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16. Off the mat pursuits #1 Decision Trees

Posted Dec 18 2008 7:29pm

Tree Whether a coach, a BJJ athlete or both, Decision Trees are a good off the mat pursuit to use and also to share.

In there basic form they map out pathways, avenues and eventualities throughout a series of events. This is something which you can use in your everyday BJJ training to problem solve and shortcut decision making.

As I talked about in the article React rather than Recall I covered the idea of limiting hesitation with reactionary tactics and decision trees are almost a pre-cursor and commensurate off the mat pursuit which will bed in the ideas covered in the article. (So if you’ve not read the article check it out and if you have you might want to re-read it after this one for a different comprehension of the initial idea covered)

So, if we take a basic overview of BJJ and condense it quixotically into a decision tree we get something which looks like this:

(Figure 1.1)

Basic D-tree

As you can see the theoretical path starts on the knees, moves into guard, then the person sweeps, secures side control and finally submits.

If only BJJ were that easy!

As we’ve talked about before chaos acts as a spanner in the works and means that unfortunately the process won’t work every time.

But what we can do is use the tree as an overview of the possible scenarios that might occur. In this case the person has gone into guard, this may be passed and an escape node will now be introduced, then they take the back and the tree grows and grows exponentially.

If you’re new to BJJ/Submission Grappling or a child it is extremely hard to try and digest what the hell is going on and the number 1 question I get asked on the mat by athletes who have been training less then a month usually goes something like:

‘What do I do now?’


‘What am I meant to be doing from here?’

What the Figure 1.1 does is show people in a manageable form what the game looks like in its entirety. Something I now has helped me explain BJJ to new comers, but it’s not just a tool coaches can use, anyone can plant their own tree.

Decision Trees can be drawn up to create a competition game-plan, sew up the holes in your game or expand certain aspects of your current game to new levels.

Take for instance the next diagram. (It’s worth noting that this is actually a tree I’m using on the mat at the moment.)

(Figure 1.2)

Half Guard d-tree As you can see I’ve telescoped the game down to start from Half Guard and finish with a Rear Naked Choke. (RNC)

(Thanks to Stephen Kesting for the fantastic RNC video inspiration andPhil for the tweaks and coaching)

What you have is once I’ve worked/start in Half Guard I can do four things (Ok I can also move back to my knees and also re-guard):



Do nothing and get passed

Take the back

In this instance working for the RNC I’ve sensibly favoured the ‘Take the back’ option and then worked Stephen Kestings plan to secure and finish the RNC.

By breaking down the complex strategy into smaller manageable tactics I’m a lot more likely to achieve my goal. At first when I started playing with this tree once I had taken the back I worked for sessions and sessions on just securing the Harness, which is principally the first step of setting up with choke. Once I could comfortably work that on everyone with different entries and ideas, I moved on to the Tiger Claw and so on and so on until a number of weeks down the line I’m working a modest yet highly effective and successful RNC game.

The benefits of taking the time off the mat to draw up the Decision Tree has meant that I can maximise the time I have on the mat. Having everything written down really focused my reactionary instincts of how to set-up a RNC. Instead of trying to Recall what I have previously used, seen or tried - I’m now instinctively Reacting with the appropriate step of the process. This means that the hesitation and vital seconds taken up by thinking are now replaced with laser focus on what to do where and when. The tree also acts as a map if I get lost or things go wrong along the way. If my opponent counters my Harness for instance I now know that I must go back and secure it before I move on and so the process continues.

This can be used infinitely for any position, move or strategy and more importantly it can be something you can do when you’re at home and not training. (Especially useful if you’re injured but I’ll go into training vs injuries in a later blog)

What I’m not trying to do with this idea is turn you all into Pavlovian dogs of war or robots with only certain moves and massive weaknesses in your game, but use this idea to your advantage.

I personally wanted to develop my under worked RNC game and with the use of the tree and plenty of practice I’ve found numerous entries, counters, counters to those counters but most importantly a solid interchangeable and reactive RNC game. Now once I’ve decided on the next aspect to work I’ll do the same process and hit the mats.

If you’ve read this far do consider giving the idea a go and let me know how you get on with it.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Adam Adshead

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