A very common issue that arises in competition is when a lesser competitor faces a superior competitor. More often than not matches in competition are mismatched, otherwise there would never be a winner. One thing I learned in the middle of my blue belt is that I am capable of beating vastly superior grapplers and competitors through intelligent strategies and training methods.
Perhaps the most important aspect of planning for a superior opponent is knowing the enemy. Jonathan Thomas made a video a while back that summed this up really well, I’ll paraphrase what he said:
Let’s say an opponent has a skill set of 1000, and you have a skill set of 500. If you study the opponent’s game you may notice that the skills are divided as such:
Leg Locks – 300
Guard – 200
Passing – 500
While your game is:
Passing – 300
Leg Locks – 40
Guard – 160
Even though you are an inferior grappler your passing game is better than your opponent’s guard. So your best course of action will be to draw the guard pull, there are various ways to do this but one I’ve found to work best is to aggressively wrestle with them to draw the pull or to plan to quickly pull and sweep.
By mapping opponents’ games through tape study one can begin to acquire a feel for strategy and can even develop strategies on the fly by feeling an opponent’s energy. Most competitors, even high level ones, have deficiencies and truly elite strategists are able to determine their opponents strengths and deficiencies and are able to convince their opponents to play the game differently from what they are comfortable with.
For me, the very best example of this came from my match against Joe Baize, an elite leg locker with a phenomenal guard game. In planning for this match I realized that if Joe got under me my chances were lower than if I got under him, I realized that he WOULD find my feet but the later in the match that he found my feet the lower likelihood of he had of leglocking me. So in preparing for the match, I developed passive leglock defenses, and presented an easy path to upper body submissions by laying flat and forcing myself under him. Eventually he found my feet but by that point he was tired and frustrated and I was able to slow the game down enough to get the win. Joe is a superior competitor, but in that match I was able to enjoy success.
Another method that can go in tandem with this is a systems based approach, much like the John Danaher style stratagem. Develop areas of serious depth both offensively and defensively and draw your opponent to those areas. For me the area that has been the most effective on the short run has been leglocks. Because people often wait until upper belts to start learning leglocks and because the system of leglocks that I’ve been studying since blue belt is different from most of what’s out there opponents will accept very dangerous positions not realizing that I have attacks from there and then will wind up stuck being attacked by me. Sometimes the best way to accomplish this is to develop attacks from positions that people don’t expect to be attacked from (for example bottom side control). This can be a problematic rabbit hole though as high level opponents have usually seen it all.
For me, the most important weapon that i have against high level opponents is my mind. I have learned to beat people that I don’t expect to beat, not allowing my own lack of confidence to stop me from winning. People who compete need to learn to win even when they don’t think they can or else they will consistently lose. Learning to act in spite of your own self doubt will make you much more dangerous against your opponents. The best way to do this is to work on your defenses in all positions that way in a worst case scenario you can still survive.
This is a short explanation of how I’ve managed to beat some high level black belts in competition. What are some ways you’ve found to allow yourself to prevail over higher level practitioners?
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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.