Working Memory and the Rule of Three
Last week, I wrote and article about building your game around powerful endgame positions. I ended the piece with a challenge for readers to spend the next thirty days rolling with a singular focus of getting to their endgame position and finishing from it.
I’ve been working this 30-day challenge myself, and I’ve been not only having fun but experiencing a lot of success, particularly against opponents who don’t know my endgame position inside and out.
I also noticed a trend in these positions: they work best when you chain multiple attacks. From the 411, you can easily alternate between heelhooks, ankle locks, toe holds, and kneebars.
Of course, the concept of chaining submissions isn’t new. Advanced student’s are doing it all the time. But it got me thinking about why it works so well. After all, people often know the counters to each individual submission. So why can’t they defend them in sets?
After half an hour on the google machine, I had my answer: human brains have a limit to how much they can multitask. Even with the largest knowledge of techniques stored in your brain, you can only recall so many at one time. How many? The answer, it turns out, is three or four.
As countless movie plots have taught us, humans have short and long term memory. In reality, scientists have identified many forms of memory. One of them is called “working memory”. This is essentially the amount of things that you can actively think about at the same time.
A good example is cooking. This morning, I made a big breakfast of eggs, potatoes, sausages, and toast. At one point, I was stirring my egg yoke, while trying to remember to turn the sausages and get the jam out of the fridge to put on the toast. Cooking many things at once can be a little stressful, because I’m pushing my working memory.
In 2008, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published an experiment designed to test working memory in people. They would show subjects an array of different colored squares, then show the same array with all white squares. Researches would select a random white square and ask if the subject could remember the color.
It was a niffy trick to make it hard for the subjects to use tricks to memorize, like we do with say, social security numbers by breaking long numbers into smaller sets in order to remember.
When people can’t use tricks like these, the average persons working memory is somewhere between three and four items. Not coincidentally, it’s also about the number of things I can cook at once. And the number of submission threats I can actively defend.
The Rule of Three
When someone mounts us and single mindedly pursues a collar choke, we can usually handle that. If they start mixing in an Ezekiel attack, it’s gets harder. Still, it’s either one or the other. But once they start hitting you with the collar choke, the Ezekiel, AND the armlock, that gets really tough. Separately, we can handle them. Collectively, it’s hard to mentally manage each threat at once.
It something I’ve come to think of as “The Rule of Three”: I want to always have a minimum of three attacks to threaten. My favorite endgame positions both have four attacks, if you include advancing position as one of them. The core tenant of the Rule of Three is that you move on to the next one when you encounter resistance. If my collar choke is stuffed, I’m not going to spent time trying to force it through. I’m immediately moving on to the armlock. From there, the back take or the triangle. It’s a way to not just attack people’s technique, but their memory skills as well.
So if you have a favorite sweep or submission, make it stronger by finding adjacent attacks that you can combine. Attack in threes, and see your results climb.
Don’t Chain, Blend
My last observation about The Rule of Three is that it’s more and more effective as you get better at threatening attacks simultaneously. When you are learning a new position, this is hard. But over time, you will start thinking about the next setup even as your attempting the last one. Not surprisingly, threatening multiple attacks takes. . .working memory. But remember, when you control the tempo of a match you’ll have the luxury of initiative, which ensures that you’re always attacking and never defending.
photo credit: akiko yanagawa