Connection: The Ultimate Fundamental?

Back in April I had the great privilege of attending a Rickson Gracie seminar. I’m sure anyone reading this already knows what an important figure Rickson is to Jiu Jitsu and how difficult it is to get in front of him to learn Jiu jitsu. The experience was interesting. It didn’t go exactly as I had planned. It was both way more and way less than I had expected. The room was packed with more black belts than I could count. (Where did they come from? When I started Jiu Jitsu there were no black belts in the entire state of Oregon) Rickson proceeded to show a bunch of simple techniques. Things like how to stand and breathe properly. How to do an upa escape from mount. How to get the armbar from guard. None of the things that he was teaching were particularly remarkable. He had some great details that I hadn’t seen before. Everything was very simple though and he even wasn’t very concerned with being very detailed about things like posture. In fact, instead of giving us details about posture (where to put your hips, your hands, shoulders etc) he talked about how the position should feel. He did a lot of that. He used the words “base” and “connection” a lot. I found the whole thing fascinating and left the seminar curious but unenlightened. I knew I had experienced something profound but wasn’t yet sure what it was.

Over the course of the next few weeks I worked on the material Rickson showed in the seminar. I even taught a bunch of it in class. I kept picking at it trying to understand. Especially this word “connection.” After several conversations with my colleague John Mertlich we agreed on a definition of connection: When two people are attached in such a way that they have one base. The person in control of the base is the person winning the connection battle. This definition and the understanding that followed has transformed my idea about what Jiu Jitsu can be.


John and I talked a bunch about the seminar and what we understood from it. We had a lot of conversations about this idea of connection and how it works in Jiu Jitsu. I began to understand that what Rickson was doing the entire seminar was showing examples of connection in practice. He did it from standing, from top, from bottom, from superior, and inferior positions. I think this was by design. He was telling us (showing us) that connection was more fundamental than position in Jiu Jitsu. That even more important than getting a good position was owning the connection. That was a revelation because I had never really thought about connection as a concept before. Over the course of the next couple of months I worked on the idea as we defined it in rolls. When I found myself in a roll I’d look at the position I was in and tried to own the connection. (make one base and control it’s movement) I did this regardless of whether or not I was in a good position or inferior position. It was a transformative experience. Both in my personal game and in my coaching. In my personal game I found that it made my top game better because focusing on the quality of the connection made holding top easier. The better the quality of connection the easier it was to hold top. From bottom it made survival WAY easier. Even if I couldn’t improve my position on the bottom when I owned the connection from there it was impossible for the top guy to proceed.

In my coaching I was finding all kinds of opportunity to look for how connection worked in our curriculum. When showing passes, escapes, positions, sweeps etc. I was able to find the places where there was opportunity to establish and control connection. To my amazement it made a huge difference. I could see students picking up the material better and being more effective in it. By slowing down and finding the connection places in everything I taught where I could find them I had found a Jiu Jitsu fundamental:


Attach yourself to the other person in a way that you have one base. Control how that base moves. Do that from everywhere. Here are some examples of Connection in action:

Here’s describing the difference between position and connection. My position will not change but a few simple adjustments mean the difference between good connection and poor connection.

How does Connection relate to posture?

More examples of Connection in practice:

Here’s a hypothesis to test. John poses a great experiment to test the Connection theory:

Athleticism vs effective grappling and how that relates to Connection

More example of Connection in practice:

A challenge to Jiu Jitsu instructors. How to slow down your instruction and teach this concept?

Here’s Henry Akins (Rickson Gracie Black Belt) describing and showing connection. If you can’t get to a Rickson Gracie seminar this may be the next best thing as Henry is describing exactly what Rickson was showing the entire seminar:

My fondest hope for you is that you begin to experiment with this Connection idea and find places in your Jiu Jitsu where you can make it work. I think as a fundamental idea of why Jiu Jitsu works it’s indispensable and might be a tool to help quickly establish effective grappling. “How’s my connection?” may be the most important question to ask during a roll. Maybe even more important than “How’s my posture?” That’s a fundamental shift. In my next post I’ll describe how John Mertlich and I reconciled the Posture, Pressure, Possibilities model with the Connection principle.

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