Everyone who practices BJJ over a long enough timeframe ends up developing their own gameplan that allows them to dominate the fight from start to finish, but how do you find yours? In the beginning of your BJJ journey as a white belt, it’s all about developing the fundamental techniques and good habits that allow you to stay safe in bad positions, or control the opponent when in good positions. You might be coming to BJJ from another grappling art like wrestling or Judo and realistically you’ll already have most of these habits ingrained, but it’ll still take some time to adapt to the new ruleset that you’re training under.
At a certain point during your time as a white belt, you’ll start to have an understanding of what you want to do in the basic positions. You won’t be able to achieve your goals every time and mistakes will still be made, but you’ll at least know where you’re going. At this point, you’ll probably find that you have gravitated towards specific submissions, sweeps, or guard-passes naturally anyway. Some aspects of BJJ suit certain body-types more than others so it’s only natural that heavier people will feel more comfortable pressure-passing and people with long limbs might find triangle chokes easier than others.
Your personality will have an impact here as well, as you may very well enjoy certain techniques more than others even if they don’t stereotypically suit your body-type. It might be harder but there’s nothing stopping heavyweights from mastering the berimbolo, or inflexible people from excelling at rubber guard. However you start to find success in the early days doesn’t really matter, what matters when working on your BJJ gameplan is what you do once you have the fundamentals down.
You need to take the things that you’re doing well and work your way outwards, until you reach another aspect of BJJ that you’re having success in. If you find that you’re comfortable on your back and good at armbars from mount, developing the ability to pull guard well and a sweep to get to mount will give you a path to victory. If you find that you’re a great pressure-passer with a solid americana from side control then you need to make sure you always end up on top, so you could start developing a mean double-leg takedown and sweeps from bottom.
The idea is to create a path from a neutral standing position, all the way to a submission win. You should be able to start a match against any person with a chain of events in mind from the very beginning and drawing up a flowchart can often help visualise this. As you get better at your first BJJ gameplan, it’ll likely work against a lot of people but you’ll start to experience common defensive reactions at one or more points in your path. This is where it gets a little more complex and you’ll need to start branching out and finding different paths to victory along the same route.
If you’re that first person who pulls guard then maybe people are defending your first sweep, so you need to develop a second and third in order to make sure you get to mount. Maybe they defend the armbar well so you need to start figuring out how to break defensive grips and start working on chokes from mount too. If you’re the second person then maybe you’re getting sprawled on a lot, so you work on your sit-throughs and drive people over into side control. Maybe you’re struggling to finish the americana on more experienced people so you start working on the kimura from there as well.
At this point you should be a pretty long way into your journey and honestly, it’s likely you’ve already reached blue belt at this point. You’ve probably entered a few BJJ competitions and maybe even won a few with your gameplan! Once you have a path to victory with multiple branches leading off it, you’re going to have to start shoring up your weaknesses. This is undoubtedly the most difficult experience and for many people will also be the least enjoyable. After all, you’ve just started to actually get decent at the sport and now you’re going to spend time specifically doing the parts you’re bad at? That doesn’t sound like any fun!
But the harsh truth is that it’s utterly vital. If you choose to only ever train what you’re good at, you’re only ever going to be good at those things. That guard-puller we mentioned earlier? Well he’s going to have to learn how to pass guard at some point. No matter how good he is at the sequence he wants to execute, there will always be someone who pulls guard first or manages to reguard after he sweeps them. The pressure-passing wrestler? Well he’s going to find himself on his back at some point and he simply won’t be able to get back on top, if he can’t threaten submission off his back then how is he going to win?
Realistically, it takes years to develop a good BJJ gameplan to begin with. Once you have one, you’re going to have to start working on your weaknesses and if you follow the same methodology then you’ll soon find that you have multiple different plans for different situations. You’ll be able to switch seamlessly between them and find a way to win the match no matter where you are. This is the end-goal for anyone and it might seem daunting knowing that even the fastest black belts on the planet still took years to reach this point, but you need to take it one step at a time.