I was having an interesting conversation this week with some other guys after class. We were talking about a particular student who has a tendency to hurt other students when sparring. He goes balls to the wall all the time with them. The interesting part is that his game is very stagnant and he feels very frustrated about it. He’s very sincere and wants his game to get better really badly. He works as hard as everyone else. He attends the same classes. His game is stagnant though. As we talked about it I remembered another student who was the same way. He’d inadvertently hurt other students when rolling. He’d feel really bad about it after. He was really a nice guy. Both of these guys are. When you watched either of them roll though it would be obvious that they were frustrated the whole time.
Wanting too much
I really think what is/was holding both guys back from improving was wanting it so much. They both were highly emotional about getting their game to the next level. They wanted it more than anyone else at the gym. That wanting actually got in the way of progress. I think they hurt their partners because they weren’t aware of them. That frantic wanting the tap so badly blinded them to the existence of the other person. The only thing they could concentrate on was the win. The paradox is that if you aren’t aware of your partner you’ll either hurt them or get terribly frustrated. Not being aware of your partner when you roll means the only option you have is to impose your game on them. You can’t adapt or respond adequately because you aren’t tuned in. If you aren’t tuned in then frustration will build. You can’t help but get frustrated if you aren’t sparring WITH someone else.
I really think this impedes your development in BJJ. I’m not saying that you have to have the opposite feeling. It’s not about being casual about the game. It’s more a matter of being able to attend to what’s going on in the present moment and not focusing on some future event (the tap). The unfortunate thing is that you miss much of the joy of the game if you focus to much on the end game. It’s the enjoy the ride thing.
Give and take
Good Ju Jitsu is more dance than fight. You have to both impose your game and yield and take what the other person gives. You marry the two energies. If you want the win too much you’ll find that you are only doing the first and not the second. This effectively cuts your game in half. That’s why when you see really good guys it looks lazy really. They don’t look like they are expending a tremendous amount of energy in their game. They aren’t. They are flowing with the give and take.
This is why we always say to leave your ego off the mat. I know it’s really impossible to do that in earnest but we have to try to roll without too much wanting. This doesn’t mean we have to not care about the outcome. It means we have to be flexible in intent when we roll. If we are so intent on beating the other guy right in this minute we will always be frustrated. Instead, if we are enjoying the game and feeling the give and take. If we are present in the very moment, we can get the tap, choose the appropriate action, get the sweep, achieve the escape; all as a matter of course.
It’s a paradox of Ju Jitsu. The ego makes us blind to the very thing we need to attend to; the flow of movement and intent in the moment. That’s what I’d see when I watched these two guys roll. I could recognize it in them because I feel that way at times myself. I can feel when I’m too concerned or engaged in the end game. When I’m trying too much to “win.” Or looking for the tap and not attending to the present moment. Every time I do that I get lost. I lose Ju Jitsu.
There is a moment of sublime peace and joy I get on the mat at times when rolling. It’s that sheer joy of movement that comes from the kinesthetic feel of knowing you moved in exactly the right way at exactly the right time. It’s taking some movement that your partner gave you and creating with it something beautiful and creative. That’s Ju Jitsu. It requires a mindfulness and attention to the now. It’s the thing that keeps many of us coming back. It’s not ego based. It’s now about tapping or getting tapped really. I feel it when I get a beautiful movement. I sometimes feel it when someone gets a beautiful movement on me. With the right mindset getting tapped in BJJ can be a beautiful thing. When my mindset is right I’m not frustrated at all by getting tapped. In fact I’ll often smile and laugh. The laughter is pure joy free from ego. It’s the realization that I just experienced someone else taking what I gave them and making something creative and beautiful with it.
Frustration is the opposite of this. It’s the ego not getting what it wants. I experience this on the mat as well. It’s hard. Ju Jitsu is the great equalizer. The other day I got tapped out by a young blue belt. As a brown belt my ego told me that this shouldn’t have happened. That I should have been able to turn the tables on him. It bothered me for a couple of days despite me knowing and believing that it shouldn’t. It made me question my abilities and whether or not I deserve the rank I have. I know this happens for all of us. I take it as a gift now though. Reminders like that are gold in Ju Jitsu. They remind me of my fallibility and my need to be mindful and present when I roll. After a few days I was able to get back on the mat and roll again with joy. Ego again in check.