BJJ Magic: Setting Traps For Your Opponent

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is a great martial art with a seemingly endless array of techniques to be learned and practiced. And while technical knowledge is absolutely necessary when attempting to master the art, there is another aspect that may be equally important—the ability to guide opponents towards submissions without their knowledge. Guiding an opponent’s movements, all while leading him to believe that he has taken such actions independently, is arguably the highest skill one can develop in BJJ. It is this ninja-like quality that separates elite BJJ black belts from everyone else. In fact, high-level BJJ practitioners have developed this skill to such a degree that rolling with them can feel a lot like grappling with a psychic—they seem to know exactly what move you’re going to make before you actually make it! And while BJJ black belts don’t actually have magic powers, their incorporation of the following concepts into their games can make them seem like magicians on the mat.

The Opposites Principle  

A very basic concept that is often overlooked in BJJ is what we’ll call “the opposites principle.” Essentially, the opposites principle dictates that you should initially force your opponent to do the opposite of what you actually want him to do. Like judo, BJJ is about using your opponent’s weight and momentum against him. It is not an art designed to match strength against strength. In harnessing the opposites principle, the BJJ practitioner makes his opponent willingly do what he wants him to do. For example, when an opponent is in your closed guard, if you want to break his posture to bring him closer to you, your natural instinct would be to pull him forward. However, pulling an opponent forward will immediately result in resistance on his part. With the opponent pushing and you pulling, a contest of strength has been initiated. This is not proper BJJ. However, when the same opponent is pushed backward instead of pulled forward, his reaction will be to push his body forward to prevent falling back. With his momentum now moving forward, all the attacking student must do to break his posture is release the forward pressure and pull the opponent forward using the arms and legs. His body weight and momentum have now successfully been used against him. In other words, using the opposites principle, the opponent has willingly shifted his weight forward, making the breaking of his posture relatively easy. Remember, most opponents will resist any type of pressure you initiate—use this against them.


Guiding the Opponent  

Related to the above concept is another that we’ll call “guiding the opponent.” The basic idea behind this concept is that it’s easier to allow your opponent to voluntarily take an action than to force him to take an action. In other words, in order to make your opponent take an action that will lead to a submission, you must make him want to take that action. A great example of this is the use of the hip bump sweep to set up submissions. The hip bump sweep is a basic BJJ closed guard technique in which the attacking student blocks his opponent’s arm and explodes with his hips in order to place the opponent on his back. In order to prevent this sweep, the opponent must free his arm and post it on the mat. In other words, in this situation, the opponent wants to place his hand on the mat. This situation can be exploited when the attacker also wants the opponent to place his hand on the mat. By placing his hand on the mat to prevent the sweep, the opponent has unwittingly made himself vulnerable to a number of submissions, all the while believing that he has performed an intelligent defensive maneuver. With his hand posted, the attacker is free to attempt a variety of submissions, including shoulder locks and triangle chokes.


Disguising Your Intentions

Submission attempts work best when the attacking student disguises his intentions. The hip bump sweep variation above is an example of this concept. When setting up submissions, it’s important to make sure that your opponent is always kept guessing. The less obvious you are about your true intentions, the harder it will be for opponents to avoid your attacks. For example, collar chokes, in addition to being highly effective techniques, can be used as diversions to set up other submissions, such as armbars. In this situation, the collar choke is used to disguise the attacking student’s true intention—the armbar. Keep this concept in mind, and your submission success will improve rapidly.


Watch Where You Look

Our final concept is simple yet powerful: don’t allow your eyes to give away your intentions. In other words, whenever possible, don’t look in the direction of your attack. This may seem insignificant, but it can mean the difference between success and failure. For example, if your opponent is in your closed guard and you plan on attacking his right arm, your odds of success increase if you look to his left. When you look directly at your intended target, this alerts your opponent to your intentions and gives him the opportunity to mount a defense. On the other hand, looking elsewhere serves two purposes: (1) it disguises your true intentions, and (2) it acts as a diversion, making your opponent believe that you intend to attack a different target. Remember, your eyes can either give away your intentions or disguise them.


Are You a BJJ Magician?

BJJ can seem like magic to the average person. And while it isn’t magical in the traditional sense of the word, it is a special martial art that provides students with a number of benefits, including fun, fitness, camaraderie, self-defense, and mental stimulation.


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