Neutral Game

Imagine you’re in a self-defense scenario. Would you rather be controlling someone, so you can strike or restrain as needed, or getting struck and restrained? You’d prefer the former, a position where you’re at an advantage.

This extends more to than who’s getting struck or restrained. Would you rather trying to escape someone’s back control, or controlling someone from behind? Would you rather be on bottom trying to get away, or away forcing someone to stay on bottom? All of these positions involve someone who has fewer options available to them.

The person with their back taken needs to fight their way away. However, this also makes them relatively more predictable. Contrast with the person in back control can attack if they choose, increase their pressure, or back away. They have the luxury or more choices. One person is an advantageous position, the other is in a disadvantageous position.

What is a neutral game?

When you and your opponent are fighting for space in order to gain an advantage over one another.

Let’s look at all the things you can do when the round starts, or anytime you find yourself in the neutral game. Against most people in the neutral game, you are surprisingly safe.

If one person is sitting and the other is standing: The standing person could try to attack from above with a charging/diving attack, the seated person could scoot in and out at various tempos, or either could from the front, by using body and joint movements to attach/deattach.

There is no other way you can be “attacked” in the neutral game.

If your opponent hits you with a charging attack, they could get a huge reward. However, while they’re in space and closing the distance, they can’t block. If you can beat them to control (via grips, frames, hooks), they could possibly take damage.

Gripsies

Gripsies – Moving into a range where you can attach to an opponent and attack them.

Offensive Gripsies are the purest form of gripsies. You basically move into range where one of your quicker body or joint movements just attaches to your opponent. This style calls for you to move forward, which has the bonus of pushing backward (possibly limiting their mobility options).

Defensive Gripsies can also go by another term “whiff punishing.” While the offensive style has you move forward to attack, defensive are about moving you away to counter attack. The idea is when your opponent moves forward to attack you, you move away or in a way to make your opponent’s movement miss its intended action, or “whiff.”

Offensive Movement

Offensive movement serves as a purpose to gain ground and make your opponent move towards being cornered. This idea comes from the jiu-jitsu practitioner’s mindset, given they know about offensive and defensive gripsies. If they believe you will move forward and try to use your poke move, they will try to move away and whiff punish. Using this theory, you can use it to your advantage to gain more ground and move farther forward if they simply continue waiting for you to attack while moving away.

However, if they realize what you are doing, it then becomes a game of “I know that you know that I know…” and your opponent will take appropriate actions with intentions to attack you.

Defensive Movement

Sometimes when an aggressor is playing gripsies, they will tend to buffer one move after another. A prime example is a tight crossface buffered with a tight far shoulder underhook and squeeze in side control. If you see/feel this and get a sense that the opponent is doing this, sometimes it’s helpful to walk your feet away into a kickstand and turn into it. If an opponent does this buffer [cancelling one move into another], that is unsafe and you block it, you can attack them before they can do anything (re-guarding/sweeping). The drawback to this is that you are in your opponents poke range while they are also moving into a range to attack you. If they recognize what you are doing, they may be apt to get close enough to pressure you.

Zoning

Intentionally keeping distance and pressure on your opponent, either reading their style or forcing them into playing a certain way. Adaptive to close quarter situations and able to make good on big control opportunities.

A good zoning jiu-jitsu practitioner will always create opportunities for themselves by keeping their opponent away from them as to gain control of the match, then adjust to their opponent’s tactics/counters/pre-contextual clues and act accordingly. People with stronger zoning tools make charging and rushing a high-risk, high-reward scenario.

Zoning doesn’t have to involve repeated moves at all. Zoning isn’t just keeping your distance, it’s about keeping within a very specific distance, which may not even be a body and arm length away. It might be just barely within range of a normal movement. The idea is to establish this distance and keep it, because it limits your opponent’s options and allows you to react more easily, giving you the control.

What should you be doing in a match?

Here’s a general guideline for you. The one with better zoning attacks will usually take the role of defensive gripsies, and the one with shorter zone game will generally take the role of offensive gripsies. This can change at any point during a roll.

Jiu-jitsu is not rigid; it’s fluid and adaptive. You need to be as well.

Psychological Game

The potential for greater advantage, and the fear of getting hit, become tools just as important as who actually successfully connects.

Neutral is often overlooked as one of the most important aspects in jiu-jitsu and martial arts. It’s where the game begins, where the mind games originate from, and the most basic area where you need to understand yourself, your opponent, and the abilities each of you have.

Overlooked Topics

I want to talk about a topic that gets overlooked. When you practice jiu-jitsu, you are generally concerned with the specific guards, sweeps, controls, and movements you do. Inexperienced jiu-jitsu practitioners believe that you need to be doing something all the time.

As you get better, you realize it’s not how much you do that matters; it’s the economy and efficiency of what you do and how useful those movements are that matters.

Summary

Neutral is often overlooked as one of the most important aspects in jiu-jitsu and martial arts. It’s where the game begins, where the mind games originate from, and the most basic area where you need to understand yourself, your opponent, and the abilities each of you have.