If you've done jiu jitsu for more than a month or three, you've probably experienced a minor injury. You know, the kind of injury that is annoying and inconvenient, but doesn't necessarily prevent you from training. Maybe you tapped a little too late to that arm bar and popped your elbow. Or maybe you got a finger caught in your training partner's gi. Or perhaps you tweaked your neck on that poorly-executed power double.
Regardless, these kinds of injuries can be a blessing in disguise. Why? Because they force you to train in a new way. Specifically, they cause you to limit the use of the injured body part. More specifically, these injuries require you to compensate in some way, which causes you to adopt different techniques, use different concepts, and employ different strategies. As a result,your game improves.
The good news - you don't have to get hurt to capitalize on this concept!
Back when we trained in San Diego, one of our favorite drills was a "no hands" guard passing drill introduced by one of our gym's black belts, Dave Hisquierdo. The person on the bottom would tuck their hands into their belt and use only their feet and legs to prevent their opponent from passing their guard.
As you'd expect, the top person won pretty much every time. However, the drill would create a fairly dramatic improvement in guard retention ability. You got real good at using your feet and legs to prevent opponents from passing your guard.
WHY this works is fairly obvious - the fewer tools we have at your disposal, the more skillful we need to be for those tools to be effective. As such, systematically "handicapping" ourselves in different ways forces us to develop skills we wouldn't normally develop. Ergo we see dramatic improvements in our game.
So what else can we do besides "no hands guard passing"?
Whenever I teach classes, I try to add an element of deprivation to most classes. While I usually use the various games randomly, they can be logically combined with related techniques or concepts to improve learning. Here are a few of my favorite games:
- Rolling Blindfolded - We rely on our sense of sight more than any other sense, and this includes when we're rolling. For a sport so dependent on tactiles sensations, balance, pressure, pain, and body position, sight still wins out. When we remove the ability to see, we MUST rely on feel to know where our opponent is and what they're doing. Jiu jitsu, really, is nothing more than learning to precisely apply techniques to resisting opponents automatically. A major part of this learning process in learning to recognize and react to extremely subtle movements from your opponent. Rolling blindfolded helps facilitate that process.
- Wearing Socks on Your Hands - We don't realize how important opposable thumbs are until we don't have them. Grips are a major part of this sport, especially in the gi. Even in no gi, though, our thumbs are useful for locking our hands in various grips. By wearing socks on our hands, we force ourselves to play jiu jitsu without the ability to grip, which means we have to rely on other body parts (and techniques) to control our opponent. Or escape our opponent's control. We can also get a similar effect by wearing 16 ounce boxing gloves when rolling.
- Tying Your Legs Together - This one's a bit absurd, but still fun. I use a nylon web belt with two d-rings, and just wrap it around my lower shins. This prevents us from separating our legs, which forces us to basically roll as if we were mermaids. Guard, guard passing, mount, and back mount are nearly impossible. This forces us to develop our upper body game in a weird, interesting way.
- Playing Keep-Away - This is a little more dynamic version of this concept. One person has an item (I prefer a soft foam ball) they must hold, and their goal is to keep it away from their opponent by any means necessary. This shift in perspective from submitting and defending submissions is subtle, but the change forces us to use techniques in a new way.
- Limiting Submission Options - This is a good habit to get into on a regular basis, but also works splendidly as a special game. The idea is to "ban" particular classes of submissions, like chokes, armlocks, or leg locks. This limitation forces a bit more creativity by forcing you to get a little more creative. For an added boost, explicitly tell your training partner which submissions you're banning so they can focus on defending the submissions you have available.
- Limiting Positional Options - This works the same as the above game, only you're eliminating positions instead of submissions. This is handy when you begin to fall in love with one particular position to the exclusion of others. For me, this is back mount. In every roll, I will always take the back (assuming I CAN take the back against particular opponents.) The strategy is simple - pass guard to side control, pass to mount, attack one arm to wear it out, take the back, trap the opposite arm with my legs (so my opponent is forced to defend with the weakened, tired arm), then choke them out. By banning the back, it forces me to develop entirely different strategies, which helps me develop a more robust game.
- Really Long Rolls - Admittedly, part of my love of really long rolls comes from my ultrarunner past. There's something magical about forcing yourself to the point of absolute exhaustion, then having to muster the will to push past the exhaustion. But it also makes for a good method of speeding your learning of jiu jitsu. Any match over twenty minutes will usually do the trick, but flirting with an hour or more will take you into the really interesting territory. When you're extremely tired, technique suffers, it's hard to concentrate, and small errors in your game get amplified. Experiencing this regularly will cause your game to develop quickly.
- Rolling on Hard Floors - We spend virtually all of our time training on mats, to the point where we forget the world is not soft and squishy. Froman entirely utilitarian standpoint, doing an occasional roll on hard floors can be a good reminder of the self-defense application of jiu jitsu. But it can also be a handy training game. Rolling occurs in a three-dimensional space where one "side" of that space is predictably soft and forgiving. When that surface becomes less forgiving, it forces us to alter our technique a bit for both ourselves and our training partner's safety.
These are just a few of the games I like to play when training. There are countless more possibilities; your only limit is your imagination. Got ideas for other limitation-based games? Share them in the comments section or in the El Diablo Facebook Group!