Before the chaos of panic shopping and quarantines ensued, I taught a seminar at a local UFC gym here in Colorado. One of the key points I tried to emphasize throughout the seminar was to understand the principles of any given technique a student learns. I would go so far as to say that understanding the underlying principles of a technique is just as important as the specific details taught to the student. Often times we learn a new technique then, half way through it in a live roll, we miss something, forget a key detail, or our opponent does something to stop or counter our technique. This is where understanding the principle of a technique comes in, ask yourself: what am I trying to accomplish here, what’s the ideal end result? Of course, we want to train the details of a technique to the point of muscle memory so we nail those details when executing during live sparring and competition, but what about all those moments in between learning a technique and truly perfecting it?

So, what do I mean by understanding the principles? Let’s start with sweeping your opponent. For those uninitiated, a sweep is the act of getting from the bottom (guard) position to the top position by reversing your opponent. When you execute a sweep, any sweep you can imagine really, you are essentially doing two things: pushing or lifting on side (or front/back) and blocking the other from “basing out” or posting to stop the momentum from the lift/push. Think of it like a “table top” when you were a kid; the prank move where one friend gets on their hands and knees behind the unsuspecting victim and you push said victim at the chest sending him/her toppling to the ground. You have pushed the upper half of the front side and blocked the lower half of the back said making recovery from a fall nearly impossible. A sweep is the same thing. If you understand those principles (push/lift one side and block the other) you can get through a failed or stalled sweep attempt by analyzing which principle you left out or are failing to execute. You attempt a basic scissor sweep, your opponent frees his/her hand and posts on the mat stopping the momentum of the push. If you understand the principles here you recognize that you do not need to give up and start over you can simply re-grab or block the posted hand, push again and finish your sweep.

How about submissions? I could elaborate for pages here but lets stick to one for brevity: the guillotine choke. Lift on your opponents throat and press down/stop the back of the head from moving up with the lift on the throat while keeping the smallest amount of space possible for the neck. The principle is the same for the foot lock/ straight ankle lock. Lifting at the achilles and pressing down on the top of the foot. With either technique, when the opponent attempts to turn the head (and thereby neck) or turn the foot, all you need to do is follow, changing your angle in chorus, to keep pressure where it belongs and you can stay with the submission.

Technique is vital, especially perfected technique. But BJJ players of all levels have met resistance to good technique and found a way to complete those techniques by understanding the principles behind them. Keep in mind the next time you are learning a technique, simplify the move by asking yourself, “What are the main (one or two) principles behind getting from A to B. Until then, keep your heads ups, do some good, and stay positive in light of all the darkness. This too shall pass.