How to Master Transitions – BJJ Fanatics

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Transitions show the artistry of BJJ. 

Knowing how to perform a triangle, the armbar, or a rear naked choke is essential but mastering transitions moves you from good to great.  Bernardo Faria’s Transition Mastery DVD is an exceptional guide to assist you in how to move your body, requiring deep understanding of: (1) Anatomy; (2) Intentional Movement; and (3) Choosing your battles carefully.

More importantly, it is how you express yourself.  How you choose to approach your life. Grappling champions like Jeff Glover, express themselves by flying in the air submitting opponents at every single angle, like a flying hybrid Honey Badger attacking a King Cobra. A relentless opponent, I had the privilege of fighting him at the 2007 No Gi World Team Trials.  Worthy opponents challenge your soul because of transitions. What made him so dangerous at the time was his ability to strike like a snake and catch like a falcon. Because Jeff was one of the first waves of young Americans who trained in BJJ, while regularly fighting wrestlers and grapplers, he developed phenomenal transitions. By adding knowledge of wrestling and judo, it gives you more options to choose from, as you develop your own unique transition style.  Today, training in several styles is common but back in the early days it was revolutionary.

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Today, you can go to BJJ Fanatics and purchase DVDs from the best of the best, but back in the early days of BJJ being introduced in the United States, that wasn’t available. You paid for your training from whomever was available in your hometown.  I was fortunate, learning BJJ from Pedro Sauer (8th Degree Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Coral Belt under legendary Grand Master Helio Gracie and Master Rickson Gracie), beginning at age six in 1992.  Professor Sauer’s technique was flawless. I had a thoroughbred coach. I never had to question my technique, which allowed me to fully explore transitions until I could find my own style.  I remember as a 9-year-old Yellow Belt, hearing Rickson Gracie say, “You have to know what your opponent is going to do.” For years, I pondered how to do this.

As a 16-year-old Blue Belt, I had a random conversation with some older active military Airborne Rangers (sniper and spotter) who were training at the Pedro Sauer BJJ Gym, between missions. In the middle of a breath-taking account of a recent confirmed kill, I asked them, “How do you know where your target is going to be?”

The spotter replied, “There can be more than one road, but they must all lead to the same place.  Then, timing beats everything. If you don’t have the patience to wait for the target, you will miss the magic moment.” 

Resonating in my heart, I knew this was a universal truth, applying to all aspects of life.  In BJJ, I started creating chains of techniques I could use to drive my opponent where I wanted him/her to go.  I call it funneling. All the techniques you have learned go into the funnel, moving your opponent patiently through to the bottom where there is just one option left.  Then, timing beats everything.

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As you are learning transitions, I recommend practicing the movements of the greats, like Bernardo Faria, as well as branching out to other Grappling World Champions.  Just like any artist, you begin by learning from the best until eventually you can expand using your own style. Most musicians play songs others have written for several years before they have the skills to write their own music. BJJ is full of the same creativity and artistry of music. In the zone of my transitions, I become a creator. I find myself smiling from the excitement, visualizing the future moves of my opponent.  Sometimes I feel so much of their energy, it’s like I can read their mind. When I am in the zone of transitions, I feel pure freedom to be fully who I am. In closing, I can’t resist the urge to do an anti-quote from Tyler Durdan (Fight Club): You are a unique and beautiful snowflake. My advice is to find your own unique and beautiful snowflake using it to build your signature transitional style.

p.s. As always, remember to follow your academy’s rules.  Stay strong out there, my friend.

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