Push, Pull, Isolate.


A few months ago one of my opponents was given the queue, “Push him back!” After I leaned forward into his guard, he was then given the queue, “Pull him in!”

This was a simple concept, but it dawned on me how effective it is to think of jiu-jitsu as the way in which you can manipulate another human body. One should base those manipulations on where the opponent is in space.

If an opponent is leaning away from you, push them in that direction. If an opponent is leaning toward you, pull them in that direction. This is contrary to the kind of technique-specific thinking I’d been so used to. I was always concerned with focusing, not on direction or option, but on specific movements and available outcomes.

The three ways that you can affect a person’s body are: push, pull, and isolate. Pulling movements like arm drags are best used when an opponent is leaning slightly forward. This is especially beneficial if you convince or force them to lean forward with your setup.

If a person is stacking you in your guard, then look to pull them past where your head currently is, giving way to their force. This, is where movements like the flower sweep come into play. For years I ran a sit--up guard, and stacking opponents stifled me entirely. Adding a flower sweep to my game changed my guard entirely. New chains of movement that served me years ago became relevant again.

Pushing movements like double-leg takedowns, hip-bump sweeps, and knee-cut passes (a combination of isolate and push movements) are best done when an opponent wants to make space.

This seems to be a minor detail, but the realization that an opponent’s position in space should determine your next move can take your game to the next level. If you can manipulate their position in space, you can misdirect them.

The concept of misdirection was initially proposed to me as “a fake attack on one side followed by a real attack on the other.” To some degree, this is a kind of misdirection. I believe that making the opponent think you’re going to pull them and then push them instead may be a more effective form of misdirection.

Understanding the idea of isolation makes misdirection a more valuable skill. I would define isolation as pressure, like topside pressure that immobilizes something. It could be a kimura grip, but it could also be a pulling motion that keeps the opponent in one position. For instance, on a relatively strong opponent with her elbows in and posture upright, performing an arm-drag might not cause the opponent to go anywhere at all. Instead she holds her position, flexing her arms in tight to her body. This arm drag, this pulling motion has become an isolation motion and needs to be treated as such.

I’m getting this response more as my teammates predicted my arm drags. I’m finding that wrestling to stand up or hitting octopus guard can be a frustrating counter to this type of stiff response.

Isolation should allow you to move freely around the opponent. In good side mount pressure when the opponent begins to shrimp it shouldn’t be an issue to transition to a new side mount positions. That is the power of isolation, namely the freedom to move around the opponent’s body. All of the best kimura trap players get the kimura isolated, and then find ways to move freely around the opponent’s body.

(As a side note it occurs to me that many submissions are complex combinations of all three movements. Squeeze your knees to isolate the arm, pull the wrist down toward the chest or across the body, and push your hips into the base of the tricep-and you’ve performed an armbar.)

I’ve been looking for new ways to teach jiu-jitsu. Rather than performing a series of moves I’ve been thinking more about the base precepts that create all movements sometimes known as gross motor patterns. Before, I would start by allowing  students to play to their particular strengths. I’ve also attempted to get students obsessed with specific movements. Both of these styles have been effective.

We begin this understanding of movements by looking at the opponent’s position in space. Look at which direction they are leaning. If they aren’t leaning, guide them the opposite way that you would like them to go and see if you can’t make them respond against your initial push or pull. I have never taught a class on misdirection or feigning for jiu-jitsu. These concepts are best learned through trial and error, but I hope you can be encouraged to take a chance on mindfully approaching your next roll.