There is an age old saying that goes something to the effect of “he who fails to plan, plans to fail.” Very often when talking to competitors who haven’t spent a whole lot of time on the competition mat, their response when asked about their game plan is that they don’t have one, that they will just rely on their technique. A game plan is crucial, a game plan is vital, and for some reason a lot of people have a hard time developing an intelligent game plan.
I’ve spent countless hours on the competition mat, and have realized that there is a process to developing a game plan. This process is relatively simple, and can make a huge difference when it comes time to actually step out there and grapple for medals or money. Here is my 5 step process to developing a game plan.
- Figure out where you want to be, and be there. Let’s say you want to hit a low single, take your opponent down, then pass their guard to side control and finish with a kimura… You need to drill this sequence on training partners of various size and body composition, you need to have your training partners actively resist but find ways to still impose the game plan. Far too often people go into matches with game plans but then either wait too long or worse yet try the game plan half heartedly and then get discouraged when it doesn’t work. Drill it, be where you want to be and then in competition be there first.
- Drill the failure. Going back to the first example if you know that a likely outcome of going for a low single is winding up in a front headlock position off of the sprawl, drill that, drill peak outs, drill turtle guard. Yes it’ll be great if you are able to hit exactly what you planned on hitting, but let’s be honest chances are 9/10 times that scenario won’t play out how you want it to. Drill the failure. Figure out the various ways the scenario can go wrong and drill that. Of course you should commit to Plan A but if you’ve spent time dealing with how plan A can go wrong when it does it’s not that big of a deal.
- Create “forks.” So a lot of people refer to jiu-jitsu as “human chess.” The reality is that there are a lot of similarities and differences between chess and jiu-jitsu but one key similarity is the notion of the fork. In chess a goal is to give an opponent a situation where they are forced to concede one of two key pieces, this can be done in various ways but is often done with a knight. But this isn’t an article about chess… Find ways to make scenarios happen in which your opponent has two options neither of which is favorable. This is a strategic boon for competitors. For example: if you want to pull guard, do so in such a way that the opponent can either post their hand out exposing themselves to a triangle or accept an imminent sweep. The more forks you present your opponent with, the more likely you are to win.
- Know your enemy. If you have a match or matches coming up against opponents whose names you know, try to find out what their preferred games are. I, for example, have certain sets of techniques that I make work for me very often from specific positions, a smart opponent would drill avoiding those positions, but many of my opponents fail to do this and wind up falling for the same tricks. Just because you know what someone is going to do doesn’t mean you can stop them, but maybe if you know which side someone likes to pull guard on you can grab their pant leg turning their guard pull into 2 points AND allowing you to keep that guard open… Also if you can select training partners who play similar games to your opponent, even better.
- Keep have both specific and non-specific plans. I like to think that if I’ve spent time playing a bunch of different guard options based on different possible opponent reactions, that having “Pull guard” as my plan is good, but I also like to have a hierarchy of guards. For example I can try to pull closed but if that fails go to spider or delariva. I can try to go to half but if that fails go to knee shield, Z or X. Having a preferred guard is good but knowing you want to be there is better. Having a preferred takedown is good, but knowing you want to shoot, throw, sweep or hit a sacrifice throw is better. It’s all about being where you want to be when you want to be there and then letting your opponent’s reactions dictate what happens next.
Game plans are important to long term success in competition. Without a good game plan that has been drilled ad nauseum you’re probably going to do poorly against good opponents. If you don’t plan for matches, why? And if you do, what are some things you do to prepare a game plan for competition?
Emil Fischer is a Jiu-jitsu brown belt competitor training under Pablo Angel Castro III at Strong Style MMA in Cleveland Ohio. An avid writer and competitor, Emil has amassed an extensive competition record. Most notably, Emil is a 2 time gold medalist at the IBJJF No Gi Pans, and has a submission victory record of 5-1 at Fight To Win Pro which includes purple belt no-gi light heavyweight championship
Emil’s sponsors are Impact Mouthguards, Cleveland Cryo, The Terphouse, Meerkatsu, Eddys on Coventry and Nottarookie. He is a Ludwig Van and Vanguard Kimono brand ambassador.