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16. Off the mat pursuits #1 Decision Trees January 26, 2008

Posted by Adam Adshead in BJJ, Chaos theory, Concept, Conceptual BJJ, Decision Trees, Off the mat pursuits.
Tags: , , , ,

TreeWhether a coach, a BJJ athlete or both, Decision Trees are a good off the mat pursuit to use and also to share.

In there basic form they map out pathways, avenues and eventualities throughout a series of events. This is something which you can use in your everyday BJJ training to problem solve and shortcut decision making.

As 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 pre-cursor and commensurate off the mat pursuit which will bed in the ideas covered in the article. (So if you’ve not read the article check it out and if you have you might want to re-read it after this one for a different comprehension of the initial idea covered)

So, if we take a basic overview of BJJ and condense it quixotically into a decision tree we get something which looks like this:

(Figure 1.1)

Basic D-tree

As you can see the theoretical path starts on the knees, moves into guard, then the person sweeps, secures side control and finally submits.

If only BJJ were that easy!

As we’ve talked about before chaos acts as a spanner in the works and means that unfortunately the process won’t work every time.

But what we can do is use the tree as an overview of the possible scenarios that might occur. In this case the person has gone into guard, this may be passed and an escape node will now be introduced, then they take the back and the tree grows and grows exponentially.

If you’re new to BJJ/Submission Grappling or a child it is extremely hard to try and digest what the hell is going on and the number 1 question I get asked on the mat by athletes who have been training less then a month usually goes something like:

‘What do I do now?’


‘What am I meant to be doing from here?’

What the Figure 1.1 does is show people in a manageable form what the game looks like in its entirety. Something I now has helped me explain BJJ to new comers, but it’s not just a tool coaches can use, anyone can plant their own tree.

Decision Trees can be drawn up to create a competition game-plan, sew up the holes in your game or expand certain aspects of your current game to new levels.

Take for instance the next diagram. (It’s worth noting that this is actually a tree I’m using on the mat at the moment.)

(Figure 1.2)

Half Guard d-treeAs you can see I’ve telescoped the game down to start from Half Guard and finish with a Rear Naked Choke. (RNC)

(Thanks to Stephen Kesting for the fantastic RNC video inspiration and Phil for the tweaks and coaching)

What you have is once I’ve worked/start in Half Guard I can do four things (Ok I can also move back to my knees and also re-guard):



Do nothing and get passed

Take the back

In this instance working for the RNC I’ve sensibly favoured the ‘Take the back’ option and then worked Stephen Kestings plan to secure and finish the RNC.

By breaking down the complex strategy into smaller manageable tactics I’m a lot more likely to achieve my goal. At first when I started playing with this tree once I had taken the back I worked for sessions and sessions on just securing the Harness, which is principally the first step of setting up with choke. Once I could comfortably work that on everyone with different entries and ideas, I moved on to the Tiger Claw and so on and so on until a number of weeks down the line I’m working a modest yet highly effective and successful RNC game.

The benefits of taking the time off the mat to draw up the Decision Tree has meant that I can maximise the time I have on the mat. Having everything written down really focused my reactionary instincts of how to set-up a RNC. Instead of trying to Recall what I have previously used, seen or tried – I’m now instinctively Reacting with the appropriate step of the process. This means that the hesitation and vital seconds taken up by thinking are now replaced with laser focus on what to do where and when. The tree also acts as a map if I get lost or things go wrong along the way. If my opponent counters my Harness for instance I now know that I must go back and secure it before I move on and so the process continues.

This can be used infinitely for any position, move or strategy and more importantly it can be something you can do when you’re at home and not training. (Especially useful if you’re injured but I’ll go into training vs injuries in a later blog)

What I’m not trying to do with this idea is turn you all into Pavlovian dogs of war or robots with only certain moves and massive weaknesses in your game, but use this idea to your advantage.

I personally wanted to develop my under worked RNC game and with the use of the tree and plenty of practice I’ve found numerous entries, counters, counters to those counters but most importantly a solid interchangeable and reactive RNC game. Now once I’ve decided on the next aspect to work I’ll do the same process and hit the mats.

