When I was a couple of months into BJJ training, I heard that one has to pay one's dues on the bottom. That those who spend much time on the bottom in the beginning end up with solid defenses and escapes which firstly ensure survival and secondly bring about good positions which lead to attacks.
Well, I think I spent pretty much my entire first year on the bottom. There were times when I thought that's all I'm destined to ever do in BJJ and I will admit that at times it was very frustrating.
But from being owned and submitted fast I went to being owned and not submitted quite so fast. Then I managed to escape sometimes and it evidently became more and more difficult to submit me. Ah yes, we all know how it is, one day you fly high because you fluked a sweep and then a submission, or you just had a good start and the right body part moved in the right direction by accident and you ended up on top. Then, the next day, every Joe and his dog sqash and dominate you, rip your arms out and choke the living daylights out of you and you limp home wondering why you come for these beatings.
So time went on and on the balance of things, my sweeps happened more often. My escapes happened more often, I saw openings I never used to see, I managed to pass guards. I managed to stay out from under the heavy guys more often and found that the big new guys didn't always succeed in muscling me around. I started being a bit more aggressive at the start of rolls which set me up for better positions. My already reasonably closed guard got even better.
Ok, and now comes the next big thing. Due to my lack of "top time", I have little experience in applying all those lovely submissions. I've learned loads of armbars, figure fours and chokes from various top positions. But I have only ever practiced most of them on a compliant partner. So when it comes to rolling, I find myself in mount or side control, I have a great deal of trouble setting up and finishing subs. About the only place I'm reasonably ok with is back control. I guess it's because it's so dominant. So one part of the problem is lack of practice. But that will come.
The other problem is the mindset. Since I started, I've primarily been concerned with defending and escaping. But what I need to do is think of attacking. Even when I'm defending or escaping, I need to look at ways to turn the table and make the game mine. If I wait until I have a good position before I look for a sub, then likely I'll give my partner the time to consolidate, defend and even start escaping before I have time to even set up, let alone finish a sub. So I need a plan of attack. From every position, I need to know my best submission and one or two backup ones which flow on from there. But really, I need to rewire my brain so that I no longer think defensively, but offensively. That includes looking out for loose arms and exposed necks all the time and then find a pathway to attack that target. I need to arrive at the attacking (dominant) position already set for the attack, and ready with the next one if he defends.
That's a pretty fundamental shift in thinking. Actually, I like taking the initiative and the thought of having a string of attacks up my sleeve makes me smile. So it's not like I'm a timid soul. But it's so easy to get into a mindset. Same as I ended up in the "I can't do it" mindset regarding takedowns (which I have successfully discarded), I'm in a defensive mindset out of habit and experience. Now that my skill level has improved, it needs to be matched up with an aggressive attitude. I know that aggressive sounds a bit over the top, I'm not aggressive with my training partners. What I means is the opposite to defensive, taking the initiative and dictating the pace of the match. I hope I've expressed that well enough.
So for next year, my goal is to be active rather than passive and to develop a small arsenal of effective techniques which are part of a small and simple game plan.
I think BJJ will be even more fun next year :-) And of course that will translate into my no-gi grappling and standup stuff as well.