Mental Revelations of the Progressing Grappler Continue




    This essay is a follow up on “Mental Revelations of The Progressing Grappler.” I am pleased to announce that the initial list was not exhaustive (though I never purported it to be), and even as I have continued to progress, my eyes are continually being opened to new features and aspects of grappling. My prayer is that you are exposed to this revelation at an earlier stage in your training than I was and therefore are able to tailor your training to make your grappling as sharp as it can be.

Nature and Existence of “Scrambles”:

A scramble is a period of time within a match/roll where movement is opened up, neither participant has full control, and the apparent pace of the match quickens noticeably.  Scrambles happen by accident, intentionally, and often unexpectedly by one or both parties. Scrambles can appear chaotic and without form, but the truth of the matter is: one can control a scramble when his/her mind is focused on the right principles. Controlling the scramble will lead to advantages within the match; both physical and psychological.

Having come from very traditional Jiu Jitsu roots, it was far from my mind to focus attention on “scrambles” because of adherence to the philosophical belief that BJJ should function at its purest form such that athleticism is overcome by technique. Upon reflection, such an adherence ignores the chaos of a “real” fight and the actual necessity of the less athletic person to take advantage of moments of opportunity.

Scrambles can be frightening for an untrained grappler to negotiate. A larger grappler might feel as though he is losing control while a smaller grappler might feel as though he is he is affording movement to his adversary. An older grappler might feel as though he will be outmatched with speed, while an younger grappler might feel “tricked” or “out smarted” by an older grappler during a scramble. What is clear though is that regardless of your attributes, a scramble can be an opportunity; an opportunity to lose control, or an opportunity to gain control.

Should scrambles happen? That is unclear. However, scrambles DO happen so understanding them, training for them, and finding ways to utilize them seems prudent.  In  sport BJJ/submission grappling, scrambles have led to some of the most exciting and surprising  matches in history. A classic “David v. Goliath” match-up ccurred when Marcelo Garcia was paired against Ricco Rodriguez in the Abu Dhabi Submission Grappling tournament in 2005. Garcia, outweighed by nearly 100 pounds, used elevator hooks and arm drags to create scrambles. He was able to take the back of the larger Rodriguez several time and was ultimately the victor in the match.

In the 2011 Abu Dhabi Submission Grappling super fight, Braulio Estima and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza engaged in a fluid battle. The turning point however was a scramble that allowed Estima to take the back of the formidable Jacare. What these examples prove is that scrambles happen, that they happen not just for the sloppy or inexperienced, but they occur at the highest level. Further, these two examples illustrate that he who controls the outcome of the scramble can control the match.

Training to improve your “Scrambles”:

Understanding that scrambles exist and are an important part of any potential match, how does an athlete, fighter, or mere BJJ practitioner deal with the nuance of chaos. Simple answer: Train the principles.

Principle 1: Left Brain – Right Brain Confusion:

If you poll people right after a scramble and ask the person who “lost” the scramble what was going on in his/her mind throughout, you will often get the answer, “confusion.” They are not confused about where they are or who they are grappling against, they are confused at the direction of the movement. Why is that? In a scramble your body is reacting to directional motion. While our brains are wonderful tools, data processing functions hemispherically and once the commands from the brain are sent to the muscles to move in a certain direction, there is noticeable work that needs to occur to shift sides of the brain to direct the body in another direction. This concept is not alien to other sports. The “Juke” of a wide receiver in football or a basketball player is used to cause misdirection and mis-reaction by confusing the hemispheres of the brain.

In BJJ, postures and defenses are often side-specific. If I feel as if someone is attacking my right arm with a mounted armbar, it is critical that I keep the vulnerable arm as safe as possible. I engage my left brain hemisphere and go about defending. If the attacker quickly shifts to attacking my left arm, it (the left arm) will start out of position, I will be be required to use my right brain hemisphere to get the left arm to safety. Of course, the less time between my recognition of the change in attack and the isolation of the arm, the more probable that the attack will be successful.


