Today was my first day in live training since Tuesday, when I got thrown hard on my left shoulder. I’ve only been able to attend a few classes since that happened. I’ve been lucky to suffer almost no injury in my 2+ years training BJJ; The only other time I can remember taking time off for an injury was about a year ago, when my left knee hurt when I flexed it past a certain acute angle. And, of course, the cauliflower ear that kept me from rolling far about two weeks. But now I don’t even wear my knee brace or headgear anymore (except, rarely, when my ears or knee get sore again), and this has been my first involuntary downtime. It left me home thinking about my game, and I’ve come up with some new stuff to work on.
I don’t remember being this excited about working on my game before – I think I’m really coming into the phase of the Blue Belt where your game branches out and everything feels new again – sadly, I think this is the last time it’s going to feel like this. As far as I can tell, once you reach Purple Belt it becomes pretty rare to learn entirely new moves.
Anyway, my shoulder feels fine most of the time, but if I put pressure on it from the side (like if I lay on my left side, or roll over the left shoulder) it hurts a lot.
Rolling with this injury forced me to think a couple of steps into the fight, when normally I’m only one step ahead at most. It made me realize how much I force moves even when I’m rolling “easy,” for two reasons: First, I still haven’t stopped using strength when technique fails me. This is a combination of my ego making me stubborn, and just enjoying a good brawl (I find it’s almost impossible to separate these two from one another. Maybe they’re basically the same thing?). Secondly, whether I’m working on a new move, or trying to improve at an old one, I tend to do whatever I can to maneuver into a position where I can work on the move. With the shoulder injury, I had to try to keep the game off that part of my body, which had me thinking more clearly about exactly what position I was in, and which position I was going to be in over the next couple of seconds, depending on what I was trying to do.
As a result, I was rolling more fluidly than I normally do. Most of all, though, it had me rolling with less ego than ever, because I’d given myself permission beforehand to tap quickly if I felt like my injured shoulder was in danger. As a result, I felt like I’d gotten more out of this live training than I’ve gotten in a long time. It goes to show you how much we get in our own way.
This idea of rolling “fluidly” is something you hear a lot about but that I’ve only recently recognized in myself. I remember talking to a friend at the gym about how he actually felt more fluid on returning from a two-week hiatus. He thought it was because he was just going after the right moves at the right time, because he didn’t have any technique move cluttering his head. This is probably what they’re talking about in traditional martial arts when they talk about having a “mind like water.” This makes a lot of sense to me.
Things I’ve been working on:
The D’arce (also called the Brabo Choke) and the Anaconda, two arm triangles that are usually applied from the top of the turtle. As with a lot of other turtle techniques, these apply to a lot of different scrambling positions that occur in the moments after a guard pass: In the video I linked, the D’arce/Brabo is being applied from a knee-over pass. The Anaconda is traditionally a top-of-the-turtle move, but I think it can also be applied from a similar scramble. I haven’t had much luck with arm triangles in the past, mostly because I never sat down to study them. It’s good to finally have a toehold to work from. The main thing that had frustrated me is that the “arm triangle” is actually two distinct positions: you can feed the choking arm under the arm and out by the neck, or under the neck and out the outside of the other arm. You have to use a different technique for these positions. So I’m going to learn both of them at the same time, and this is going to be my go-to game from the top of the turtle.
I’ve been having a lot of luck with the cut-across pass. It can be applied from standing, which I’ve never really tried before, and benefits from aggression: If you really spike the knee on the ground, you can get in there with a lot of speed. Once you’ve got your knee on the ground, you’re only halfway there. When rolling no-gi I’ve been using the T-Rex pass from there (My name for a technique my instructor taught us in the MMA class – I can describe it if anyone is actually interested). When rolling gi, everyone in the gym is using a new pass our instructor taught a few weeks ago where you pin the shoulder down and pull up on the sleeve. It’s a very easy to use and dependable pass.
Omoplatas: I’d forgotten how these can be thrown as a single-leg defense (check out this video), and I think I’m going to start trying this move, if for no reason other than it’s flashy, and for the most part my game is pretty ugly and functional . Because, as we know, your jiu jitsu inevitably reflects you, as a person.