Updated: Feb 1, 2020
By Peter Subritzky
I'm going to put myself out on a limb here and say the management of space is the number one skill to develop in our jiu jitsu training, with its mastery being substantially more critical than any other aspect of our sport.
If you've been to any of my classes you will have heard me bang on endlessly about this subject.
We've all heard the saying "position over submission". How do we maintain a position against an opponent who is actively resisting our attempts to impose our technique? Take away all the technical stuff and our maintenance of position comes down to one thing. The control of space.
Evening out physical advantages such as body weight or strength and also any differences in technical ability between you and your opponent, the person who employs the use of space most effectively during the round will invariably enjoy significantly greater rates of success.
Why is so much emphasis put on the shrimp movement in bjj? It's not just some funky break dancing move. It's one of the primary movements used to create space between us and our opponent. The shrimp itself is not so important, it’s the space created by moving our hips away from our opponent that we seek.
During a roll we need space to move. Imagine yourself squashed under a heavy slab of concrete. I'm no physics professor but I do know the reason you can't move when you're under the concrete slab is due to the friction created by the weight of the concrete pressing you into the ground. The same principle applies to us on the mat. If I'm caught underneath someone in side control and both my shoulders are pressed firmly to the mat and my opponent has firmly locked my hips in place, it's going to be extremely difficult to attack them, sweep them or even to recover guard. To do any of those things I need to create space. Personally, I start by lifting my opponent’s chin and using my arms to put a supporting frame between their chest and mine. I then need to create space around my hips so I can insert my shin across their hips or attack with a baseball bat choke. To do this I need to be able to swing my hips away from my opponent or to roll on the spot. None of these movements are possible without first creating space.
Control of space is equally critical when attacking. Remove space to hold your opponent in place while you work to isolate a limb or slip your wrist under their chin for a choke. Now there is a contrary aspect to this in as far as setting traps go. Give space and allow your opponent to move in a specific and predictable way that allows you to employ a preset submission.
Keep all this in mind when drilling and rolling more so than any specific technique. This will make it an aspect that you are working to improve each and every time you step onto the mats. Doing so will see you enjoy a superior rate of improvement.