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Level up with Positional Sparring

Positional sparring or specific training is probably where I spend the bulk of my time training.

When you first start out. Any amount of rolling will help you get better.

You will get stronger, faster, leaner, and tougher.

But after a certain point. Simply rolling alone won’t help you improve.

One thing I’ve noticed with the students that I teach and many higher belts is that they often only rely on their A game.

That means they only roll with their best techniques or only rely on their best positions.

This is great when preparing for a tournament or while attending a training camp.

But real growth and improvement come from putting yourself in uncomfortable positions.

Your Jiu Jitsu is not set in stone. If you do it long enough it will (have to) evolve.

Training to Improve

At my academy, we spend a lot of time positional sparring. So much so that we dedicated two classes per week solely to it.

Many students at academies around the world are used to having every class being lead by an instructor. With a typical lesson consisting of 1-3 techniques and then some normal sparring towards the end of the class.

I’m not knocking this system.

In fact, we utilize several instructor led classes.

However, the times are changing. What worked in Brazil in the 1970s and 1980s doesn’t really fit today’s situation.

Students have access to instructional dvds, online forums, youtube, and online coaching sites.

At no point in history have people had access to so much information. That includes Jiu Jitsu.

New School Jiu Jitsu

With all the information today, students are going to want to learn and drill techniques from all of these new sources.

Maybe they follow their favorite Jiu Jitsu athlete and want to emulate their game or maybe there is an instructor with a different teaching style that happens to resonate with them. Or maybe they come from a different academy and have a completely different style than your own.

Whatever the case, students are going to want to try and experiment with all the new moves being developed. Rather than fight change or only show your style. I believe it’s better to embrace the different styles. Of course, I will be there to give guidance and to make sure that my students don’t use some crazy YouTube moves.

With the positional sparring training, the major concept is that it is completely geared towards the person. As an instructor, I will suggest major position to work from. But we ultimately, will let the student decide on exactly which position that they want to work on.

Breaking It Down

Often when incorporating positional sparring we will focus on one position for 1 to 2 weeks.

During our instructor led classes we will work on that position. Showing moves from the position and building up the move set from that position in every class.

And then we will spar from the position having one student start in the position and work from there. Then switching.

For example the last few weeks we’ve been working sit-up guard.

During class, the instructor will show one or two techniques from the sit-up guard or maybe review a sequence that we worked on previously.

Then we will have the students drill the moves from sit up guard for a few rounds before going into the positional training.

In the positional training, both students will spend time working the sit up guard. Trying to sweep without getting to far from the position. While the person on top will try to pass or escape the sit up guard. Whenever someone advances their position, both people will restart and try it all over again.

The concept of positional sparring isn’t new, but the process of breaking down an entire match/roll into smaller parts is one that I never put much thought into before coming to Sweden.

Not only does it force you to take an in depth look at your favorite positions. You will also spend some time studying your least favorite positions as well.

The more you understand a position. The more confidence you will have in your training.

There’s a lot that happens during a match. A lot of transitions, repositioning, scrambles, etc.

But if you can work most of the common positions that you might run across. Imagine just how prepared you will be for the competition.

It’s really like studying for a test. The more you prepare. The better you will be able to perform.  

Don’t fight the person. Fight they’re technique.

No Ego

Positional training is great because we can take the ego out of the equation.

With a normal roll, both parties a generally trying to beat the other. Especially with lower belts. Each roll is a chance to prove themselves, or so they believe.

But with the positional sparring it’s more like a game. The focus is on utilizing the position or defeating the position. Not on beating the person. If you manage to get swept or passed. You just restart. That way you could really mess up but not have to pay the consequences like in a normal roll.

positional sparring is great

I like to think of this like the training mode in a street fighter game. You use this training to work on your attacks and combos. With you being in control of the difficulty level.  

To take your training to the next level add in more pairings. Work two rounds with one partner (both of you working your positions) and then switch to a new partner.

This will allow you to get more experience working your position with a different body type and skill level.

Keep this training up for a few weeks and you can possibly do a hundred mini sparring sessions from just one position.

During which time you will rack up a lot of experience. You will know what moves your opponent will go for. What options you have. What to do if they defend your moves, etc.

Add positional sparring to your training and see the results.

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