To Game plan or not Game plan, that is the Question….

Many times, especially in Traditional Martial Arts (TMA), we are taught to flow and accept the technique your opponent gives you, and then respond accordingly. Even one of the greatest martial artists of all time Bruce Lee once stated in his book – A Warrior’s Journey, “Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash.”

Let’s break that down a little. Being fluid in your technique and accepting of an opponent’s technique to then respond certainly works in many facets in striking standup, Judo Tachi-Waza. However, I’d argue the point that having a game plan in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is ESSENTIAL.

If you’re currently training in BJJ, and have a few months experience under your belt, the following should resonate. That said, have you ever been grappling with someone much better then you, and they take you into what older grappler’s love to call “Deep Waters” – and you don’t know what is happening and how to stop it?

In working to become better, it’s honestly one of the worst feelings I’ve encountered, because you feel like you are drowning and whatever you do it just seems to make it worse.

The knowledge, skill, and experience necessary to accurately, effortlessly and easily respond to an opponent’s technique – “like water” – takes years and thousands of hours of mat time to earn and accomplish. For many of us – we are not there, yet. So, what can we do to safeguard ourselves and have a lifeline to “shore”?

Create a game plan!

Having the knowledge in your head around the positions you are experienced in, positions you have answers to, and responses to are invaluable when rolling. If you do techniques and you are stopped, you expose an area of your game that you have to add to and plan for.


Now, that’s not to say just having a game-plan and drilling it to a sharp edge is all you need. I have rolled with higher belts and they see my game-plan, see what I am trying to accomplish, and then cut through it like they had a katana. That’s the experience they have and knowledge where they flow around your game-plan and then crash on you, just like Bruce Lee described.

To that point, it’s one thing to say we have a game-plan, even another to drill it. But if it’s not codified, written down, is it really a thing you can rely on?

In my opinion, no.

For me personally, I found my game became more defined when I used what’s called Mind-Mapping.  Basically, think of it as a way to do a computerized flow chart in your head. This may sound silly, or over-complicated, but the idea behind documenting anything is that the simple fact that when you write something down you help ingrain the concept into your head more effectively. And, it doesn’t stop there, mind-mapping can help you even see new opportunities to flow from one position to another.

High-level competitors and professors from Professor Eddie Bravo, Rickson Gracie, Ricardo De La Riva use mind-mapping to codify and document their game. But, more importantly, it allows them and their students the ability to see how to connect these positions, moves, and submissions that can sometimes be a jumble in our heads swirling around as we spar.

To help further, here are some great, free, software tools that I have used for better planning.
(Note: I am not affiliated with any of these software manufactures):

  • MindMaple –
  • XMind –
  • Coggle –


Try it and see how your game improves – it certainly helped me out!

Writing credited to  John Byrne