Theory: Offense vs Defense in Jiu-Jitsu

I’m going to introduce this blog with an idea I have on the nature of offense and defense in jiu-jitsu and what makes a submission work.

When I first started training, I was messing around with techniques from everywhere just like everyone else. I’d watch something on youtube, try it out the next day, then if that didn’t work, I’d try something else, and on and on and on…

Over time however, I found myself naturally having a higher success rate with one or two submissions than the others. I decided to stick with these submissions and become an offensive specialist.

To this day, it was one of the best decisions I’ve made regarding my development as a jiu-jitsu athlete, and this post is going to go into the details behind why.

To finish a submission consistently against opponents with similar or greater levels of experience than you, you must have more practice at attacking with that submission than they do at defending against it.


Because defense, by nature, is easier than offense. Defending takes less energy and overall skill than offense. Defense is passive whereas offense is active and requires energy and initiative.

You see this dynamic play out in jiu-jitsu all the time. By tucking your elbows in and keeping your hands by your neck, you effectively defend against 95% of all submissions. Trying to submit someone however, involves breaking grips and physically forcing your opponent’s limbs away from structurally strong positions.

If you’ve practiced attacking with 20 armbars and your physically equivalent opponent has practiced defending against 20 armbars, chances are that you won’t be able to submit them with an armbar.

The only way to consistently submit opponents who have equal or greater training time than you is to stack your “training points” in a single submission so that your offensive skill in that technique is greater than their defensive skill against it.

Think about it – if you train three submissions for an hour each, and I have an accumulated hour of practice defending against each of those three submissions, how are you going to be able to submit me?

Assuming equal levels of experience, athleticism, strength and weight, you can’t! My experience defending against those submissions is going to neutralize your experience attacking with those submissions.

That might seem obvious, but if you look at the way most people train, you realize that they’re either unaware of this idea or not applying it in their training.

Most people show up to practice, learn the technique of the day, and try it out when they roll. If that doesn’t work, they try something else, and if that doesn’t work, they try something else and on and on and on…

Do you see the problem here?

Your typical BJJ guy or girl has not accumulated enough specific practice on any single offensive technique. They know a bit of everything, but so does everyone else. They have no competitive edge.

You need a skill advantage in your offense to be able to submit your opponents consistently. And since everyone gains roughly equal exposure to defending against a wide variety of submissions over time, you can only gain this advantage in one of two ways:

  1. You can put in more hours on the mat than everyone, and thus gain more training time in general than your competition. But for most people this isn’t an option, and even if it is, there’s a far more efficient route:
  1. You can concentrate your time and effort into mastering one specific submission that is going to become your primary submission

If you’re like every other BJJ practitioner and try to attack with a bit of everything, your lack of specialization means that your offense will be nullified by your average opponent’s defense.

In the same way that a spear is effective because it directs the force of an attacker’s thrust into a sharp and concentrated point, for your jiu-jitsu offense to be effective, you have to concentrate your training time and effort into mastering one (or a few) specific submissions.

Eventually, what you want to do is take this concept and apply it to every stage of your offense. You should specialize in your takedowns, your guard-pulls, your guard-passing, etc.

When you do that consistently over time, you should build yourself a chain of techniques that will take you from the beginning of a grappling match (or any relatively neutral position) to finishing with your chosen submission. It should look something like this:

Single-leg takedown -> knee-slide guard pass -> side-control -> kimura


Guard-pull -> full guard -> armbar

Those are two examples of what I like to call an offensive sequence in jiu-jitsu. An offensive sequence is any combination of techniques that can take you from a starting or neutral position in grappling to you submitting your opponent when executed successfully.

To see an offensive sequence in action, click here.

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