Learning with higher belts

Hi Roy, I have read you mention quite a few times about how you are able to improve while training with only lower belts. What about the flip side of the coin? What types of things can you learning from rolling (not talking with or taking lessons with) a higher belt that you CANNOT learn from rolling with a lower belt (if there are any)? Can you learn from them even if they do not really let you into their game?

What can a person LEARN from rolling with a higher belt? Here are a few things:

  1. Timing.

  2. Awareness.

  3. Placement.

  4. Positioning.

  5. Attitude.

  6. Tactics.

  7. Pressure.

Can a person learn these even if they don't let us into the game? Yes!


i have most of your vhs/dvd products thus far, but i don't recall hearing about 'placement'. could you elaborate on what you mean by placement, and also by 'tactics'? thanks for responding!

I. Placement = Where you place your limbs and/or body.

II. Tactics = A procedure or set of maneuvers engaged in to achieve an end, an aim, or a goal.

I. Placement - Many students learn a techniques, practice it and then try to employ it without paying strict attetion to the details (or sometimes, their instructor has failed to provide them with the details). So, it is important that a student pay attention to the placement of their limbs, as well as the positioning of their body when practicing techniques. For example, there is a very specific location where you place your body in relationship to your opponent's body when you pass his guard under his leg. Do you know where that is? Have you mapped it out in your mind? Do you place yourself in this position each and every time you train you basic under the leg guard pass? If not, then you are robbing yourself of practice time.

Also, there is a very specific location you place your forearm and your elbow when you initially place the opponent's leg on top of your shoulder (and befor you begin to drive forward) when you pass under the leg. Do you know where it is? Do you focus on this placement of your limb every time you pass the guard under the leg? Or, are you like most practitioners who lazily pass the guard without thought of where you place your limbs (as long as you FINISH the guard passing technique that you THINK you already know - and don't really need to pay attention to)? If you don't pay attention to these small details, you will never develop polished techniques over time.

Recently, two guys came to me from another BJJ school (a very well known school). They had been training at the other school for almost a decade. They were blue belts. They told me they wanted me to help them reach purple belt. So, I began working with them.

During our first hour long lesson, I taught them the details of the basic Upa escape from the bottom side of mount and the basic elbow/knee escape from the bottom side of mount. Now, those who do not know the details of these two techniques would probably assume the following:

  1. What a boring lesson! One hour on two techniques? Geeesh!

  2. These two students must have performed several hundred repetitions - meaning, I must have shown them the two techniques, walked away and then let them practice these two techniques for the remaining 58 minutes.

If you assumed this, you would assume incorrectly. Here's what really happened:

  1. I taught them the basic upa technique.

  2. I watched them perform the technique in a raw and crude manner.

  3. I taught them more details to the techniques.

  4. I watched them perform the technique with some finesses.

  5. I taught them more details.

  6. I heard them exclaim, "I never knew there were so many details!"

  7. I smiled.

  8. I watched them practice the technique with more finesse.

  9. I taught them even more details.

  10. I watched them look at each other in amazement. One says to the other, "All these years of training and we didn't know these details!"

  11. I watched them perform the technique with great finesse.

  12. I asked them is they needed any clarification on the basic upa technique. They said, "No." So we moved on to the next technique.

  13. Getting through the basic Upa technique took 12 to 15 minutes.

  14. Getting through the basic elbow/knee escape and the foot lift technique took the remaining 45 to 48 minutes. We went through the same process - Raw technique, practice, more details, practice, polished technique, practice, even more details, more highly refined technique, etc...

  15. By the end of the hour, both guys had a firm understanding of these two techniques.

  16. What did I focus on that took so long? Three things:

  • Mechanics.

  • Placement.

  • Spatial relationship.

At the start of lesson two, we reviewed lesson one to make sure they truly understood what was needed to perform the basic upa and elbow/knee escapes in a dynamic environment. This review took less than five minutes!

These two guys will never forget what I taught them about "Placement."

II. Tactics - For starters, beginning level students can not use tactics. Who are beginning level students? Those who have trained less than five years.

Why can't beginning level students use tactics? Because they don't have enough knowledge and/or experience to be able to adapt to the myriad of situations that present themselves during a grappling match.

For starters, "using tactics" implies that a practitioner has the ability (knowledge, experience and skill sets) to effectively adapt to most situations encountered when grappling. So, when passing the guard under the leg is not working, the practitioner should have the ability to change his game plan midstream and pass over the leg. When passing the guard with pressure is not working, the practitioner should have the ability to pass using a movement oriented game.

Next, the practitioner should be able to feint one technique and then use another technique without any pauses or gaps in movement or timing. The initial technique should appear valid. It should be taken as a "vaiable threat." Then, when the door of opportunity opens for the practitioner to change to the second technique, the practitioner should have the knowledge, experience and timing to use control the transition that occurs between the first and second techniques, and then use the second technique as the main technique.

Once the student can perform this method with forty to fifty techniques, he or she is more than ready to use tactics to his or her advantage!

For example, I use Greco-Roman arm control to sucker many students into a wrist lock. While they feel controlled by certain arm placements and movements, they have no idea of where I am going to go with these placements and movements. I may just control them. I may change to a single or double leg takedown, or I may wrist lock them. So, when I have underhook, or overhook, or two-on-one, or reverse two-on-one, or figure-four, or reverse figure-four or an arm drag, I can turn any one of these into a control and wait game, a control only game, a game that looks and feels like I am in control, a leg or hip takedown or throw, or a wrist lock.

So, while any one of these techniques can be used to effect control or a takedown, I have found a way to use them as a tactic to set up a secondary technique.

Does all of this make sense?

Good training to you,

Roy Harris

wow roy, thanks for elucidating your thoughts there. is the difference between 'positioning' and 'placement' that 'positioning' is referring to a geographic relationship between your body and your opponent's and 'placement' is referring to where you place your limbs, or am i missing something?

Yes, there is a difference : )

Roy Harris

Roy, I would pay for a DVD that has all the details on the upa and elbow/knee escape

It would be a loooooooooooooong DVD!

That's fine with me

From www.cjjtraining.com:

"A flawed idea is that daily training with a much higher belt will also make a student better faster. Again I will defer to Royler, who stated that your biggest gains in BJJ will come from continued training against opponents who are around your same weight, and with lesser experience. Think about it: how could you possibly make your game better if you roll with a brown or black belt every day? I suppose if your goal is to perfect a good “lay and pray” strategy, then rolling with black belts is for you. But if you wish to develop a good offense with solid attacks and transitions, you will not get far.  To develop the muscle memory needed for quality attacks and counters, you need to ingrain techniques through continued, repetitive practice at full speed. There is no better opponent for this requirement than someone not quite as good as you, and around the same size."

I guess Roy and Royler are in agreement on this one.

When i train with guys better than me i am for the most part defending, unless of course they are letting me work, so i think the statement at least for me rings true.