If you’ve read this far do consider giving the idea a go and let me know how you get on with it.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Adam Adshead

Picture Link




1. Albert Lim - January 28, 2008

Hi Adam,

Great post. I’ve been playing around with mind mapping for a little while and I agree that it helps my game. However, I find that it starts getting complex really quickly! I’ve had a bit of sucess with breaking it down to a general positional map, along with seperate maps for specific positions and submissions. Even then it takes a bit of focus to keep track of my own thoughts!

Also, I checked out instant chess…I did see something about writing a story to get a free subscription, not totally sure what that’s about, but will have a closer look.



2. Adam Adshead - January 29, 2008

Hey Albert,

It can get really complicated but if you narrow things down enough you can build it up session by session into something which is as complex as you want. The key is not trying to do too much too soon.

A few months ago an athlete who had been training a few months came up and asked me to show him a triangle from guard. So I showed him a couple of different ways/ideas on how to isolate an arm….

then he said ‘now what?’

and I said work that till you can get that on everyone in the room and I’ll show you the next step. Not to look down on him or anything but just so he can have a manageable chunk to work on without getting confused by 6-7 steps to go through at a time.

I think the key thing like you said is focus, without it you’re going to struggle to stay on track with a tree, so lessening the chance of developing that avenue of your game because you’ll be wandering off working various things all the time.

It’s like I was rolling on Saturday and all I was working was to take their back some how and then when I was there working the Kesting choke theory, as the pic above shows.

The fact was my opponent twigged quite quickly that I was playing that, so worked really well to off kilter and re-direct my plans. This disruption forces me to find new entries to stick to the key points on my tree, making what on paper looks quite a simple execution of moves into a deep, well worked, developed, reactionary option for me.

This kind of scenario has helped my development so much and I’m such a decision tree fan now.

Regarding Instant Chess, I’ll email you and tell you about the subscriptions etc.


Adam Adshead – ConceptualBJJ.wordpress.com

3. BJJUSA1972 - January 29, 2008

I’m injured at the moment and this is a really good way for me to focus my mind, so when I’m back on the mat I can hit the ground running.

You’re quite quickly becoming a long distance coach for me! Thanks for the advice and keep up the quality blogging.

4. Adam Adshead - January 29, 2008

Thanks for kind words πŸ™‚ maybe I should start charging you. πŸ˜‰

Hope you heal up soon and get back on the mat with some new focus and direction.

Let me know how things go and if you need any help with a tree, just drop me a line.

All the best,

Adam Adshead ConceptualBJJ.wordpress.com

5. supercrap - January 29, 2008

Another great post. I’ve been half arsedly making these kinds of plans in my head, but it’s time to take the plunge and put pencil to paper! Thanks for the inspiration.

I think that you need to find a good balance between a gameplan, and improvisation. That’s the key for me, anyway. You need to have a rough outline for what you want to do, but you also need to be open to possibilities that present themselves.

6. supercrap - January 29, 2008

Another great post. I’ve been half arsedly making these kinds of plans in my head, but it’s time to take the plunge and put pencil to paper! Thanks for the inspiration.

I think that you need to find a good balance between a gameplan, and improvisation. That’s the key for me, anyway. You need to have a rough outline for what you want to do, but you also need to be open to possibilities that present themselves.

7. Adam Adshead - January 29, 2008

Thanks Matt, glad you found it useful.

I think the idea of:

Finding a good balance between a gameplan and improvisation is key.

The fact that you’re working a game/decision tree is very prescriptive but the chaotic nature of BJJ means that to successfully work a tree means you’ll need to improvise, react and problem solve all the time – giving you that unscripted feel to your rolling.

Keep me posted on your developments.

All the best,

Adam Adshead – ConceptualBJJ.wordpress.com

8. 22. Off The Mat Pursuits #3 Enjoy other hobbies and activities that will help your BJJ « Conceptual BJJ - October 28, 2008

[…] Off the mat pursuits #1 – Decision Trees […]

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