In a scramble, the same is true. If, I want to take advantage of a scramble, it is important that I look for opportunities to switch directions and stay ahead of my opponent’s movements. There are many drills that one can do to train this behavior. A great resource for such drills is “Drill To Win” by Andre Galvao. The “Knee Cut Transition” on p.178 and “Side to Side Knee on Belly” on p. 190 are drills I use regularly to hone this principle.

Principle 2: Finding the outer edge:

If you are squared up to your adversary, the position will likely remain the same. So, if you are scrambling but the outcome is a zero gain, it would appear you have wasted your energy. However, if one approaches the scramble from angles it becomes easier to defend, counter, and mount an offense.

One angle pays greater dividends than any other in a scramble, the angle that exposes you to an outer edge. Imagine the body as an open cardboard box. The space between the arms (chest, abdomen, hips) and the space between the legs (inside of the feet, inside of the lower and upper legs) comprise the inside of the cardboard box. Any other point on the body (e.g. the back of the arm, the back, the back and outside of the legs) are the “outsides” of the box.

Working to move your body to the outside is helpful in controlling the scramble. An arm drag is achieving this end. When an arm drag is done properly, the opponent is moved across the body and the outer edge of the arm and back are exposed. Many De La Riva guard techniques function to attack an outer edge (e.g. Berimbolo attacks). Thus, a great way to condition your body and mind to find the outer edge is to drill arm drag movements from various positions and to drill Berimbolo movements. For examples of great drills to help, check out Andre Galvao’s book, “Drill to Win.” On p. 180 you will see the “Knee Smash Pass,” on p.232 there are drills to help with arm drags. One of the best drills for training the outer edge movements is found on p.250 with the “Half Spin.”

Once you see that during a scramble you want to keep your opponent in front of you while you strive for an outer edge, you will notice more successful outcomes from your scrambles.

Principle 3: Deciding when and how to apply pressure:

Pressure  is a beautiful part of BJJ. So many things can be dictated by the way you control your pressure. At some points in a scramble you want to keep your pressure low so that the motion can continue and catapult you to a dominant position. At other points, you want to increase your pressure to thwart movement and maximize your ability to maintain or control a position you have succeeded in gaining. Imagine an arm drag from butterfly guard. If you are initiating the drag, you will apply pulling pressure to the arm, but you will keep your hips and chest away from the opponent at the beginning. Once you have exposed the “outer edge” it is beneficial for you to increase your chest and hip pressure so that the opponent does not pull their arm back or turn and face you. If successful, you will limit the duration of the scramble and succeed at taking the back.

Flip the coin a bit. Say you are going against a good open guard fighter and you choose to use a Toreando style guard pass. As you circle the legs there is a point where you are likely in a scramble. The opponent is going to be working to shrimp back and keep you in the box, while you are battling for the outer edge. How you control your pressure will dictate the success with which you secure the pass.

Learning how and when to apply pressure is easily drilled and once focused on makes a grappler very dangerous. Having rolled with some of the best in the world, I can assure you that at times they feel like a cloud floating around you, but regardless of their size, they eventually feel like piano dropped from 3 stories right on top of you.


Scrambles happen. To the victor go the spoils. Should scrambles happen is a question of BJJ philosophical disagreement. But given they DO happen, a grappler who wishes to progress would benefit from studying them and it never hurts to win them. May your mental revelations come quicker than mine and give you the satisfaction of progression.

5 comments on “Mental Revelations of the Progressing Grappler Continue”

  1. Andrew Hendrix

    Enjoyed your explanation of this tricky phenomenon. It’s really nice to have keen and penetrating minds, such as yours, dissecting this awesome art-form, I’ve come to love, and regurgitating your useful reflections!

  2. Brendan

    Tim, this is exceptional work. I don’t even know where to begin to comment on it. I’ll be re-reading those sections of Andre’s book asap.

  3. Rafael Martins

    Optimal explanation looks like a lot! was very happy when you compare David and Goliath.
    I returned to Brazil will find the book of Andre Galvao.

  4. Brendan

    Absolutely loved the comparison of David and Goliath, all in all a brilliant article.

    Nice blog by the way, I love the design!

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