“But it works on the white belts!”

Rolled with Guillaume during Wednesday Open Mat. Afterwards, he lamented that I hadn’t fallen for his trick. I had to ask what he’d meant, because I couldn’t recall a point where I’d thought there was such a thing happening. So he demonstrated: he was in side control, and he’d pulled my far lapel up by my face. He said I hadn’t grabbed my own lapel to take it back, which is what he’s expecting so he can then slide his own far lapel, which he has sneakily hidden nearby, through the giant hole I would create by pulling my lapel away, and then which he could use to choke me. “But it works on the white belts!” he said.

Yes, well, I explained, here is why it didn’t work on me (and likely other blue+): I evaluate a grip or a placement to see if first it is an immediate threat. Yes? Address it. In this case, he was only holding the lapel; there was no attempt at choking and there was no pressure. Ergo, this current position did not need a response. So I did nothing about it.

However, if something is not an immediate threat, it may be the precursor to a real threat. So that’s my next evaluation: is there a possible down-the-road threat from this grip or placement? If yes, address the down-the-road threat — not the current non-threat — before it can materialize. In other words, his grip there was not a problem to me. However, if I thought he was setting something up, I would do something to neutralize the grip without directly addressing the grip because, again, the current grip is not a problem so I can leave it alone. I would perhaps look to lock down his elbow or his shoulder (and so likely by extension, that grip as well) or to move to a position such that I do not see anything that could be built from that grip. Again, I’m not bothering with his grip because it in itself is not a threat.

And if it’s not an immediate threat and it’s not a possible threat, generally I pretty much ignore it, even if it’s, say, a white belt death-gripping my wrist from inside my closed guard. I can’t get my wrist back, but he can’t do anything with it, either, even though he doesn’t realize this yet. (In that case, too, he will typically trap his own arm for me by refusing to let go of the grip — hello, armbar!) Even if I would rather that he didn’t have it. Even if it hurts and is uncomfortable but is not something that I would eventually have to submit to. They’re so focused on maintaining their useless grip that they’ll give me time and space to work towards what I want. And if their grip is there, then I know for sure where one of their limbs is, should I need it. This happens a lot with head-squeezers, too; it’s doing nothing and is mildly uncomfortable, but they’re so sure that they can finish something there that they hang on while I escape.

I have found that this approach works especially well with the muscling white belts because, again, I know where their grip is and I know where their attention is. And I end up not agitating them the same way that I would if I attacked their grip directly. On the other hand, I am amused when some people seem to play Whack-a-Mole with incoming grips and positions and are constantly swatting at everything. And while they’re busy clearing a grip that does nothing, I sidle around for what I really want and what is now wide open.

Now with some blues and the purple+ — and especially the black belts — a “harmless” grip is generally a trap. This makes everything far trickier, though again I largely rely on attacking something else that will hopefully neutralize that grip and any incoming things they’re planning to throw at me… and hopefully without opening myself up to exactly what they want. Or, even if they have a “harmless” grip and no intention of doing anything with it, they make my life miserable anyway just by virtue of having that grip, and so make me address it.

This is, perhaps, not the best strategy. However, I so often find myself outmatched strength-wise to such a degree that attempting to disengage every single grip is pointless, mostly because I usually can’t get the grip off, and they sit there and grin like an idiot. So I have come up with this alternate strategy of prioritizing the incoming grips and then deciding how to react.

7 thoughts on ““But it works on the white belts!”

  1. Now with some blues and the purple+ — and especially the black belts — a “harmless” grip is generally a trap.
    Yup. I don’t know what you’re going to do, but I’m pretty sure I won’t like it.

    I like to handle these things not by the most obvious response (which may be a trap) but by moving my entire body in a large-scale way (if on left hip, switch to right hip, etc). Hopefully that will throw a monkey wrench into whatever dastardly plan they had in mind.

    If I ignore it (“for now”), I almost always regret it a few moments later.

  2. Grip fighting is essential…I always think that the one who grips up first is winning. The problem is that you must grip with intent. Keep the big picture in mind, a good grip should be used to set up the next step and not be there just to hold on for dear life. In the converse I train with a lot of newer people who don’t fight grips; this is a big mistake.

    1. Yes, I agree, grip fighting is essential. But when other people get a grip on me, I find that I have to think about and prioritize which grips I fight against and which I ignore because I am not strong enough and can’t always be tricksy enough to break their grips.

  3. If its standing I would worry about sleeves and high lapel grips especially behind the head. If you are in the guard I would worry about anything that would compromise my posture. If on the bottom anything that directly threatens the neck. Basically, the only grip of my opponent I am not worried about is their grip on their water bottle after we roll 😉

  4. Very good post, I find myself often offering grips to attain my own more advantageous grips. I can no longer just grab sleeve grips to start playing spider; I have to offer them my pants first. When they grab my pants, I can then get a hold of their sleeves and break their grips. All of that just to get sleeve grips. That doesn’t even take into account the several barrages of attacks I plan on throwing at them. Jiu jitsu is… complicated lol.

  5. Great article and points.

    One thing to keep in mind is how quickly that non-threatening threat can become one just like you said.

    This is another area where high level belts know what and when it should be addressed. You may have only a split second to decide your actions.

    Think of the hip bump sweep vs. a triangle. You have a choice to put your hand down to stop the sweep but then you have opened yourself up to a triangle. The split second is how quickly you can put your hand down and get it back. This is an example used by Ryan Hall.

    This is also where drilling and repetition come in. The more you have motions and sequences ingrained in your brain, the quicker your reactions and decisions will be.

  6. And to add, to reverse this “trick,” that is to make them expend energy to clear your grip. Sometimes I will grab a lapel for dear life, I have a killer grip, and have them fight and fight to clear it.

    Then when I sense they are going to really go for it, like buck their hips and struggle, I just simply let go. They usually fall back and then I re-grip. Ha ha.

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