Survive. Then Thrive.

I had a newer student who tried to submit me any time we rolled. It’s fairly typical behavior when someone comes in with little or no previous training. The name of the game is to submit your opponent, right?

In Wrestling, the new kid rushes in like a bull and in Judo, the new guy grips like a gorilla. Both are full of erratic energy. That new Boxing or MMA student? She swings for the fences and gasses in the first 30 seconds because she doesn’t know how to pace herself.

We’ve all seen it, whether as a coach or as a student. While learning, we often have a narrow focus of how the individual pieces fit into the larger scheme of the puzzle.

In The Art of War, Sun Tzu wrote, “In ancient times, skillful warriors first made themselves invincible and then watched for vulnerability in their opponents.”

In his book, Jiu-Jitsu University, world-renowned champion and coach Saulo Ribeiro echoed Master Sun’s idea when he broke down many facets of the art into belt levels. The white belt level, according to Ribeiro, is about survival.

When the white belt learns to survive, when there are fewer holes in his armor, and fewer mistakes in his movement, he is freer to look for an opening to attack.

Ribeiro also writes, “Beating your opponent is about finding where he is exposed,” which means surviving long enough to find the opening.

I took the student aside and gave him a task. Any time we had rolled, I always submitted him, regardless of his strength and tenacity. Moving forward, I told him to only focus on one thing: get a dominant position.

I told him that once he was in either top mount or had established back mount (those were the two positions I said he could attack from), he had more freedom to submit his opponent with less threat of being submitted himself.

You can see your opponent’s weakness when you have a dominant position. To use the old phrase, use the high ground. There is a reason many battles in years past were fought on a hill.

By establishing a dominant position, you increase your invincibility during the fight. It doesn’t mean you can’t be harmed, but you are safer than not.

I have watched that student increase the number of submissions he gets, not because he didn’t have good techniques before, but because he now gets the dominant position first.

Survive. Then thrive.

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