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How to Spar Properly in Jiu Jitsu

Let's get the terminology out of the way first.

A false positive in Jiu Jitsu is when you do something wrong, but it turns out well.

A false negative in Jiu Jitsu is when you do something right, but it turns out badly.

Something I say quite a lot in coaching is that the biggest problem in learning Jiu Jitsu is how little good technique works and how often bad technique works.

So for example, when you’re learning to escape the mount, and you go for the very technical Knee-Elbow Escape to get to half guard. You don’t get it despite doing the technique correctly, and your opponent counters it.

Then on another day you just do some big strength move with your arms flailing and you successfully escape.

What you have there is a perfect example of a false positive- A bad move that in 99% of cases won’t work and will waste energy and get you in worse trouble. But it worked one day, so you think it’s a good move.

And then the previous day, you had a false negative. You did the right thing, at the right time, but it didn’t work out. So you became discouraged.

And the inexperienced person could, with some justification, ask “But it works! Why should I waste more time with the thing that didn’t work?”

Well, the thing is that the correct technique in the false negative can be honed, improved and added to. You can improve it through practice and experience. The False Positive will always just be that one big dumb move, and as the quality of your training partners begins to improve, you’ll find yourself being caught out when you do it.

So it’s important when you’re doing free sparring in Jiu Jitsu, to be constantly trying to do the right thing. It’s easy to learn the right things as you drill, but when you go to spar with an opponent, you should be aiming to integrate the right things into your match.

If they go well, you can chalk it up as a successful technique. If it goes wrong, you can chalk it down as a learning experience. Why did it go wrong? Was the timing off? Did I make an error? Did my opponent just see it coming?

Keep it all in mind as you train, and you’ll improve faster!

See you on the mat!


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