• Justin Norton

The Thing You Can't Do

Review any beginner’s BJJ syllabus and you’ll find a certain set of moves and submissions that any newcomer should be able to pick up quickly. These lists can be misleading; a good collar choke requires far more subtle details than you would think, and ample practice.

Chief among these “beginner” moves is the straight armbar, the submission that Ronda Rousey used to win fame and fortune. Many gyms teach the straight armbar as part of a core curriculum you need to master before you are considered for promotion. I’ve been rolling for more than a few years now and I’m still not good at the straight armbar from mount. I’ve pulled it off for a tap exactly once in hundreds upon hundreds of rolls. I can certainly execute in the “introduction” and “isolation” stages of training – I understand the fundamentals – but “integration” is where things get tricky. I’m still not using the correct pressure and my body isn’t hugging my opponent closely enough, among other issues. If I try to apply it I have a sinking feeling my opponent will escape.

This conundrum raises an interesting question: does my inability to execute a decent straight armbar from mount indicate a weakness or deficit in training? In this instance, I’m going to give myself a pass and say no. Someone with formidable posture and pressure will always win against a person who can pull off a submission but shortchanges the fundamentals. Whenever I roll I think of a few things. Is my posture good and do I have a strong base? Am I working to advance my game using that posture and then the correct pressure? Finally, am I on top or in a strong position where I can consolidate my gains, attack and move to an even better position? I’ve tried to keep these concerns at the forefront of my training and my rolls, as opposed to the details of one of many submissions.

At the same time, I recognize that my failure to hit that straight armbar is a failure of my own practice. I have seen opportunities to try to finish with the move on multiple occasions but have passed on attempts to try something more reliable. So while this move may not become a reliable part of my jiu-jitsu I’m not going to make any progress by avoidance. I need to make mistakes and grow. So when I saw an opportunity to try it during a roll recently I went for it, understanding that a mistake might mean losing my position. I didn’t hit it, and I did lose that position. However, it was an important step and one I think is crucial: allowing yourself to fail many times so the thing you can’t do becomes the thing that seems easy. Think of it as the thing you or I can’t do...yet.

Photo by courtesy of Wikimedia.

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