Reader Question: When I’m drilling a new move should I be working it for both my right and left sides or just pick one? How do I know which one to pick?
Only work one side at a time. Pick a side and stick to it. The more proficient I become on one side of my body, the more informed my other side will be once I decide to work it.
Expertise in the art doesn’t revolve strictly around the ability to replicate choreography. There is a large part of it that is about sensitivity. I am focused on feeling my partner’s weight shift, finding a proper angle, and executing during the proper timing.
Working from my strongest side first will yield the quickest successes. These successes will keep me motivated through the inevitable failures. If I am right hand dominant, I am already accustomed to performing more dextrous movements with that side of my body. The difficulties in executing the move due to lack of coordination are reduced. Now, I get to worry more about remembering the steps, and feeling the details than making my body move that way.
This answer seems counter intuitive at first for new grapplers. When we play other sports and find ourselves dribbling in Basketball or Soccer we focus on both sides. In sports like Tennis athletes focus on having a good backhand and forehand. In Jiu Jitsu however we want to have strong tools, not necessarily equal.
Bruce Lee famously said
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who had practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
He was right when it comes to drilling too. Much better to have worked on 1,000 elbow escapes from mount on my right side, than 500 on my right side and 500 on my left side. I will have collected twice as many repetitions to my right side if I only drilled it, and the tool will literally be twice as effective.
Which side should I work then?
Many moves in Jiu Jitsu are actually symmetrical. In the moment, while rolling, I get to pick which side I want to work from. Examples are playing top or bottom in guard or mount. From these positions I get to pick which side to use. My opponent can’t do much to force me to mount escape to my left side if I would rather go to my right without opening other opportunities.
When the movement options are symmetrical I always pick my strong side to work on. I minimize using my “dumb side” as much as possible. In this way, I have the best chance of executing what I set out to achieve.
For new Jiu Jitsu players they will probably just mirror the side the coach shows the move on. Since most people are right hand, there is a good chance coach is as well and that he’ll be teaching towards your right hand dominance.
If you are a left handed person who has just started Jiu Jitsu, you may visit with your coach about your dilemma. With sufficient mental juggling you can attempt to just execute the move on your strong side, doing everything backwards of what the coach showed.
In my experience though, most people have trouble mirroring the movements of a technique on their strong sides, so unless you have an aptitude at this I would initially just work the same side the coach shows.
Once you have a certain level of mastery of a move you can always start working it on your other side. I have had some moves which I drilled for a month or two on one side, and after a week or two of working them on my traditionally “weak side” I found I was actually better on that side and changed directions.
Just because you start a move on one side doesn’t mean it has to stay that way forever.
What about the positions that aren’t symmetrical?
So, if my opponent is passing my guard, he gets to pick whether he wants to try to pass towards my right or my left. I can do a few things to encourage him to attempt to pass into my strength, but the choice is ultimately his. In positions like this I want to focus on the most common side first.
Most people pass guard towards their opponent’s right side (the passer’s left). When working side control escapes, starting with escaping side control with the opponent on the corresponding side to the most common passes is the best use of time.
If I were drilling my escapes to my left side instead, I wouldn’t get near as many live repetitions in sparring, because my opponents are typically looking to go to the other side. The improvement of my side control escapes would be slowed.
Since I wouldn’t have strong options to escape the most common type of side control, there is a good chance I’d spend most of my rounds stuck there getting squished.
Don’t know which side is the most common? Just pick one and train. As you roll a significant number of rounds you will notice patters with certain moves almost everyone performs on a certain side. Make sure you are getting in repetitions on that variation as the most common.
This is also where being left handed can be an advantage just like in boxing. The unorthodox nature of passing to the opponents less prepared side of side control can be a huge asset. This tactic is exactly what Leo Viera did to shut down Eddie Bravo at the ADCC after Eddie beat Royler.
What about positions that aren’t symmetrical AND opponents attack both sides nearly equally?
When there is no benefit for more use cases of working one side, I always default to my best side. When an opponent is on my back they typically want to get their right hand into the lapel to bow and arrow me, but if I leave a clear shot for their left arm to get the other lapel instead, they will happily bow and arrow me on that side instead. While there is a tendency to be choked to one side, the percentages are much closer to even.
In this case, I can’t practice both escapes simultaneously, so I start by focusing on my strong side. Interesting enough for most right handers, strong sides tend to match up with the small percentage higher likelihood choices the attacker makes.