The Problem with Jiu Jitsu “Math”

In a competitive environment, people often get into the habit of comparing themselves to their competition.A common thought process is “I can beat X, and X can beat Y, therefore I should be able to beat Y.”  In many sports this sort of “math” can actually work, but not in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.


For starters, there’s the notion of style vs. style. I’ve trained with people who, in the absence of foot locks would actually be able to beat me far more often than when foot locks are allowed. I use the leg lock game as an example because it is so polarizing, people either love leg locks or they largely ignore them. Within a rule set that favors one specific style over another, the favored style is more likely to win even if the practitioner is generally less successful in competition.

leg lockAnother crucial element to this is the mental game.If I am able to get in your head, even if your grappling skills are superior to me, my chances of winning go up exponentially.This can be something as trivial as antics that would be considered by many as “cheap”, or it can run as deep as one competitor truly understanding the fears and uncertainties of the other and capitalizing on them.

Strategy can skew the equation greatly. I’ve personally had several matches against guys who on any normal day would beat me, badly, but because I planned before the match and knew what their most likely responses would be, I was able to find a path to success where normally there wouldn’t have been one. A smart and well executed strategy can negate other mitigating factors.


On the flip side of all of this, the day of a tournament can have a profound affect on a person’s performance.  I’ve gone against guys who I would normally beat, but for whatever reason at the moment of action I came up short.  This can be a result of nerves getting to you, or it can be a result of the physical results of cutting.  Standing around all day long at a competition venue can ruin your mat mojo, and make your techniques sloppy; I’ve been both a victim and a beneficiary of this effect.

When we do these comparisons, it very often is between people we roll with on a regular basis and people we rarely if ever roll with.  My teammates and I know each others’ strengths and weaknesses, and as a result can capitalize on those when we roll.  In competition, we put our best feet forward against people who are not familiar with us and as a result an interesting phenomenon may occur.  I’ve seen teammates who are stronger and have better technique than I do falter and do poorly against opponents that I have rolled with and done well against, this is because of the apprehension that unfamiliarity may cause.  This can also be a “style vs. style” effect.

For all of these reasons the common “math” that is thrown around in sports doesn’t really work in jiu jitsu.  X may be able to beat Y and Y may be able to beat Z, but there are instances in which Z beats X nine times out of ten, and this is because of the amazing variability of jiu jitsu.

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Emil Fischer is an active black belt competitor under Pablo Angel Castro III training at Strong Style Mixed Martial Arts and Training Center near Cleveland Ohio ( and teaching at Ararat Martial Arts and FItness Center. For more information, other articles, and competition videos check out his athlete pages at and Emil is sponsored by Meerkatsu (, discount code EmilKatsu), Eddy's On Coventry, North Coast Cryo ( NottaRookie, YM ( discount code COOKIES), Defense Soap ( discount code COOKIES) Impact Mouthguards ( discount code EMILIMPACT), and North South Jiu Jitsu Underwear


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