T Nation

Developing a Grappling Strategy


i've been getting back into BJJ lately, and i'm kind of struggling with my transitions. in particular, my offense is kind of crappy, as are my escapes in certain positions.

my personal belief is that deffense is largely a matter of drilling sweeps, escapes, etc until it becomes second nature. for that i simply need experience.

my offense is what's frustrating me... i know my best postition is from side control. although i can't neccessarily submit people consistently, i can maintain my position very well.

when i first started grappling, i was kind of a spazz, and would try any submission from any position without really setting it up. now (when rolling), i'll go into it with the plan to do a certain submission, and work for it (and ignore other submissions). usually, it's whatever one we've gone over in class as well, so it's fresh for me and my opponet...

i don't have a grappling background, but i do have a MT/kickboxing background. the weird thing is, i honestly don't remember how i learned MT....it just seemed like it clikced with me as soon as i started training it, and never really had problems learning it.

anybody have any suggestions as to how they learn/teach?





I went from decent to work horse- with a few things

here is how I learned best



getting caught the same way or with the same move

here is where I made the bigest progress.

camps/clinics in your case maybe privates

getting better partners who kicked my ass,
training in a tougher room school etc

Playing Judo in the beginning as a kid- was playing HS wrestling I was Ok- or less then ok

the repetition the hundreds of reps, drills etc, start to form some muscle memory-
suddenly with the basics your not thinking or trying to hit moves- you are reacting
and attacking.
Later it evolves that you are always "busy" always working and not needing to have these responses and actins
in the primary part of your mind.. they are ingrained
here is where the rest of your mind- is looking for other opportunities instead of focusing on one or two strengths you have.

Loosing huge motivation nuff said.

getting tagged with the same move, sub, takedown etc
exposes what needs work

going to camps, in HS, clinics and seminars later in college and post college is where working with a "pro"
or rock star can jump start technique and give you a new arsenal.
I had several opportunities to train with top top coaches, and I was often the worst one there.
I learned allot
about me.
about what work really is.
about how much work I might need to do.

And really being the weakest link or worst guy in the room is hard to beat for learning.
try rolling at another gym or another partner- or roll with the kid or person who can always beat you.
Nothing like being beaten on over and over to force improvement.
Working with people who are freaks, machines or just so driven, makes you look at your own work ethic
and scrutinize your own efforts.

I went to lots of clinics seminars even the HS wrestling camps where they bring in an olympic type
and you hear them speak about training- how they overcome things, how they compartmentalize ,
what there methods where - it is eye opening.

for developing your attacks- think of Dan Gable- arguably one of the US's greatest wrestlers and then coaches-
his methods are intense- his athletes relentless a hard hard task master DROVE his athletes to sucess
no need to be that obsessive but train with one of those types once, and it is like living in a mirror

there is an excellent Marcelo Garcia video specifically about attacking and is similar and more appropriate to the Gable stuff.

here is the vid.



Personally I am a very good visual learner. If I see someone do something I can usually replicate it with a fair bit of proficiency. I still have to work on it if I want to master it of course, but physical movement just seems to make sense to me.

As far as developing a strategy, I don't know if I would say that I have a 1 size fit's all strategy when rolling/sparring. Different people will have different reactions/tendencies, so it's more so a matter of figuring out how they react and then going from there. I do have a couple of basic things that I will always fall back on though if need be.

Personally I like to try to find "forks" (if anyone is familiar with chess strategy you know what a fork is) when rolling/sparring. Basically I will do something to my opponent. If they don't react they're screwed, if they do react then I am already waiting for their reaction. Basically it's like setting a trap that they are forced to spring.

Since you like side control, here's one of my favorites from there:

1) use the hand closest to their head to simultaneously fold their nose down upon itself (hope that makes sense) and cover their mouth. We call this "the muffler". It's a great little move because it forces them to react to it; no human being can go without breathing for very long, especially when you are making them carry your weight and they are engaged in a strenuous physical activity like grappling.

You've got to keep pressure into them and kind of cup their face so they can't just move their head and be out of the hold though.

If you want to see an example of it being used, check out Maurice Smith vs. Mark Coleman. My instructors taught it to Maurice and told him to use it against Coleman in their fight, which Maurice did and had success with it. Unfortunately the link's not the whole fight, but if you watch the whole fight you'll see it used.

2) they will probably try to either move their head to shrug your hand off or bridge you to try to force you to base out as their first line of defense. So you've got to have good positioning and like I said keep a hold of their face.

Eventually though they will start to get desperate and will try to use one of their hands to peel your hand off their face. I was taught to control the opponent's far arm with my lower hand (on the bicep) and will sometimes make it difficult for them to use this arm. Whether they're able to muscle their arm out and use it to defend or not doesn't really matter, it's basically just expending more energy on their part either way. The other arm is usually blocked by my body, but sometimes they will manage to use that one.

Regardless of which hand they wind up using to try to peel my hand off I am waiting.

3) if they try to peel with the far hand I will sieze that wrist with my lower arm, then use the hand that had been muffling them to grab their hand by the thumb pad (usually I'll use my thumb as a fulcrum) and twist their wrist (hope this makes sense). I'll then slide my other hand under their arm, grab the back of my own hand and apply an Americana/top wrist lock. I've gotten the lock without the wrist twist before, but really feel that if you can get the twist it's much harder to defend and a much quicker tap.

4) if they try to peel with the near hand I will again seize the wrist with my lower hand, feed the previously "muffling" hand under their arm and behind their neck, and regrab their wrist with the hand that is now under their head. Their arm will now be trapped across their face/neck. This is called a "half cobra" position.

