As a competitor or a casual player, we will always find ourselves matched up against people who are more experienced than we are and we need to be able to beat those people. At first it seems like an almost impossible task but upon further inspection we realize that it is very possible if we focus our energy in the appropriate areas and there are countless examples of less experienced people defeating more experienced people. In this blog post I am going to examine a couple of strategies for overcoming more experienced opponents.
The first thing I want to talk about is “perceived experience”, this isn’t a strategy but instead it is a more correct way to think about the level of experience people have. We use belts in Jiu-jitsu so I will use this to begin the conversation, if you see a purple belt you generally have a certain experience level or ability that you attribute to that person, but anyone who has trained for a reasonable amount of time knows that there is a pretty substantial range of ability across a group of purple belts. The reason for the variation is caused by several factors including commitment, intensity, and mat time. There are some purple belts out there that are committed 100% to training, they take every part of training seriously, they show up on time and pay attention in class as well as do things outside of class to get better. Then there are purple belts that train a lot but are always late to class, sit out every other round, and rarely challenge themselves on the mat. Then you have a purple belt that works a full time job and has a family as well, they come in three time a week and do the best they can. All of these students are purple belts but their actual experience level is a lot different than the “perceived experience” level that people give them based on the fact that they are purple belts. The point is this, don’t judge a book by its cover. Just because someone is a particular belt doesn’t mean you can pinpoint their skill level, don’t psyche yourself out. The belt does not magically give people abilities, it is a rough evaluation of their base technically abilities, keep this in mind so that you don’t underestimate people but don’t put them on a pedestal because they have a particular rank.
The next thing I want to talk about is looking at things in terms of specific positions. If we look at an opponent thats been training for 10 years compared to our 5 years then it is easy to get overwhelmed and get the feeling that we won’t be able to deal with all of their experience, but things change when we start to look at things in terms of specific positions. A person who has been training 10 years has more experience in some areas then they do in others areas depending on how they train, lots of people stick to what they know and try to get better at it while avoiding what they don’t like. This kind of training mentality can cause certain areas to be relatively undeveloped and this is what we have to focus on if we want to defeat them. This is evident if you look at some of the first (and even current) ADCC matches were you had some very accomplished competitors being beaten by relatively unknown competitors. Matches start on the feet and ADCC rules award a negative point to any athlete that pulls guard, this meant that a lot of competitors would not pull guard but their takedown skills were not very developed. As the match played out they would either get taken down or be forced into pulling guard in which case they were either down by 2 points or a negative point, their opponents didn’t need to score on them, they just needed to survive the rest of the match to get the victory. Surviving against someone is much easier than scoring on them. This kind of fight has played out numerous times and has lead to some pretty big upsets. I am not advocating trying to win by the smallest margins, however we need to understand that not every match can be exciting and some matches will be much more strategic than others, particularly when mismatches in technical or athletic level occur, we need to always be able to find a way to win. By finding areas that are underdeveloped and forcing our opponent into those areas we can create a situation where their overall experience level is irrelevant. We can do this in a specific way by studying our opponent and finding their weak spots or we can look at it in a general way by looking at the technical trends in BJJ. Lets talk a little bit about the idea of trends in BJJ. Lower level competitors generally emulate higher level competitors, this causes certain trends in the overall BJJ scene. An example of this might be the berimbola, even though some people were using the berimbola before the Mendes bros, once they became dominant on the scene they spawned a whole generation of competitors who completely hijacked their style. After a few years this created a trend of lots of people using not only the berimbola but also de la riva in general as well as the leg drag pass and standing passing. Other people contributed to this trend as well but I think you understand the idea. One thing that we have to realize is that these trends often dominate the training room as well, and this leads into an overall increase in skill level in certain areas and a decreasing of skill level in other areas since people focus on certain aspects and neglect others. There is a window of opportunity when you go against the trends and specialize in an area that is not in fashion, this type of strategy has been used by many champions. By specializing in areas that are out of fashion you can give yourself an advantage over the competition who are neglecting parts of their game or are simply not being exposed to certain types of attacks and positions.
The next thing I want to talk about is the idea of creating a new area. If you aren’t able to specialize in an area of jiu-jitsu that is currently available then you can create a new position. This has happened many times in the past and created some great champions, an example of this would be Marcelo Garcia and his x-guard game. It might be a stretch to say that he invented the x-guard but he definitely popularized it, before him the x-guard was used very rarely and with out any kind of consistency. When opponents would get caught in his x-guard they really had no idea what to do, they would need to rely on their instincts and usually Marcelo would be able to capitalize on their mistakes. By creating a new position and then funneling our opponents into it we can create a situation were we have much more experience than our opponent, even if they have more overall experience than we do. I want to add that you don’t need to create an entirely new position, variations on positions can be just as effective at combating opponents experience levels and this is usually easier than creating a new position.
One more thing that we need to think about is motivation and focus. Now that we have the Masters World Championships on the IBJJF schedule, there is a good chance that many people will compete against some legendary figures. Again, it might seem like these people are unbeatable…but in the 5 years that the event has been around there have already been some tremendous upsets. In my opinion this is because of motivation and focus, some one who might have just gotten their black belt and has only been training for 7-8 years is generally still very excited about jiu-jitsu and focused on achieving their goals in the sport, but someone who has been training for 20 plus years and has already accomplished their goals is generally less invested in competition and not as motivated or focused. I am not suggesting that beating a legend is easy, it most definitely is not, however it is possible and it is particularly possible in the Masters division. A lot of big names in jiu-jitsu have their own schools and are full time coaches, so they are not focused on their own personal training like they were at their peak, but someone who has been a black belt for a couple of years might have completely rearranged their life so that they can train as much as possible…their is a conflict in motivation here that can give less experienced competitors an advantage.
In summation, the main point I would hope that you take from this article is that anything is possible, there is always a way to win. If you work hard and train smart, then you can overcome any obstacle on the competition mat. It’s easy to find excuses but it takes a true champion to find answers to the problems they encounter on the mat, hopefully this article gave you a few ideas about how to find some of those answers.