Mar 012010

Jiu Jitsu is a lot like Shrek. Layers. Lots of layers. Ogres have layers. Jiu Jitsu has layers. I’ve been working on deep half guard, along with a specific technique or two from each position. Bullfighter pass here, deep half guard there, yada, yada. Also in the form of disclaimer, these are my blue belt level ramblings, so take them for what they are. Whenever I try to articulate these things, I can’t help but think that in 5 or 10 years I’ll be embarrassed. But whatever. It’s a blog. Right?

We’re always working on something. Whether it’s a guard pass or a position. You ask anyone in jits what they’re working on and they’ll probably tell you something without any hesitation. “Oh yeah. I’m working on X, Y and Z.” But in the background, I’ve been mulling over the larger issue of pressure. In Jiu Jitsu, it seems to me that pressure is one of the keys to good Jiu Jitsu. Just to be clear, I’m not talking about 300 lbs gorrillas smashing the little guy. That’s pressure, for sure, but in my opinion, that’s the least important form of pressure. Pressure, in some form or another, creates opportunities. If I’m controlling pressure, I have the advantage. If I’m not controlling pressure, I’m ceding advantage to my opponent. Productive, controllable pressure comes in many forms.

Physically, pressure manifests through superior technique, superior pace/conditioning and strength, usually in the form of pressure being exerted on a person. At the same time, mental pressure has a lot to do with it, as well. Mentally, pressure has a lot to do with perception, coming from within, although even here it can have a lot to do with one’s opponent.

Physically, have you ever rolled with someone who weighs about 160 lbs, but feels much, much heavier? Conversely, there’s the 220 lbs guy who just doesn’t feel all that heavy. That’s all technique, having learned how to maximize the amount of physical pressure being exerted. This kind of technical pressure is just crazy. When I was in California last year to watch the Mundials, we had a chance to drop in and train with one of my Coach’s Coach, Giva Santana. Giva was rolling with Bing and just crushing him.

Because it’s technical, it can be learned. I tend to think of this technical, physical pressure in terms of control rather than of weight. Some things that contribute to the perception of increased pressure are where the pressure is being exerted, and conveying a feeling of being trapped. For example, if I’ve got my opponent in my side control, I can increase the amount of pressure by focusing on driving my shoulder into his face, keeping him from turning in. I can also pin his hips in one of many ways. While I’m not actually putting any more weight on him, the perception is that there is more pressure. I know I’m locked in tight when my opponent can’t turn away and can’t turn in. I’ve got my hips low and while I’m not crushing him with all 180 lbs, I’m pretty sure he’s feeling it.

In a similar way, I’ve had 300 lbs guys go to knee on belly and, sure, it’s uncomfortable. Another guy I train with, his knee on belly is a killer. I swear, he’s about 200lbs and feels like he weighs a ton. It’s crazy how much of a difference there is. Gravity hasn’t changed, so clearly there must be some technique involved.

But beyond this technical pressure, there are guys who create a sense of urgency in their opponents. I roll with some guys and they never settle in. They move from one position to another gracefully and give the sense that they’re always one step ahead (whether they are or not). This is a different kind of pressure, but it’s just as important. New guys lock in. White belts tend to close their guard and hold on for dear life. This is the pressure that you experience when you’re rolling with someone who makes you feel like every move you make is exactly the wrong one.

Related to the last are the pressures that come from pacing and conditioning. This is the kind of pressure that guys can exert by just being energizer bunnies. Always moving, always attacking. What makes this different from the last, is that this is independent of skill really. Instead of creating a sense of urgency in my opponent by staying ahead of them strategically, I’m really just going flat out, balls to the wall crazy. In a white belt, this will often lead to a lot of tapping out. As we get more technique, however, it can create opportunities as long as the technique is sound.

We were doing a guard pass drill one time in Bing’s Wednesday class. “No strength. Work your technique,” we were told. I get grips and pull guard and WHAM! my training partner got grips, worked some mojo and quick as that he was passed my guard. Bing looked over and said, “Speed ain’t strength.” Of course, he’s right. But speed and athleticism can create pressure.

Mentally, we tend to be our own worst enemies. Pressure can come from a perception of inferior physical ability or skill. “I’m not going to try to sweep him. He’s too big.” Or maybe, “I’ll never catch him. He’s a black/brown/purple/blue/whatever belt.” I’m not sure what I can really say about this. I think I’m among the worst around when it comes to dealing with self-derived stress. What do I do to break out of this? Well, I try to compete when I can. I try to spar with guys who I know I don’t match up well against. These are the guys who kill me every time.

This kind of mental pressure can also be cultivated by gaining a reputation with certain techniques or positions. “Oh, man. So and so has a killer half guard game. Get caught in that and it’s over.”

There are guys who are really good at psyching their opponents out. It’s a gift some people have. I’m not sure if it can be taught, but it’s definitely there.

I don’t have many answers yet, but that’s okay. I may never have the answers. But I think that pressure is a key, and whoever wins that battle, exerting more pressure than the opponent, ultimately comes out on top.

  8 Responses to “Pressure in Jiu Jitsu”

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    Cane Prevost (The Gentle Art), Liam Wandi (The Parttime Grappler) and many other SBGi guys talk about the three Ps– posture, pressure, possibilities. First you decide on your posture (and the opponent’s)… then you exert the pressure. These two factors create all the possibilities. I much prefer learning jits *this* way as opposed to gathering collections of specific techniques.

    It’s like learning how to cook. You can either collect cookbooks, and be recipe-dependent, or you can learn basic principles (braising, browning, etc) and then reverse engineer the correct cooking technique based on the ingredients you have at hand. Hmm, I have a pork tenderloin. I won’t be braising that. Hmm, I have both arms on one side of his body– guess I’ll take his back.


    Excellent post! “Ogres have layers. Jiu Jitsu has layers.” Has just entered my book of ultimate quotes :)

    You said somewhere that “Mentally, we tend to be our own worst enemies” and I couldn’t agree more. We seem to want to treat situations as problems and we look for answers. The PPP model has allowed me to explore more rather than try to problems solve. I no longer see mount-bottom as a problem I need to solve, but rather an experience. A full on 3D experience and the PPP model is kinda like my 3D-glasses.

    Oh and Thanks for the mention Georgette.

    Best of luck buddy.


    This is a great post. The “one-step-ahead” pressure might be some of the most frustrating pressure for me to deal with. This type of pressure also messes with your head and creates that sense of urgency that you’re behind. I’ve had to tell myself to slow down and think clearly about how to work out.

    I was thinking about writing a post about different types of pressure in BJJ…. However, I think I might just link to yours. Great job!


    Layers of pressure. I have applied pressure to people for many years and I really agree with what you said. I have trained some nasty creature guys that create pressure that is not normal.
    When someone can get your neck and just about crush it or tear it off, life can really suck. You have to keep them away from your neck to survive. These guys are used to holding cow’s necks. I have never felt anything like it ever before. That is pressure!


    Excellent post! All of the forms of pressure you mentioned are things I regularly work on with my own coaching clients in grappling. I think it’s very interesting that you mention the fact that you don’t need to be heavy to put physical pressure on the opponent and feel heavy – I think this is something many light people don’t even attempt, but it would really help their games.

    I’m about as slight as it gets in martial arts, and clearly I can’t hang out in some top positions for ever – I’ll just be swept – but in making the few seconds I’m in those positions as uncomfortable as possible for my opponent, I help myself enormously in setting up my next move. Very insightful post!

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