Jiu-jitsu Times : When we talk about having an “A Game” in jiu-jitsu, what does that mean? How does a student identify what should be their A Game? At what experience level should a student be looking to develop their A Game positions?
Rob Biernacki : I tend to view the term “A Game” as describing offensive skills that one can impose on an opponent. Whatever level you happen to be competing or rolling at, if you can’t generate offense, victory is obviously impossible.
I’ve talked at length in the past about the idea of principles vs techniques, and I believe that focusing on principles, particularly as a beginner, is a far more reliable, and faster way to develop an understanding of the art.
However, when it comes to developing an A Game, I believe the focus does have to shift a bit more towards specific techniques, provided an understanding of concepts and fundamental movements already exists.
For instance, once you understand that to attack effectively requires broken alignment, and you learn the principles behind breaking alignment, you need a specific set of techniques to create and exploit broken alignment.
To be even more precise, I would say your A Game should include a primary and secondary guard position, passing position, and finishing position.
As far as how to figure out what your A Game should be, that is an expansive question because it depends on your purpose in training and on your body type and physical attributes, even your mental attributes or your emotional disposition.
Honestly, if you don’t seek to compete, there should be no haste, and I would even argue that there is no inherent need for the cultivation of an A Game.
However, the desire for identity, not to mention the manifestation of something known in science as “lateral inhibition,” will create a motivation to gravitate towards certain positions and techniques to establish our sense of self within our training. Therefore I think it is important to accurately identify the purpose of your A Game.
If it is indeed to excel in competition, I would suggest it be an expression of your best physical attributes tempered by the state of mind that you find most prevalent in competition. If you are developing an A Game for self expression, I believe you can be less encumbered by concerns of optimal effectiveness and just seek to embrace creativity.
Having said that, I think it won’t come as a surprise when I suggest that the A Game in either regard should be the purview of the more experienced practitioner, although elements of it can be flirted with at every level. True focus on it should likely wait until late blue/early purple belt at some academies, and even brown at others.
How to Take the Back in BJJ 1: The Chair Sit
Jiu-jitsu Times : Once a jiu-jitseiro has selected some positions that they want to specialize in, how would you recommend they start to develop those positions?
(ex. research, asking their instructor, privates, watching video etc.)
Rob Biernacki : I think there are two ingredients that allow you to develop expertise in a position without having to spend time going down blind alleys.
The first is the quality of information, so study the best and try to understand how they make their go-to positions work against other elite competitors.
Instructionals or privates, depending on cost and availability, are your best bet. There are some great breakdowns available online by folks like BJJ Scout and Gambledub that can fill the gap if you can’t find direct instructionals by the players you are studying.
Of course your instructor will be your main source of guidance, but not every black belt is conversant with every position, so hopefully he or she will be honest about how much depth of knowledge they can convey.
Depth happens to be the other ingredient when developing any aspect of your game, not just your A Game. There is a tendency to view BJJ as a collection of moves and even “tricks.” If you fall prey to this, you will find yourself apprehensive to share whatever your most successful techniques or positions happen to be for fear of having them shut down.
The best way to achieve depth is to reveal to your training partners everything you know about what you’re doing to achieve your goals and teach them to beat you.
You don’t want a couple of moves that work when you surprise your opponent; you want a game that funnels proper principles through pressure-tested techniques that you can apply despite your frustration and fatigue, and your opponent’s awareness.
Check out Rob’s new app on Grapplearts: The BJJ Back Attack Formula