When you learn and sharpen submissions, you need to understand what it feels like when these submissions work correctly.
One of the best indicators is whether your opponent/training partner taps to your submission hold or not. If they tap to your attack, there’s a good chance it’s working. Whenever I teach a submission, people often ask me whether they are doing it correctly. I usually tell them to ask their partner instead. If it’s working, their partner knows and taps to the sub.
But… wait, isn’t that the best indicator? Sometimes it may not be. People tap early for various reasons. Or you could apply a submission incorrectly and still get a tap. So, just because your partner taps, it doesn’t mean your submission was applied correctly.
To apply a submission hold correctly, you need to know its mechanics and how it feels when it’s on.
As a general rule of thumb, if you feel like you can keep applying pressure further and further without feeling your opponent’s resistance, I’d say you are in an excellent spot for using that particular submission.
To develop your intuition, I suppose the best way is simply to get used to applying each submission successfully to resisting opponents repeatedly.
But why is it important to develop your intuition?
Here are a few good reasons I can think of.
When you apply a submission incorrectly, and your opponent knows how to deal with it, things can go bad for you.
You could waste your energy trying to finish your opponent with a submission that probably won’t work anyway.
Your opponent could counter it by another submission or improve their position.
From an offensive perspective, you could avoid these situations when you know whether your submission is working or not or whether it has a chance of working if you keep it a bit more.
If you know your attack is less likely to work, you might better ditch it, and use a different attack or improve your position instead.
Also, keep in mind that you can use most submission holds as ways to control your opponent. So, you could focus on holding your opponent for the time being instead of trying to finish your opponent. This way, you could buy time to figure out your next best option without burning your energy or giving up a position.
I’ve been talking about what it feels like when you apply submissions correctly, but it’s also important to develop your intuition as the receiving side of submissions and understand what it feels like when your opponent’s attacks aren’t working. This sense will give you confidence because you will know you are safe, and you can keep working on improving your position instead of needlessly retreating from your opponent’s non-existent threat that you should never be afraid of.
As I mentioned in a recent post, you could even start baiting your opponent by putting yourself into a submission that you know is less likely to work.
I’d say it’s easier to develop this sense because you are on the receiving end, and it’s much easier to tell what’s working and what’s not.
Also, your knowledge of how each submission works will help you immensely, too. For example, when you know that there will be no guillotine threat (in principle) by putting yourself into a diagonal position relative to your opponent’s position, you will stop being afraid of most guillotine choke attempts done by most people. They will just try to grab your neck and squeeze as hard as they can. And you know it won’t work.
All these feelings and a bit of knowledge will help your BJJ problem-solving skills. Pay attention to them and develop them further.