Systems in BJJ: Understanding How to Put It All Together

One of the most significant differences between Brazilian jiu-jitsu and “traditional martial arts” like Karate, Tae Kwon Do, and others is that BJJ is not yet done cooking.  New moves, strategies, and concepts are constantly being created.  One of the most recently concepts to emerge is that of “systems.”

A system is essentially a game-plan that covers a wide range of conditions and moves you toward some central goal.  John Danaher is probably not the inventor of “systems” but his recent work on leg-attacks and his even more recent back-attacks system have pushed the word into mainstream usage.  Danaher’s leg-lock system is basically centered around achieving the leg-entanglement known as ashi-garami and from there hunting for a heel hook.  The focused nature of the system is important.  While one could theoretically transition into and out of a variety of systems, they typically include a start-to-finish mindset.  Once you’ve spent the time and energy entering into the leg-lock system it simply doesn’t make sense to transition out of it.

But are systems really all that new?

Sometimes jiu-jitsu gets compared to chess, but on a fairly fundamental level it can just as easily be compared to Rock Paper Scissors.  Many moves have a fairly direct counter.  Someone trying to cross-collar choke you from the mount?  Grab that arm, bridge your hips and roll.  They prevent the roll by posting on a foot? Use the space they’ve given you and switch to the elbow escape. Systems are simply a means of trapping your opponent within a cycle.

In the prior example, say you attempt the elbow escape but they shut it down by putting their knee back down.  Well, you go back to the upa escape!

There are a few of these two move combinations that when paired work shockingly well.  Another example, this time from the top of the mount is:

Americana. Partner straightens their arm. Straight armbar. Partner bends their arm. Americana.

Ah, but I hear you naysayer…this is not a system!  It doesn’t include how to get to the position!  What if instead of straightening their arm they bend their arm down into a kimura position?

I think this is exactly what Danaher has does very well with his systems.  His systems are very comprehensive and include entries, a variety of solutions to common problems, as well as core principles that guide your actions.

So, is a two move combination a system? Probably not.  For the word “system” to be meaningful, instead of just a synonym for combination, it has to encompass a band of knowledge.

If you want to create a system for submitting people from the mount then you must include:

  • Entries (from side control, from half guard, from guard sweeps, from the back, etc)
  • Stabilization
  • Attacks*

The mount doesn’t really require a “defensive” element, as there are very few submissions that can be reliably mounted from the bottom, but most other positions would require some knowledge of how to avoid submissions yourself.

More than just include a list of submissions, it is important that those submissions work well with one another.  While the one-in one-out collar choke is wonderful, it doesn’t pair particularly well with the Ezequiel choke.  It does go very well with the spinning armbar – as the armbar functions nicely as a response to a common defense to the one-in one-out.

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