What is Control?

The dictionary definition of control goes on for a while. We use this word a lot, and for many purposes. Basic psychology teaches that you can only control your own actions, and not the actions of others. Jiu Jitsu seems to follow this idea in many ways. In a grappling situation, the word control tends to narrow into a couple descriptions of competitive exchanges.

Boring is cool. The first and most applicable definition of control is to stop your opponent from doing something. The second would be making them do something. The second option is much more involved and has a shorter average working time. In Bjj; we are either advancing to top position, looking for a submission, or attempting to escape these things.

The shut down game is a constant complaint of people who want Bjj to be a spectator sport. It’s not pretty, but it’s effective. Some people only do as much as it takes to win by the rule set, and no more. Every time you reach for a grip, it’s stopped midway and strapped back onto your body. The muscular alignment works out the best for the top player to drive your grips down, provided the shut down player has superior timing.

Occupying space is a type of control. If you can occupy your opponent’s space, they will have to exert effort getting their space back. A post or frame will keep space, but has a limited number of directions it can defend. In order to shut down a frame, we have a few options. Testing the frame is a good place to start. If not a sufficient structure, it will simply fail. A frame is useful in that it maintains distance from your opponent. But it can be used against you by killing your mobility, often pinning your shoulders to the mat. Because the frame is planted, it is limited in movement and can be moved around. You can also move the pressured frame in whatever direction it is not structurally supported. Another option is to back out and move the frame. A frame doesn’t push, it simply occupies space with a structure. Many frames don’t grip, so backing out is a reasonable response. A frame tends to have an extended limb involved, and makes an easy lever to move once pressure has been released. In the end, we are looking for creative ways to either move around the frame or move the entire structure. These battles are not highly visible, and are best executed with economy of movement. Things get more complicated when accounting for the framing party still having some mobility.

An exchange that is boring to watch is both masterful in sport and optimal for self defense. Personally, I like submissions. But every movement is a risk. It’s best to calculate and move only when it’s very likely going to work. This is true both when you are competing in sport and in actual self defense situations. At higher levels, an efficient submission game is paired with the boring shut down game. A good shut down player will be actively paying attention to what you’re trying to do, and take opportunities to submit or progress positions as they stop your attempts. Many of these opportunities are traps that seem to be a good idea at the time. One way to set a trap is to pressure until they give the opening pushing us away. Another is to give them enough space to run into the trap. There are many awesome ways to set and spring traps, but the traps are only reliable if set in a controlled position.

Making them do something can be impossible in many cases, especially if they are stronger. The striking arts use more fakes and feints, but offer some ideas to get things moving. The problem with this type of control is that people love detecting patterns. After the first time, it becomes a betting game. These games have a place, but shouldn’t devolve into dancing in front of each other.

Control has many more applications in Jiu Jitsu that don’t warrant long explanations. We should control our submissions so we don’t hurt our training partners. Again, we’re stopping something from happening. The natural psychological response to being in a bad position is a type of control that changes with experience. When I started putting this together, I listened to the way people use it when explaining situations. I also asked several Black Belts and experienced fighters. Surprisingly, they all had different responses. What does control mean to you? How do you apply it?

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