Thursday, August 28, 2014

Deconstructing the Fail: Transitioning from Blue Belt to Purple Belt

There's a critical moment in every loss that has to be determined if you're going to learn from that loss and avoid (hopefully) losing the same way again.

For me, it can be a lazy grip (as will be shown later in the next post on this topic), or it can often be accepting a sweep and not fighting until the end to avoid conceding position, or perhaps being late in a transition.

At white belt you put your hands on the mat, your base is weak, you have poor posture.

As you progress, these holes get smaller and sometimes a crafty opponent, a bigger one, a better one will trick you or goad you into making one of those mistakes. But often, the end of the match is not the important part. The bow and arrow choke you tapped to was really just the end of a chain of moments or missed transitions which led to your defeat (be it by points or by submission).

I could look at my bow and arrow choke defense if that is how I've lost recent matches (it is, 2, in fact), or, better yet, I could additionally look further back in the match, and figure out where my mistake was that led to the sweep, then what led to the passing of my guard, then what led to the advancing of my opponent to an even more dominant position.

Sometimes, if you're really looking at the larger picture, you realize, "y'know, my leg lasso sweep wasn't really tested in the gym to be tournament ready" or perhaps "my spider guard hasn't really been put through its paces" to be ready for the speed of a tournament match."

At blue belt, I began winning matches consistently and winning my division (the adult and the old man 30+ division) for the first time. Prior to my ACL reconstruction of my left knee, I'd closed out brackets/divisions with teammates, but never actually won a blue belt division by myself.

Coming back from ACL surgery, I had done a lot of drilling. I mean a lot.
At least twice a week I drilled for close to an hour in addition to regular training. I also had a very specific game because there were positions I simply knew I had to avoid because of the lack of range of motion in my knee and also, in part, out of fear.

My game was essentially: pull half-guard, get to deep half guard, sweep, over/under pass, knee mount, brabo or lapel choke of some kind.

I drilled this series endlessly. The day before a tournament this was pretty much the only sequence I would drill. I began winning. I would win virtually all of my matches with something that resembled the above sequence.

At purple belt I've found, that the first bullet in the gun or even the third or the fourth doesn't always hit the bullseye.

I've also found, your go to move must now not work only in isolation but as part of a well-rounded attack/gameplan with back-ups and responses to the most common reactions to your initial action.

It sounds obvious and even "beating a dead horse," but knowing it, and seeing your losses as a result of this are two very different realities in terms of your approach to training.

Neil Adams, the famous Judo commentator often says "Action! Reaction!" when a competitor does the ole' 1-2, the move that sets up the move and perfectly exploits the opponent's reaction/response. Great Jiu-Jitsu thus also takes advantage of someone doing the "right" thing. It's why in some ways, blue belts are easier to roll with than white belts. White belts do spastic, unexpected, and explosive moves at unexpected times.
Back on July 26th, I competed at US Grappling's Grapplemania. I lost both matches and did not place. My first match, I spent the better part of 5 1/2 minutes trying to butterfly sweep my opponent. Insisting on a sweep is not the death knell, but the insistence on a sweep which is not a collaborative part of a cohesive bottom game is problematic. I would try the sweep, fail, set it up, try the sweep, nauseum. I never transitioned to x-guard, to another open guard, I never looked to stand and base and play on top...I kept shooting the same gun with the same bullet over and over and grew increasingly frustrated as I missed the target entirely until this insistence gave my opponent the easy opportunity to pass/advance position. At one point in the match, several teammates had wisely pointed out to me that I should "go to something other than the butterfly sweep" but I remember thinking, "No, I'd rather lose than give up trying to get this sweep." Well, I got my wish.

 In the bigger picture, I've walked away with more to work on, pay attention to, drill, and learn about in my 8 months or so at purple belt than I feel like I did in however many blue belt divisions I won the year before I graduated to purple. In fact, I have what feels like a mountain range of things to address.

- starting my first match in high gear, avoiding being cold.

- getting to where I want to be first - being proactive rather than reactive

- combining the parts and pieces of several open guards into a preferred series/sequences of attacks & accompanying grips which leads into the next area below....

- inverting while avoiding the leg drag counter(s) that exist in myriad and in general working on my guard retention

- adding strength and conditioning back into my routine and being DILIGENT about it

- returning to Judo competition for more mat time, and the confidence I gain from the high pressure, relentless pace of Judo competition

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