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The Importance of Language in Jiu Jitsu

Updated: Dec 28, 2019

I recently had the pleasure taking a class and training with Sean Applegate at 10th Planet Atlanta. When you step into his class and he begins teaching the first thing you notice is how precise his use of language is, not only in explanation but also in classification and organization of submissions, positions and transitions. This goes beyond our usual Jiu Jitsu vocabulary. In any BJJ gym on earth the students understand the ideas of guard vs pin, the various types of guards, and dominant positions, but the language used in a 10th planet gym goes beyond this and is unique.

If you watch any classic


what is striking is that each specific transition he shows has a name. Often the name is funny to make it memorable. Who could forget sorcerer, swim move, or banana split for example? In fact, it was one of these unique names that caused me to trek about an hour outside the heart of Atlanta to train with

. The first time I saw him cornering at a tournament he was giving very detailed instructions and screaming “pistachio.” I looked around and asked the 10th planet guys around me what it meant, but much to my disappointment they were just as lost I was. (If you are curious I asked him and found out that “pistachio” refers to a particular variant of the leg drag that he teaches his students).

Back to what I found special about class. There were two pieces of vocab that were used that have really stuck with me and helped me organize my leg lock game better. The first was “negative ashi.” Sean explained that he divides all his leg lock entries into two groups; leg pins (ashi garami) and negative ashi. Leg pins are positions where you have controlled your opponent and can isolate their limbs to efficiently submit them, whereas “negative ashi” are positions where your opponent can either easily free their leg or compose a base. We spoke about why various positions fell into each category and it led us back to the classic

idea that

thus most, but not all leg pins involve controlling the leg that is not being attacked.

The second I understood this division, my mind proceeded to reorganize all of my leg entries and realize sure enough all of my negative ashi entries required me to either be facing a lesser skilled opponent or catch them by surprise where as entries into pins allowed me to “ride” for longer and take my time. By accepting the fact that negative ashi entries have the weakness of welcoming the composition of a base he then taught a sweep that transitioned you from negative ashi to a more secure and solid pin” As class went on this forced me to further see legs just like regular Jiu Jitsu with negative ashi taking the place of guard and “leg pins taking the place of classic dominant control positions such as side control. This breakthrough was all because of his language. The sweep he taught that day is not yet part of my game, and may never be, however his use of language forced a paradigm shift in my approach that is much more powerful.

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