For purposes of control, the body can be divided into two sections: The top and the bottom. The top is everything from the ribcage up. The bottom is everything from the pelvis down. The goal of BJJ is to positionally dominate at least one of these two sections of your opponent (and preferably both). If your opponent can move relatively freely, your ability to finish them will be poor.
In practice, there are many ways to achieve major control, but that’s beyond what I want to talk about here. Mostly I want to point out that the simplest way to look at the body is from the hips down, or from the ribcage up. If you’re new to BJJ, you should constantly ask yourself whether you are maintaining major control. It’s very difficult to achieve minor control (for example, arm control leading to an armbar) without first establishing major control.
There is a dichotomy when it comes to control: Often, the more tightly you control your opponent the fewer submission options you will have. When you lock someone down, as a byproduct, you’re also preventing your own movement.
This is particularly true at lower levels of skill because students haven’t mastered the art of, as Roy Dean calls it, applying “overlapping pressures” as you transition from one control point to another toward the finish. Until you get good at that you’ll have to relinquishing some degree of control in order to get the submission, and that’s usually where the opponent is able to escape.
An interesting paradox emerges as your belt darkens: 1. You are able to exercise more control throughout the entire sequence leading to a submission, and 2. You don’t always need full control because you get comfortable operating in that in-between realm. Marcelo Garcia, just to cite one example, is a master of the in-between game.
These two concepts—more control/less control—broadly speaking, align with the two general styles of BJJ that can be played: A tight, pressure-based game, or light, movement-based game. Most BJJ players are eventually drawn to one style or the other based on their attributes and personality. In my opinion, the complete practitioner should be able to play either game.
The two best examples of these two styles within our lineage would be Mr. Harris and Mr. Dean. They call Harris “the boa” because of his intense pressure game, while Roy Dean, thanks to his agility honed from many years training in several martial arts, has a beautifully fluid, movement game. That isn’t to say that either man is limited to that style—they certainly are not.
At the highest levels, the distinction between the two styles is much more blurred because the master understands how to apply tremendous pressure with absolute precision and finesse, but without limiting their transitional mobility. They can drift in and out of each style of game instantly as needed.
That’s the ultimate goal we are working towards.