What makes the difference between the arm lock technique of a good blue belt and a black belt? Elements such as setups and timing for sure, but there is a less obvious difference in skill.
I’ve heard it described as “micro adjustments”:small, almost imperceptible movements, and applications of tension or weight placement that magnify the effectiveness of a technique.
These adjustments may also be considered part of invisible jiu-jitsu in that an observer from a distance would find it difficult to detect. But the person receiving the technique can definitely feel the difference in the technique!
I attended several seminars with former UFC tournament champion Oleg “The Russian Bear” Takrarov. Oleg had submitted a number of opponents with leg submissions in no holds barred matches and was teaching the straight ankle lock. I had been enthusiastically studying leg locks and was privately proud of my fearsome blue belt prowess. Ha ha!
Getting ankle locked by Taktarov was an entirely different experience than by my training partners! I had been shown the ankle lock by BJJ black belts and thought that was the height of the technique.
The details and precision that Taktarov demonstrated were far higher than I had experienced. He took each component of the basic ankle lock and was able to adjust his hand placement for maximum leverage (and pain!). His knees were clamped on my leg like a vice, and his hips had turned to the exact angle to be able to apply the pressure in exactly the correct direction. He was able to adjust each part of the technique to its maximum efficiency.
It was an eye opener for sure!
This sensibility comes from both a deep knowledge of the details and, less obviously, the ability to feel the technique and make micro adjustments.
A different sized opponent, a different angle that you enter into the position and multiple other factors will require you to make several micro adjustments to make your technique tight as possible.
How does one acquire this ability to make these micro adjustments?
Your instructor can’t watch you perform the technique and advise “You need to turn your hip an additional 17 degrees” or “move your wrist 3/4 of an inch down.” These are things that must be felt by the person applying the technique and adjusted intuitively in each unique situation.
We get to that level by drilling your techniques over a period of weeks, months, and years! Watch a BJJ student drill a new technique for sets of 10 repetitions. The 50th rep will be far more efficient and precise than the awkward first attempts. So it is with all of your techniques.
I recall one instructor telling the story of how he had challenged two students to each perform 500 repetitions of the triangle from the guard in a one month period.
One of the students asked, “Is the triangle tighter if my leg is positioned at this angle or that angle?”
The instructor answered, “Perform 50 repetitions one way and another 50 the other and you will be able to tell me!