BJJ May 9, and a minor crisis.

Went to BJJ last night, the first class after the competition.

Usually I feel good after a comp, win or lose. I have always felt that competing is like firing clay… you’ve been moulding and pushing and prodding, then when you compete, it hardens, and you reach a new level, then you start moulding again.

Skill-wise I felt good still, but I was feeling good before the competition and I lost, when I probably should have won.

Here the crisis starts. This may be somewhat of a disorganised rant, but try to bear with me.

Up until the competition, I felt things had been going well. Very well, in fact. I had chosen a mode of training and thinking, and it was working for me, I was improving. I was not bothered by small questions or self-doubt. Now, I have reached one of those times in training where you feel like you know nothing and you don’t know how to proceed.

The Brazilians, the world champions, all say that you should be tapping all the time in training. You should have no ego. Training is not a competition.

But if I spend all my training sessions tapping and never fighting with my partners, how will I ever develop the fighting skill, the mental toughness, the grit, that you need to succeed in BJJ? And the next question, is winning medals all that’s important to me?

I’d like to say no but there is no denying that winning is much more satisfying and confidence-boosting than losing. I can’t lie… I want to win. I want to have shiny medals hanging on my wall that my future son can point at and say “Tell me how you won those, Dad.”

I’d like to teach jiu jitsu one day. Having a few gold medals to your name helps that.

For example, last night, my coach was pwnz0r11ings me on the mat. He had a kind of uncomfortable smile on his face and after the roll told me that I needed more “mental training.” I didn’t really know what he meant, and sometimes having a coach that you can’t converse with freely can be really frustrating.

Did he mean I was mentally weak? I don’t think so. I have a reputation at training for always being ready to go for every spar when a lot of people fall back to the side.

Perhaps he meant I was not aggressive enough? That could very much be it. I am not an aggressive person at all. But according to the Brazilians, you don’t need to be aggressive, especially in training… should I be launching myself at every sparring partner with teeth bared and eyeballs bulging?

That comment really stuck with me. So for the next spar I hunted down the biggest, strongest blue belt in the room and we started sparring pretty hard. He got my back and sunk in a body triangle, then started working for a collar choke. It was hell. My body was twisted, my stomach and ribs compressed, and my gi shearing across my neck as he worked for the choke. I could only think of my coach saying that I needed mental training, so I steeled myself not to give up. I lasted for four minutes and then he managed to sink in the choke, I felt myself going all tingly and had to tap. I came out feeling battered and bruised but satisfied that I had done my best. Nobody can ask any more of me.

I’ve been racking my brains and this is what I can come up with. I should tap whenever I am in danger in training. The training part comes with recognising much earlier when danger is coming, and avoiding it. If I manage to do that, I won’t be tapping all the time. When I’m rolling with my coach, he always pauses before he submits me, as if to say “look, you left your arm/neck sticking out again”. I realise, but a second too late.

So here’s how I will be going forward. Here are the things I am sure about.

1) I need to be more “aggressive” (in quotation marks because I’m not going to be out to hurt everybody, but I am going to be the one who makes the first move; doesn’t settle for bottom; breaks grips immediately; etc etc.)

2) I can tap whenever I want, but learn afterwards what mistake I made to get tapped and try to recognise it earlier next time.

3) Feel danger coming and do something about it early.

The more I write the more I think it is about my mindset. My coach said last night, I should always be thinking of attack, and if I make a mistake or my opponent does a good move, then I should think about defense but only long enough to get back on the attack. Quite often when I am rolling I do go into defensive mode to “see what the other guy gives me”. This is my undoing, I think. Even my missus says to me “why do you always flop on your back… why do you never go on top?” And no, that is not prison lingo you perverts. Stop giggling.

I am going to have to remind myself before every roll… maybe I should come up with some funky ryhme to remember.

Be first, be fast, be… um… win.

And I suppose the important thing to do at this stage is not to stress about it too much and just keep training.

It’s true though, you learn so much more from the fights you lose. If I had won that last comp, I would have kept on going without thinking. Now, I hope I can get through this period and grow.

My coach is going to America for the Mundials, and asked me to teach quite a few classes, which was a nice confidence booster. I will be teaching on Friday nights from 8p.m. to 11:30p.m. … that’s two classes each time. Quite a long night, but it will be good training for me and a good opportunity to solidify my understanding of some basics.

Any advice you guys have on the mental game and how to approach training would be much appreciated.

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12 Responses

  1. It may sound cliched and corny, and it is from a movie, but, you know, take it where you find it – ” We need emotional content, now do it again….I said Emotional content Not Anger!”

    Not anger, nor “aggression,” especially since you say you’re not naturally aggressive… But you can play a constantly attacking game, and not pulling guard and “waiting for mistakes”, without having to develop an “aggressive” mindset.

    I really like SBG’s “Play as the Way” mentally. BJJ is a game, and so infuse your game playing with enthusiasm. “Emotional content.” Don’t attack aggressively, attack enthusiastically.

    It may also sound dumb [but hey, that’s what the internets are for] but your writing since the competition the other day seems to have a real sense of frustration in it… understandable, of course, but it may be coloring your perspective on your game and your coach’s comments.

    Good luck.

