There are two basic games in grappling: “fast and loose” and “slow and tight”.
The fast and loose game is based on speed and movement (i.e. mobility) – many transitions between positions and attacks and reversals executed with atheliticism. A mobility based fighter might use explosive speed to pass the guard, and then transition from cross body to knee on belly, to mount to armbar so fast that their opponent has difficulty keeping track of what is going on. Marcelo Garcia is a good example of a mobility fighter: he uses his athleticism, explosiveness, and mobility to run opponents through a confusing “funhouse of grappling”!
The slow and tight game is based on weight distribution, control, and pressure (i.e. position). Position fighters emphasize being in control of their opponent’s body at all times, using their weight and grips to shut down the opponents movement. Transitions are usually accomplished with slow and punishing pressure. Royce Gracie is the embodiment of the position game: when he gets his position (any position) you feel so immobilized that your will to fight is cut in half. It’s hard enough to breath, let alone formulate a plan of escape and counter attack!
There is a tendency for smaller, lightweight fighters to use a mobility based game and for heavier, stronger fighters to use a position based game. This generalization is far from absolute: there are many larger grapplers who use a lot of movement and mobility in their games (Roberto Abreu) and many smaller fighter that use a position based game (Royler Gracie). There are also people who can switch between the two games, for example using the mobility game to pass the guard and then using the position game when they get to crossbody or mount!
Rodrigo Gracie addressed this issue at a recent seminar – he believes that one of the best thing you can do to improve your overall grappling is to work on the game you don’t ever use. If you are a fast and loose fighter, then you should work on your position game. If you are a slow and tight fighter, then work on your mobility game. A well rounded and unpredictable game is best! Look for specific recommendations of what you can do to develop these games in upcoming articles.