I appreciate that as I am not a very coordinated or athletic person my nature — I have to *work* to be good at stuff like this.

Thanks for the inspiration.


4. Adam Adshead - January 16, 2008

Hi Hoff,

Thanks for commenting and all I can say is I’ve heard a lot of people talk about this ‘un-learning’ that seasoned MA’s have to go through and they all hate it!

Thankfully only ever having done BJJ, I didn’t have to go through that, although there is a lot of counter intuitive stuff anyway and I find it really hard to learn physical skills. (They don’t make it easy for anyone do they?!)

Regarding the concept, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with this quote:

‘Situational awareness only comes from experience. Once you know where you are, getting to where you might want to go becomes much easier.’

I like this concept, it doesn’t matter if you’ve been training a few months or a few years – you can still use it to improve your game regardless of whether you’re using it to refine a competition game plan, discovering BJJ for the first time or both.

Again thanks for the comment and keep reading.

All the best with your training.
Adam Adshead – ConceptualBJJ.wordpress.com

5. 16. Off the mat pursuits #1 Decision Trees « Conceptual BJJ - January 26, 2008

[…] I talked about in the article React rather than Recall I covered the idea of limiting hesitation with reactionary tactics and decision trees are almost a […]

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