Don’t think, just do.
The more time you spend thinking about something, the less time you actually spend doing it. Opportunities arise, you consider your options and by the time you make your decision, some of those options may no longer exist. The time you spent considering your best option may have actually taken away the best option and now you have to settle for the next best. If this scenario is applied to jiu jitsu, you may have passed up an opportunity for a submission because you spent too much time thinking. In your training, not only do you have to practice singular moves, transitions, set ups and combinations, but you also have to practice feeling your jiu jitsu and flowing based on feeling an opportunity, not seeing an opportunity.
Don’t Plan Ahead
If you think about doing jiu jitsu, you are planning. Planning is predictable. Eventually you should get to a place in jiu jitsu that some of your rolls are more like meditation. When you open your mind and free yourself of thought, you will feel oppurtunities that you didn’t know where there when you were busy planning your armbar. An open mind allows thoughts and feelings to enter, but it does not focus on these individual thoughts. An open mind flows. An open mind allows things to happen and makes decisions on the fly. The less things you are thinking about, the more likely it is that you will recognized these oppurtunities as they happen. This takes practice and it takes time. It also takes setting aside your ego. Trying new things means that you will be tapping, a lot. You will also be tapping to lower belts but this will be good for your game in the long run. One does not see success without experiencing many failures along the way.
Feel and flow
Much of jiu jitsu is feeling. Your partners are going to give you oppurnities that you cannot see. So much of jiu jitsu is the ability to feel moves before they happen. This is not some psychic ability that you develop at the higher belts. This is an ability that you develop by spening time on the mats and flow rolling. Flow rolling is about exchanging positions and rolling smoothly through positions and submissions. In a flow roll, you will encounter far more that you would in a normal roll. There is no winner or loser in a flow roll. The purpose of the roll is to try things you normally wouldn’t when trying to tap your partner. The key to trying new things is to feel the position. When we find ourselves in familiar positions while in a typical roll, we tend to use what is familiar. These moves are planned and set up similarily each time. We continue to use these set ups until our opponents get keen to them and they stop working. In a flow roll, we get to that familiar spot and try new things. We know if we lose the position, it is no big deal. When you find yourself going to the same set ups and using the same finishes, you may be getting the tap, but you are not really advancing your jiu jitsu. When you get closer to tournament time, this is the time you want to be drilling the same set ups and submissions. The go to set ups are going to help you to win tournaments and are also an important aspect of jiu jitsu but this is about evolving your game, not winning medals.
Drill for Muscle Memory
Another good way to be able to flow or react without thinking is to drill. Drilling individual moves is a great way to establish muscle memory. It will allow you to react to situations without thinking. If you have drilled the leg drag thousands of times, you will be able to recognize situations much more quickly and you will react to the opportunity immediately. Eventually, you will want to take your drilling to the next level. Now, instead of drilling one move, you will be drill a combination of moves. By linking three or four moves together, it will allow you to make your partner think you are going for one thing, while you are actually getting them to counter and move into a position that sets up the opportunities you were actually planning. Now when I say planning, there is no thought that goes into at the time of execution. All of the thinking was done on the mats while you were training. All the planning and thinking was done in the hours that you spent planning the transitions and drilling it with a partner. When it comes time to implement the chain of moves, your movements and body should flow smoothly from one position to another without stopping to think. Drilling is a valuable tool that will allow you to pounce on your opponent’s mistakes without thinking through the process.
If you have to think, think conceptually. There are certain rules that govern the game of jiu jitsu. I will not cover all of them but here are a few. If you are passing or on top, control the head and the hips. If you cannot control both, control one. In order for your partner to escape from bottom, they need to start their movement to create space. This movement starts either with the head or the hips. If you have both under control (maybe a shoulder in the chin cross-facing and your elbow on the far side hip) you are going to make their life on bottom miserable. Another conceptual rule is, while passing, think of your opponent as a ladder. Once you climb a rung, you never want to go back down. The ankles are rung 1, the knees 2, the hips 3, chest/shoulders 4 and the head 5. Ideally, you have control over rung 3 and 5 at the end of your pass. The bottom player is going to try to push you back down the ladder. If you have made progress and they are squirming and shrimping, don’t try to continue to climb. Fight to stay where you are until they tire and then you can start climbing the rungs again. The last concept I will talk about is posture. You need it to do anything. If you are in their guard, your first priority is to gain your posture. If you are on bottom, you want to break their posture. The most important element in fighting for posture is grips. Fight to establish them and fight to break them. This takes no thought but you cannot do much unless YOU are in control of the grips.
This is not something I would advise a white belt to practice. White belt is primarily about getting good at singular moves. As your progress through blue belt, you will begin linking moves and set ups together. When you reach this level of strategy, it is a good time to begin to flow. Set your ego aside because you will tap. In order for your game to progress, you are going to have to try new things. Trying new things means you are going to find yourself in many vulnerable situations. Just because you got caught and the setup or move didn’t work one time, does not mean it does not work. It means that the route you took may not have been the best route at that moment. Keep moving and keep progressing, but try to stop thinking and just do.