"But, What If He/She Does This?”: Why This is a Good Question in BJJ

If you were to ask many bjj professors what are their pet peeves in teaching a bjj class, the answer will soon come up:

“I show the student a technique and immediately they ask ‘But what if my opponent does this?!?'”

I can relate to the instructor’s frustration. Especially if the student in question doesn’t have much experience with the first technique, and likely does not have a solid understanding of the initial move that is being covered that day. But I am going to break with orthodoxy and say that I LIKE IT when a student asks the dreaded, “But what if my opponent does this?!?” question.

SlowRoll1It demonstrates that the student’s mind is in the class. That they are actively thinking about the technique, processing and absorbing the information, and how it will actually go against a fully resisting opponent. Some students approach learning in a more passive manner. They attend the class, dutifully drill that day’s position, and then go home satisfied with the training that day.

But what about the students who have an insatiable appetite for jiu-jitsu? The ones who go home after class and try to sleep while replaying their rolls in class in their minds!? It is seldom that the awesome technique you learned in class is going to go flawlessly upon contact with an uncooperative opponent. They will certainly try to counter your technique and often will be successful in their defence. This leads to the dreaded question.

I have 3 points for you to consider about the dreaded question:

1) Before asking about your opponent’s counter, make sure you have a solid understanding of the mechanics of the initial and primary techniques.  Don’t be in a hurry to ask about the counter before you can demonstrate the first technique competently.
One thing at a time, and let’s get the first one right before we jump to the next. Perhaps a better way to ask the question is “I understand the first technique. When I try it, my opponent does this. What am I missing from the initial technique?”

2) Understand that every technique has a counter. Just because there are well known counters to the basic techniques, does not invalidate the technique. After all, if there was a submission in bjj with no counter, we would only need to show that single move!
Ask yourself why higher belts can submit you with seemingly basic techniques – even though you know the counter? What do they know that you do not? What are they doing differently?

14696006666_e8deb45252_k3) Many students will be discouraged from asking perfectly legitimate questions out of fear of violating this unwritten rule in bjj. The best learning environments are not static, where students passively memorize by rote, where no critical thinking is allowed. The students must be encouraged to examine the techniques from all directions and construct and deconstruct the mechanics; understand the give and take in a contest between two opponents.

If jiu-jitsu may be described as a chess match, then the intelligent student understands the interplay and reactions of the opponent to their own moves. Asking “But what if my opponent does this?!?” reveals that the student recognizes the dynamic, unpredictable nature of rolling and is looking to deepen their understanding of the flow of the fight.

Credits: Mark Mullen
Gracie Barra Black belt based in Taipei, Taiwan
Twitter: @MarkMullenBJJ