Shamelessly pinched from Adam Adshead's Conceptual BJJ blog.
A lot of people think that Grandmaster chess players play/see 7-8 moves ahead at all times, when this really isn’t the case.
This common misconception of having a photographic memory that is as equally analytical as it is profound is probably quite accurate for some, but for most (including rookies like me) reacting to the situation in hand is the preferred choice.
It’s the same for BJJ, trying to recall all the moves and strategies you’ve ever learnt or have seen at will is increasingly harder to do the further you look ahead because of the chaos involved.
Whereas in Chess you get more time to think, during a roll in BJJ most of the time if you think then you’re usually too slow and have missed the boat of opportunity, that’s why I promote reaction over recalling. Not to say you can’t analyse your position or think about what you’re doing, but should favour certain moves to cut out the hesitation that trying to recall the golden ‘right move’ creates.
The biggest difference I see between guys who roll like a ball and those who roll like a brick is this ability to limit these hesitations when rolling. If you know what you should be doing from every position and/or have favoured moves it will limit your thinking time and really focus your game. Again not that you need to strictly stick to certain moves or build a competition mindset for everyday training, far from it, but having an idea of what you should and should not be playing will limit this hesitation.
For example although crude and basic:
In Guard - Always Pass
Using Guard - Sweep, Submit, get back to knees.*
From Knees - Take back, use guard, wrestle to pass guard.*
(Preferably prioritise depending what you’re going for/working)
If you expand that from a fundamental concept and make it recognisable to your game (i.e. I always favour a high guard when playing closed guard and escape north-south a certain way etc) then you’ll find that you’ll see your decision making process change for the better as you’ll know what to go for - instead of having to try and decide on a whim.
So you are actually recalling but only what you can react on with muscle memory and flight time.
Think of it this way, BJJ is a complex encyclopaedia of moves, strategies and tactics. If you try and memorise the whole of it and then try verbatim to perform it whilst hopping on one foot whilst sewing with the other, then you’re going to fail.
If you’re a really experienced veteran than you might be able to pull off an improvised attempt of a few chapters of this book, maybe a section if you’re phenomenally good. If you’re only a mere mortal and less experienced this will be limited to a page or a few paragraphs. Now, move down the scale and have only been training a few years then this performance is limited to the odd line or two.
As the experience level goes down this one man show is limited to the odd word and then down to those who can only physically recall a string of letters that make up these words.
I’m not saying that you should only train with your instinct and primal grappling ability but use what you know to develop your game. There is a time for experimenting but if you only know one sweep - refine it, work at finding the conceptual understanding of how a sweep works and you’ll be able to translate that knowledge to any sweep. If you compare this to someone who tries every sweep in the book and only knows a few but not in there entirety, a jack of all trades and a master of none type, then you’ll soon see who develops over time.
Remember you may only know a few letters but they make up words, which make up sentences and before long you’ll be a grappling savant able to react with physical verbose soliloquies that’ll bring a tear to my eye.