The Brazilian Jiu Jitsu credo “Position before Submission” is well known and is a principle, although not used 100% of the time, that we should adhere to. However, I think another credo that is certainly ignored by a great many of us who train in BJJ is this: “Transition over Position.”
A simple definition of Transition is “the movement from one position to another position.” The key word here is MOVEMENT. Where positions are static, Transitions are kinetic. They are like Yin & Yang, having a symbiotic relationship. We need to both understand/utilize Positions, AND be able to Transition to other positions. The problem arises when we over-focus on the Positions. Granted, Positions are an integral part of the art, but so is movement. We can be experts at Positions and Positional control/dominance, but if we cannot move between these positions, we will never really be experts at Jiu Jitsu.
A Kindergarten analogy would be that of a dot-to-dot picture.
Positions are like the numbered dots. Transitions are the lines we draw to connect the dots. Simple enough? It could be argued that the lines are actually MORE important than the dots. When a child focuses only on the numbered dots, his/her lines will be squiggly and ugly. But, if the child focuses on making each line perfectly straight in between each dot, the they will have a better, more accurate, picture. The straighter the line, the prettier the end result.
In my opinion, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is best expressed through smooth, accurate movements. Transitions are a large part of that movement. We know that transitions exist, but tend to overlook their importance anyway. Why? This is what I think: Transitions are nebulous, hard to identify and define. They are in flux, always changing and moving. The brain gets fatigued trying to make sense of them. Positions are much easier for us to grasp. They remain in one place and are easily identified and categorized. Thus, they are far less confusing. In short, Positions are easy, Transitions are difficult. By nature, something moving has more complexity than something at rest.
There are many schools of thought in the BJJ community. Each academy has its own style or culture. No one style is better than the other, they are just different. For me, the “flow like water” style is where its at. It is the most challenging AND the most beautiful. A true artist seems to float on or around his opponent effortlessly. With grace and equanimity. This is all due to mastery of Transitions.
Are Positions important? For sure. I am not discounting their importance. All I a saying is that Transitions are , at minimum, equally important.
The beauty of the art lies in Transitions
To “flow like water” we must pay attention to our movement, Transitions in particular. The movement does not need to be fast. In fact, if we focus on speed our movement tends to be choppy. Instead, the movements should be smooth. With smoothness comes speed. So, smoothness breeds speed, but speed does not breed smoothness.
Start viewing Positions like stepping stones to other positions. Better yet, see them as lily pads. Jumping from pad to pad swiftly before they start to sink. If you do this you wont settle into a position to think or rest.
If you are in a Position and you don’t know where to Transition to (or how to Transition from), wing it! Take a guess and just move. If you guess wrong, you learn. That’s worth it. Messing up is a small price to pay for knowledge. It is better than sitting still, afraid to move and not learning a damn thing.
What if you are afraid to Transition because you feel your opponent (training partner) might be baiting you? Do it anyway. Stop being terrified of “the bait” possibility. Force him to show you his cards (ie. the technique he has up his sleeve for you). You will learn a great deal, and who knows, he may be bluffing. In either case it will give you the opportunity to polish your movement or, in the worst case, practice your defense.
Caveat: This is mostly for a TRAINING MINDSET where the goal is learning and improvement. The COMPETITION MINDSET is about winning, not learning. Thus movement in competition tends to be much more conservative. That’s because with movement comes risk.