I had a chat with one of our white belts. He’s a big, strong guy. He has gone through our basic class set (20 classes) a few times and just of late has come to train in the advanced classes. After a class he feeling totally beat.  So I had a little chat with him. I had noticed that he spent a lot of time doing static grips and holds and that he kept spending his strength and energy on those. So this followed.

Me: Why do use so much strength?

The White Belt: If the guy has better technique I need to use strength.

Me: Why do you need to use strength?

TWB: So I can keep up.

Me: Why do you need to keep up?

TWB: So I wouldn’t be dominated.

Me: Why are you afraid of being dominated?

TWB: I don’t want to loose.

Me: Are you here to loose?

A pause.

Me: Aren’t you here to learn?

Did you guess where the conversation was heading? I knew the answers he gave before hand, because this was not the first I’ve had a conversation like that. And probably won’t be the last time.

Why do we feel the need to stall?

Personally, I’ve always hated just stopping and trying to prevent my partner from doing anything. For me that’s never been a thing. If the guy (or gal) does good technique and gets to submit me then that’s good. It means I’m learning right? And I’ve never really been a competitive guy. Well, I was when I was younger, but once you play 15+ years of soccer mostly in teams that spend their time loosing, you kinda get rid of that.

But most us have a built in desire not to loose. We want to win, some of us more badly than others. It’s just a natural thing for us. There used to be a time when loosing meant dying. Survival of the fittest used to be the thing. Evolution has granted us many things to keep us alive.

So it’s understandable why we don’t want to loose.

But by not “loosing” are we holding ourselves back?

Now, I understand that we want to “fight” and that we don’t want to tap. God knows there are a couple of my long time friends at the same gym with whom it always comes down to not letting them get a submission so no one could get a chance go “oh I tapped your ass out” which, let’s face it, is a thing that friends do. And I’m not suggesting that you give people a chance to submit you.  But there’s a difference in defending and blocking.

I think the main difference is that when you’re defending, you’re actively trying to work your position. When you’re blocking you’re just preventing your partner from doing things. Which I find quite counter productive. Because if we go to the gym to learn play BJJ then we need to get into those situation that we suck at and learn from them. And if we just prevent others from doing anything, are we really learning to defend? If you’re strong you can hold out longer but eventually your strength is going to run out and then you’re f**ked.

This is one of the reasons I’ve found that smaller guys tend to learn faster and better technique. They can’t stop you with strength and they’re more likely to be put into bad positions because of that. And because of that they need to get their technique right and when they do, they will probably walk all over you.

So blocking in my mind is a big no-no.

Being active.

Being active doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re all out attacking all the time. For me the biggest difference between activity and passivity is this: When you’re active you’re working your position, when you’re passive you’re reacting to what your partner is doing. And when you’re reacting you’re already a step behind. When you’re active you’re a step ahead even if you’re defending. Plus you’re learning all the time, I can’t stress that enough.

For example I have this rule about defending from the bottom: If my partner is behind my legs then it’s good for me. If he’s in front of my legs then that’s bad. So to defend my position on the bottom I try to keep my legs between me and my partner. I’m not trying to lock them down with my legs, but I want to actively control the position with my legs. And that keeps him reacting to my activity.

So by being active in what I do I can “prevent” my partner from playing his game and at the same time play my game and lead the situation and not just stop him. And I’m giving him a chance to learn to work around my technique and improve his passing.

Did I mention that when you’re in class you’re not just learning, but you’re also teaching?

Oh yes, you are. So think about it. By stalling you’re not just preventing yourself from learning, but you’re also preventing your partner from learning. So every time we’re stalling just so we wouldn’t loose we’re giving away a chance to learn something. Of course people have different ways of learning, but I find the best way to learn is to push yourself somewhere where you haven’t been (aka going out of your comfort zone). And then doing it again and again and again.

The art of the slow roll

When I was starting BJJ I was usually rolling with a long time friend of mine. At first we were fighting, but quite soon we got into mode where we used less and less force with each other and tried to do more technique. The more we did technique, the more me moved. Eventually we got into a mode where we were constantly moving. When we got used to being constantly on the move we learned to control the pace so that we would get tired.

Now, I like this mode of training very much as it gives you the possibility to try new things without the fear of loosing. Because the idea is not to make the other guy submit but to learn to be active.

And for me, every time I’m active in sparring I get places to do submissions because I’m a head of the game and not in survival mode.


3 thoughts on “Activity

  1. This from a smaller blue belt in our gym (originally posted on Facebook):

    “I believe reacting and not acting can, sometimes, be a valuable asset, specially against a bigger and/or less experienced opponent. If I have a big guy smashing me from the top (normipäivä), if I take the initiative, I’ll be the one trying to make him shift his weight. If I’m passive, I’ll let him do the work and then exploit any openings that appear. He’ll be the one using the energy to move 90kg, not me. Even if your opponent has better technique than you, making him feel comfortable by being the one with initiative can make him make some exploitable mistakes. In the past months I’ve been noticing this quite a lot when I’m being mounted which, in theory, is when you are under the most control and danger. Just calming down, let the guy start doing what the hell he wants (with some minor hip bumps just to annoy him) and then taking the opportunity to react to whichever space he left open (I mostly sweep when he goes for one side or I hip escape if he opens the legs a bit).

    On the other hand, I also believe that with experience, you can be “actively passive”. As in that you can, with minimal effort, make the opponent do the moves that you want. I find that a good (lazy) and highly risky way to get out of the guard is just to give an arm/triangle, in a controlled fashion, to your opponent. When he opens up to capitalize the submission, you already know beforehand how to defend and escape. He opens the guard for you. No energy spent to open it by yourself.

    And finally, maybe in a couple of years I’ll read this post of mine and think “What a fucking lazy and ignorant bastard you were.”. These are just my thoughts for my current level of experience Worth what they are worth!”

  2. Hi there! I’m signed up to take my first ever BJJ class next week, ended up on your blog, and have enjoyed reading the entire thing. This post though, I will remember. I might even print out a copy and save it. It’s gold. Thanks for writing.

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