Bookmarking – A Strategy For Development of Applied Jiu Jitsu

Recently one of my coaches , BJJ Black belt and Pro MMA fighter Mike Wilkins , attended one of our regular Wednesday night Self Defense classes at Stout PGH / Team Renzo Gracie. The lesson plan that night consisted of simple modifications for well known Brazilian Jiu Jitsu techniques that translate well to an environment with weapons such as guns and knives present. Live training at the end of class includes rounds where we introduce training weapons and participants fight one another over both positional dominance and control of the weapon.


After the session I asked Mike about his feedback. He’s done several of my classes in the past but it’s been a while and this may have been the first involving this particular training exercise. His comment was exceedingly accurate.

“Once that knife comes out everyone’s Jiu Jitsu goes to shit.” 

Without the domain specific training we decidedly see dramatic declines in grappling skill as participants become weapon focused. People who wouldn’t otherwise turn away from an opponent, lose balance, or extend limbs suddenly start doing these things. Which is exactly why we do this. So they can learn from these mistakes quickly and safely on the mat and not in real life.

It’s not an uncommon observation. Another participant commented after a weapons retention and disarms session we put on for some local law enforcement after his first experience grappling with a Sim’s gun that he felt like he forgot all about his grappling technique as they struggled over the gun.  As elements are introduced we see significant decreases in base skills until the moment where they learn to modify their tactics for the new parameters and goals. Once the adaptation takes place though, often there is immediate and significant performance increases in both domain specific application and base skills.

Often this first experience has people rush to the conclusion that they should focus their training on more time in these specific environments. I think this is ill advised. It’s my belief that our focus should be on building a strong foundation with occasional reoccurring integration events.

My suggestion for those inclined is something I’ve come to refer to as “bookmarking”. This is a training mindset where I go into my regular training environment with the conscious decision to find and notice those places where applications diverge and apply.

For example lets say I take side mount on my partner, with my body across his I clear both his arms with my hips and torso and I take a moment and notice that he could not possibly reach a weapon on his waistband. I bookmark that moment. As I turn to face his legs my top arm is free to clear the path to progress to mount, and so I take note that this arm could also be accessing my own tool or checking his waistband and that he would have no ability to stop me from doing so. Once I step over into mount I get my chest behind his elbow driving his arm across his body where I reach behind the head and “gift wrap” him. His other arm is free and could interfere with my producing a tool here but he would be ineffective in stopping incoming strikes. As I ratchet him onto his side and pull my shin over his free elbow joint I take note that now I could easily use my free arm to access a tool unhindered.

I’ve now built a conscious land marking process into my fundamental base skill set. My opponent didn’t have to even be aware of it. It required no equipment, no play acting, and no special arraignments with my partners.  Importantly I can also do this with greatly more skilled opponents than I may have available for special weapons based sessions as well as large spazzy white belts bucking around like maniacs. Spending an entire round moving from one pin to another without submission and taking note of the opportunities available and relative stability of positions is great practice.

The opposite is also true. I don’t need to train with striking every time but I like to take note as roll under a guy that hey this would be a bad place to get stuck and pummeled, and if there was striking that’s not a choice I would like to make. Or as I enter into my standing passes if I lean over my opponents feet for a moment I recognize hey if this guy could throw upkicks I’d get my head taken off here.

I can use this same method even for my regular practice. Perhaps my opponent is not good at leg attacks. I should still note the places where if he where I would be vulnerable to them instead of just “getting away with it”. Perhaps I made a mistake in my position on top and had my opponent taken advantage of it I would have been swept off top to bottom. I note that moment in my head, because when I train with my instructor I’m not going to survive with sloppy technique, poor base, or inaccurate timing.

It’s been my experience this methodology, along with regular audits,  pays dividends

Shawn Lupka



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