Combinations in BJJ
Flow Like Water
If nothing else represents Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, it is the ability to flow from one position to another. But this isn't always the easiest thing to do; it's tough to determine what a next logical good move is, or when to do it. Here, we'll take a look at some examples that can help you determine when and why to make the transition to another move. We'll cover some examples of upper body chains, a relatively simple lower body submission chain, and a final chain that combines both submissions and positions.
Chain, Chain, Chain!
This particular combination moves through a lot of different attacks, so it lets you learn to deal with a variety of submission defenses and escapes. Start from knee on stomach, and set up a solid spinning armbar. Don't forget to hug your partner's arm tight, close to your body, and plant your foot as close to their shoulder as you can get it. As you begin to complete the turn, your partner begins to come up on top. During this transition, stay tight, but flow, allowing your body to turn over (tuck your chin here!), following to your next attack: the Kimura from the bottom. This can be used to flip your partner back over into the armbar position. This time, as you straighten the arm, your partner turns their thumb up, performing a "hitchhiker" or "runaway" escape from your armbar. Since they are essentially running around in a circle during this escape, let them do this, but make the transition to the omoplata by changing your angle slightly and kicking your leg through. As your partner postures up and in to defend the omoplata, this is the ideal time to transition to the triangle. The big takeaway from this drill is that you feel yourself beginning to lose the submission you're attacking, and that is the exact moment when you make the switch to another submission. The only way to get any good at this is to feel your partner escaping your submissions, so be sure you are allowing some of your training partners small opportunities to escape (some of the time, mind you!). This will help you learn quickly what works and what doesn't.
Lower Body Flowing
Although this is a fairly short combination for a flow drill, it's an extremely good example of what I mean when I say that you should allow your partner to do more work than you while rolling! Start with an inverted heel hook set up. As you begin to torque your partner's heel, keep the grip that you have, and allow them to try circling free. Your inclination here may be to follow them, and that's certainly not a bad tactic if you are pretty sure you can finish the first attack, but when your partner gets half a step ahead, it is generally better to allow them to escape and think ahead to the next move, rather than trying to catch up to them (they have the initiative here). As your partner circles around, resist the temptation to change your hip positioning (other than during the kneebar finish itself). Snag the kneebar here, but then allow your partner to continue rotating beyond the kneebar (after all, this is a realistic scenario for rolling, as you may not be as fast as your partner). From here, it's a simple transition into 50/50 for the finishing heel hook.
Combining Guard Passing and Submissions
Here's a relatively simple way to combine a positional advance (guard pass) with a submission attack. This really takes the combination game to another level, because it's relatively difficult to defend both a guard pass and a submission attack at the same time, or rather, one right after the other. By the time your partner is finished addressing the first attack, you've moved onto the second attack, and so on. Here, start with a nice knee cut guard pass. If you can get the underhook, you can almost certainly finish the pass, but as your partner wins the underhook battle, you can backstep into a viable kneebar attack. As your partner triangles their legs in order to defend the kneebar, slide into a finishing straight ankle lock submission.
Favorite type of combination?
There's really no substitute for mat time when developing a flowing combination game, but you certainly can learn faster by "listening" to the subtle cues your partner gives you while rolling. If you're in the midst of attacking for a submission, don't lose sight of what your partner is doing while resisting. If they are getting ahead of you during this moment, it might be best to allow them to escape and then move on to the next submission or position. As always, please let me know how these techniques work out for you!