If you watch some of the world class level competitions you will see that a significant part of passing the guard / defending the guard is about grip fighting. Hand fighting (the no-gi equivalent of grip fighting) is no less important in passing the guard in ADCC style of competitions.
In fact, when I was a brown belt my mantra was “break grips!” Before being able to improve my guard passing against higher belts, I had to learn how to deal with my opponent’s grips and how to dominate with my own grips.
One of my early jiu-jitsu instructors said that grips were one of the top 3 most important aspects of a bjj match.
“Strong grips can dominate a fight” he explained.
Here are 4 important points about grip fighting in jiu-jitsu:
1) Grip strengthening
You want to have a strong grip? Train it like any other muscle group or action that you want to improve.
A Russian judo competitor told me that he used to train his grip by hanging a gi over a chin up bar and doing a timed hang for as long as his grip would hold out.
Some gyms are equipped with thick ropes suspended from the ceiling where climbing the rope will really test your pulling power and endurance.
*Tip: I like to thread a kimono through the handles of TRX straps/ handles and pull with a handful of cloth grip for my pull ups to imitate pulling an opponent in for a choke.
2) Know when to grip
At a spider guard seminar held by the great competitor and Bjj World Champion Romulo Barral I asked him about the importance of a strong grip to play his spider guard game. In spider guard a powerful controlling grip on the sleeves is absolutely critical.
Romulo replied that yes, he did perform specific strengthening exercises for his hand and forearm strength. But his secret was learning WHEN to apply strength and when the grip could be relaxed slightly.
He explained that anyone’s grip would soon be exhausted if you attempted to squeeze 100% power ALL the time!
3) Who is dominating the grips?
Watching one student try to pass the guard of the bottom player we see both fighting for sleeve control?
The question is: “If BOTH fighters have grasped each other’s sleeves…who is dominating who?”
The simple rule of thumb is: whoever has the bent arm is likely dominating the grip When grasping your opponent’s sleeve, make sure YOUR arm is bent and your elbow is pulled close into your body!
4) Judo grip fighting
In the world of international judo competition grip fighting has evolved to an entire set of skills and strategies in itself. “Kumi kata” it is called in Japanese and the wisdom is that whoever secures their favorite grips first will most likely get the throw.
Judo grip fighting teaches that it is possible to dominate an opponent just through superior gripping techniques and nullifying his offense.
A significant part of this grip training is learning the techniques to break your opponent’s grips.
This strategy is also successful on the ground in passing the guard. If you do not allow your opponent to secure their favorite grip, it is very difficult for them to obtain enough control to pass your guard.
* Tip: Before trying to pass against an opponent’s strong grip, stop and break the grip your opponent is using to control your collar or sleeve.
read also: 3 Tips to Help Your Guard Passing
Credits: Mark Mullen
Gracie Barra Black belt based in Bangkok, Thailand