The terms “success” and “failure” could also be expressed as “safety” and “danger”.
Whenever we roll we are always somewhere on the continuum between success and failure. 100% success/safety means we submitted our opponent. 100% failure/danger means we got tapped. We are always somewhere on that line.
Maybe you have a dominant position and you’re starting to work for a submission. Let’s call that 90% success in your favor. But at the last moment, your opponent manages to reverse the position. Now the arrow starts moving toward danger. Your 90% success might now be 60% failure.
See how that works? We are always somewhere between success and failure, and that position is almost always in constant flux. It’s a moving marker. As you establish an offensive position the arrow moves toward success, but as you lose the position the arrow begins moving toward failure.
When you train against opponents of roughly your level, the fluctuations tend to be very wide. One minute you’re attacking for a finish, the next minute you’re fighting to deny getting tapped. Big, wide, continuous swings. When you train against someone much better than you, the fluctuations tend to be much smaller, and usually only in your opponent’s favor.
Why does this matter?
Because one of the differences between an advanced player and a novice is that the former will always adjust immediately if the arrow starts moving in the wrong direction. An advanced player will respond to a 1% momentum change. They won’t wait. They don’t get tunnel vision. They are never committed to one exact outcome. They are always ready to respond as reality changes. In contrast, a novice player will usually wait until the arrow has been moving far too long toward danger before making an adjustment, making it much, much harder to recover.
There’s a saying in Jiu Jitsu: What’s the best defense? Not being there in the first place. A deep triangle is much harder to escape from than a postural change to deny the triangle the moment your opponent throws their leg over your shoulder. When your opponent begins setting up a triangle, that’s the moment when the arrow has begun moving in the direction of failure. That’s the moment when you should respond.
One of the things you can do to improve your game immediately is this: Constantly monitor your position in the continuum and adjust immediately if the arrow begins moving toward danger. Don’t wait. Don’t get tunnel vision. Respond. Even if the arrow has only moved slightly toward failure.
Now, it’s true that it takes experience to recognize the exact moment when a shift happens, so by definition, a novice is less prepared to respond instantly. But it’s my conviction that a novice can accelerate their ability to recognize simply by actively monitoring their position and by taking action whenever they sense a shift has happened. Do that and your game will improve.