From there I have a few options:
-slide lower arm across their neck and grab my own forearm while simultaneously transitioning to mount to apply a "full cobra" choke. I like this one as most people aren't familiar with it and I feel like it's got a lot of leverage and there is little chance of sacrificing position.

-pop up to knee on stomach/chest and either strike (if it's MMA style) or pull their head towards me while at the same time driving my knee into their solar plexus/bladder to get a tap (sometimes works, sometimes doesn't depending on how "though" they are, fewer people can "stomach" the knee on the bladder though).

-use the half cobra to lever them over, while at the same time driving my lower knee into their side to force them to roll over until I achieve a knee on back/spine position. From there it's any one of numerous submissions that can be applied from a knee on back position (rear naked choke, chin lift, cross face neck crank, etc...)

This sounds complicated, but it's actually very simple and works a surprising amount of time in my experience.


Think of developing offense in BJJ the same way you would in MT. You have submissions that you can use from side mount, but you need to set them up and use them in combinations. In MT, in order to land a right cross, you have to set it up with jabs, head movement and foot work. You do these things, watching your opponent's reactions, while waiting for that opening.

For instance, to get an armbar from side mount, you have to get your opponent to react to other attacks, so that he exposes his arm. One way to set this up is to go for a crossface choke, which will cause him to bring up his far side arm to defend his neck. When he does that, grab his wrist and go for a shoulder lock. When he turns into you to defend this, you have him set up for the arm bar attempt.

Find two or three combinations from each dominant position that work for you, and drill them endlessly. Keep your technique tight, and pay close attention the details (this is where a good instructor is key). Eventually, your opponents won't be able to stop your attacks, no matter how soon they see them coming.


cool, thanks for all the replies!

i think i'm lucky in that all the "regulars" where i roll are all more technical than i am. usually most of my subs are based off me setting up scrambles that most of the other people can't do (due to my natural explosiveness), or just attempting high risk techniques that people don't usually use.

i've been to one Curran seminar, which was excellant, and a couple of our guys just got back from a Marcelo seminar. the learning environment is very good-little to no ego, just training the basics and rolling.

i tend to get impatient when i can beat everyone at something right away, so as all of you said-keep rolling.

my immedicate goal is to get my cardio back up, and drop some more bodyfat. in a year or so, i'd like to do some MMA, but my long term goal is to keep training BJJ. i think naturally i would excell at MMA much more than BJJ, but that's also why i'm more interested in BJJ.

does my plan seem right-attempt to get a postition i want, go for the sub i want. when i get that down, have a backup sub in mind, etc ?

thanks again,



x2 to what kmcnyc said, train with guys better than you, they'll force you to adapt/improve, plus all that knowledge they have is right there to be shared. Several years back I was training with a two-time Olympic wrestler and in two practices he pretty much "fixed" my kata-guruma so well that weekend I caught every single opponent I fought with it and won my division. It was such a simple tweak too, and he pretty much knew right away what I was doing wrong and gave me a gift. All I had to do was ask him.

And Sentoguy, that "cobra-choke" is one of my favorites too...



In my experince 1st thing is master the basics on controlling/maintaining position. You will have your own fav subs that you should master also, a few attacks for each postion is all you need(Even garcia has guilotine and rear naked choke, im sure he has more but this is what he's mastered.

After that you need develop your half-guard game. This can can take a while but a good half guard top/bottom is the key to most matches. Its only matter of time before opponent opens your guard and tries to pass...more open he will end up in half guard, this is where the battle begins. Either he will pass and probably tap you or you will sweep him or replace the guard.

Hope this helps

Does Anyone have any clips of this "cobra choke? does it have another name...because i have not heard of it before?


Sento I like that cobra choke too, its a staple when going for Ude Garami
or arm triangle for you bjj tpyes.

the Cobra choke is pretty easy re- read sento's description,
you are grabbing his wrist and sliding your own arm underneath.

plenty will come up via google.



As said before rolling with people and talking to experianced grapplers, the other thing is developing a strategy that works for your style. Coming from a submission wrestling background I had to adapt to being thrust against BJJ guys who pull guard and submit primarily from that posistion. So Ive learnt some pretty brutal rides to make having me in guard an unpleasant experiance.

I was getting subbed alot in my first comps, but then I started working on a bait and switch style, things like triangle stepovers into knee bar and heel hook, armbar into leg locks various other escapes and reversals. When I go up against wrestlers (Which in the UK is a rarity) I have to score the takedown, or face being given a hard time on the bottom which im currently working on imroving.


Here is the best one that I found. The position where he has the arm trapped across the neck is called a "half cobra" and is a great controlling position. At the end when he slides his other hand through to grab his own wrist he is applying a "full cobra". Unfortunately the video cuts off short, but hopefully you get the idea.


Actually, here's another good one (shows the choke better):


I'd go for a D'Arce over this choke. Its easier and has a higher success rate. It also immobilizes an arm.

I have no respect for EB and most 10PJJ stuffs, but Ari is the man.


A Darce is obviously also an option. I'd disagree that it's any easier or higher success rate though and both chokes immobilize one of the opponent's arms. The Cobra choke also puts you in a much better position for striking if doing MMA.


hmm...i'll have to try out the Cobra. i'll be honest-it looks kinda complicated reaching through your arms, but it's another tool to throw at somebody.


It's actually quite simple. Give it a shot and you'll see. It's similar to a collar choke, only you're using the opponent's arm rather than their collar. Here's another vid with a good explanation (personally I was taught to pull on the opponent's arm while also "revving my wrist" to increase pressure):