  2. That’s good advice indeed Rob. Aggressive is the wrong word, and it’s not me. Enthusiastic is good, attacking is good.

    Yeah, you can pick up on my frustration huh… like I said, I’m going through a “stage”… post comp blues maybe… interesting to see how I come out the other side.

  3. I train at a small place and don’t have nearly the training partners or probably the quality of the partners you have so it might be easier said than done but I always try to say to do it on your own terms. If you don’t mind being on the bottom pull guard but do it on your terms rather than having them attack and you pull guard in response. I don’t know if that makes sense or not and you can most definitely relate it to other positions and other attacks but i figured that might be the easiest way to relate it.

  4. Makes sense, Tanner. I think the important thing there is to do it on your own terms. That’s what makes the difference. If I feel like I can pose a threat in guard, then it’s not a negative if I can dictate the fight to go there right?

  5. Yeah man, i pull guard all the time, i’ve only been training for a little over a year now but i’ll pull guard and work to break them down to rubber guard or while i’m pulling guard throw a triangle/armbar. but yeah its all on my own terms. Like being in half guard most people hate that but i pull half guard and work a sweep its on my terms not theirs.

  6. Rob said what I wanted to say. He said it better too!

    I don’t think it’s lack of aggression, or anything like that.
    What you are talking about resonates quite strongly with me, in that I’m prone to defeating myself mentally when facing better players, or even just players that I think are better, in Randori and Shiai.
    This doesn’t come out as a lack of aggression or passivity, but that lack of enthusiasm Rob talked about.

    Lately, I’ve also been making a concerted effort not to treat every Randori as a competition. I’ve been playing a little lighter and as such, I’m throwing a lot more with different throws from normal. I’m being thrown more too, but thats ok, I need to learn to enjoy that too.
    So I’m enthusiastically enjoying my practice a whole lot and feel like I’m making some real progress too.

  7. It’s interesting David that I never said anything explicitly about allowing myself to mentally “lose” before I’ve even started against people that I feel are a threat to me, but I think I definitely do it, and you could pick up on it.

    There is a thin line between having confidence in your abilities and being over-confident.

    I am going to jiu jitsu tomorrow and very much looking forward to treating it as a game, and playing it with enthusiasm.

    Emotional content! Was there anything Bruce Lee didn’t know?

  8. re: mentally losing before it starts,

    try setting different goals against different opponents. if i tell myself “i’m gonna armbar this guy from the guard today” (against a white belt, probably) or “i’m gonna pass this guy’s guard today” it gives me a sense of progress no matter who i’m rolling with. yeah, for some guys your goal is just going to be “don’t get submitted” at first, but once you can do that, you know where you have to progress from.

    similarly, i’d agree that you’re not supposed to be TOO aggressive in BJJ, but the level of aggression ought to be measured against your opponent. my stateside training buddies knew i was, in some ways, the stereotypical lazy jiu-jitsu guy – since i was comfortable fighting off my back, and i didn’t have to work hard to get there, i liked to play a slower, more methodical game. after all, that’s what most of us want to work to, right? a ‘cerebral’ game, like all those black belts we see. thing is, being explosive – taking initiative to set the pace the way you want it, putting in that little bit of extra effort needed to make sure you shake that hook or sink that armbar instead – is also a part of the game.

    then i realized after getting my ass whooped at Alive for the umpteenth time that i was being emotionally lazy, not just physically lazy. turn up the heat against the guys who beat on you – that’s part of the process of getting better, too. against the guys you have no problem with, go easy. don’t do too much of one or the other. works for me, anyway.

  9. I have some ideas on this subject. I’m going to grab a shower and will post them in a short while

  10. So, I had a shower… and something to eat… and did some work.. and yeah.

    I encounter this a lot when rolling with belts lower than me. Guys seem to think, ‘ah, he’s a higher belt than me, I’ll never win, I might as well just let him do whatever’.

    Sometimes, it’s the opposite. Sometimes guys come at you, you handle them with ease and they get super frustrated because they think that their best isn’t good enough.

    A lot of it comes down to ‘good day, bad day’. Like that was a good day for your coach, but a bad day for you. We all get them. All of us.

    But with regards to his comment about mental training, I think it comes to this. He wants you to let go. He wants you to stop thinking so much, and to focus on what you’re doing. You’re a very intelligent and analytical person, and sometimes this is a curse.

    I may be wrong, but you’re most likely analysing yourself in the moment rather than after. As a result you’re probably getting caught up in your own thoughts rather than acting and reacting on the level you need for good jiu-jitsu, i.e. the zen state where we let go and simply do.

    My advice is let go and relax. Have fun. Enjoy it. The good days will come.

  11. Pretty perceptive there Hywel. I am staggeringly intelligent, so glad you picked up on it. Jokes.

    “He wants you to let go. He wants you to stop thinking so much, and to focus on what you’re doing.”

    Pin pon! As they say in Japan. That’s pretty much it.

    Anyway, I went to training yesterday feeling super positive and relaxed and ready to “play the game with enthusiasm.” Then my foot exploded. So now I’m brooding again.

    It may be a blessing in disguise. Time to reflect and clear my head.

  12. I should be your sensei 🙂

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