Find Your Calm

We had a training session last night, and I felt really good during sparring.

I was really calm and focused and relaxed. It reminded me that I am at my best when I’m in that space. Since then I’ve been thinking about what it may have been that helped me get into that space last night. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far.

I didn’t care- When I don’t seem to care I find it quite easy to stay relaxed and calm. I just don’t care about winning or losing. I don’t care about getting a tap, or getting tapped out. I just relax and roll. If I don’t care about the win I won’t hold on to a lost position or submission. I let go and move on. If I don’t care about losing I won’t try to muscle through to keep a botched guard. I simply allow the pass and set myself up for the escape. If I don’t care I anticipate. When I do care I hold on tight until it’s too late.

I accept that others are better– This one might sound funny, and if taken the wrong way can actually be a defeatest attitude so don’t get me wrong. I never go into a roll assuming that I’m going to lose. I never go in thinking that there’s no way for me to win. What I do is go in with the assumption that my opponent is better than me. That changes my style to a more relaxed focus. If I beileve that they are better I focus a lot more on defending myself. When I focus on defending myself I find that I play more of a countering game rather than an all out aggressive, attacking game. I absorb, deflect, and counter. Because I’m thinking about staying safe I find that people will open themselves up in order to penetrate. I simply wait for those openeings and counter.

If I think I’m better I go into what I’ve come to call ‘lost position denial’. If someone grabs a leg I fight and fight and fight because I’m better. They shouldn’t be able to get a leg. If someone passes my guard I fight and fight and fight. They shouldn’t be able to pass my guard. If I believe that I’m better I can’t let them beat me. But, if I believe that they’re better I have to be smart in order to beat them. So, I simply apply that attitude to everyone. When I roll smarter, I roll better.

I roll like I’m tired- When I’m tired I have to rely 100% on technique. I have to stay relaxed. I have to be fluid and smooth, and quick, and smart. So, if I come to training already tired, and I keep my don’t care and they’re better attitudes my fatigue becomes an ally rather than an enemy. If I come rolling like I’m already tired then I can reserve my energy for when I really need it, like when I get caught in a submission or am applying one that needs a bit of burst.

When I come with those three attitudes I find that I roll much, much better. It’s all about finding the attitudes that trigger the desired outcomes. My desired outcomes are always around relaxation, calm, focus, and technique. Not caring about winning or losing, being in a defensive mindset, and being tired are the attitudes that trigger those outcomes.


Accepting the Bottom

“I don’t like leaping around the whole spar. I prefer to get solid grips from the bottom, think carefully, keep them away with my legs, then hopefully sweep to the top and progress with a slow, steady, pressure game. Obviously it is important to still move, e.g., with things like side control transitions. I just don’t go very fast.” – Slideyfoot

I was left with the above comment on my last post. It acted as a great reminder to another aspect of my gameplan against bigger opponents. It’s what I call, ‘Accepting the Bottom’.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was an adaptation of early (pre-olympic) Judo. It was adapted by a small practitioner. He saw what worked so wonderfully in Judo and tweaked things just enough to make it work for a 135lbs guy. One of those tweaks was the Guard.

The Guard was one of the biggest breakthroughs in BJJ (to say nothing of the impact on the rest of the martial arts world).

One thing that Slidey pointed out was that he likes to get solid grips from the bottom, maintain proper spacing, and attempt to sweep to top.

Well, that’s my game too. But, that only comes with an attitude of accepting the bottom.

When I first started I hated being on the bottom. When I got there I would struggle and push and fight. I found that I was always exhausted. My arm would be fatigued. My neck would be sore. I would feel defeated.

Every week my coach would say that small guys at our gym (remembering that we have a lot of bigger men there) tend to get really good off their backs because they always end up there anyway. It took about 9 months for that to sink in for me.

When I started most guys were okay with me playing a top game. They would see me (a new guy) as an opportunity to work on their bottom game. They would pull guard and let me do my thing. After I got better and started putting together a submission or two less and less guys would allow me on top. As I started solidifying mount and back control even less people would let me on top. Now, the only people that let me take top are the guard players, or the ones that are specifically working on the guard. I’m finding it harder and harder to get top, and maintain it. Bigger opponent’s just refuse to let me run around up there. It stared to become a real struggle. I couldn’t figure out what had changed, and what was so wrong with me.

Then, I decided to spend a month working on my escapes. The month after that I spent working on my guard. Those 8 weeks completely changed my game. Not just in ability, but in mentality.

I learned to accept that I’m going to most likely end up on the bottom when I’m fighting bigger opponents.

I would start fights by looking for grips and pulling guard. Like Slidey, I use my feet to push on hips and arms and maintain space. I pull and push with my grips. I keep moving. I look for a scissors sweep. If it’s not there I might attack an arm. I might push for another sweep. Sit up- hip bump sweep- guillotine- arm drag- scissors sweep- attack, attack, attack. 

My aim is to sweep. Submission are usually set-ups for sweeps. If I get a tap, it’s a bonus. But, I want the sweep. Why? Because, the acceptance of the bottom doesn’t mean that I want to live there. I still want top. But when I didn’t want to be on the bottom I would never attack. So, people didn’t have to worry about my guard. Before I had accepted being on the bottom I wasn’t willing to attack from there. I wanted to get out. I would escape from guard rather than use it.

Once I accepted that I would be on the bottom I realised that I was saving a lot of pushing and pulling. That means that I’m saving a lot of strength.

This acceptance has turned what I once hated into a significant part of my gameplan. Embracing the bottom is the best thing I’ve ever done in my short BJJ life.

I had a roll this morning and I really, really wanted to be on top the whole time. I’m now very tired and quite sore. Did I end up on top? Not really. Did I get to attack at all? Not really. Did I still spend all my time on the bottom? Yeah, but this time I wasn’t looking to get comfortable, sweep, and attack. I was looking to escape. Did it work? No.

On the way home I thought about it and was given a great reminder that a simple acceptance is half the preparation.

If you know the storm is coming you can defend. If you’re insistant that the storm isn’t coming you’ll probably end up in an armbar… put that on your Facebook status.

Float Like a Butterfly

Shout out to all the little guys!

Over the last week or so I’ve read a lot of stuff about little guy BJJ.

Being 5’6” and ~70kg (155lbs) puts me in the little guy category in my academy for sure. There are a few of us there, but we’re definitely out numbered by the big folk. Our gym seems to have it’s fair share of big men. Because of this I have had to be very aware of the kind of game I play when sparring.

Don’t let them get a hold of you- Float like a butterfly

This may sound odd at first. I mean, we’re grappling. We literally hug each other for the vast majority of techniques. That’s taken into account when this rule was established. So, I’ll explain.

Often, from head-to-head I’ll start in a seated guard position (see Marcelo Garcia for an amazing example of a seated guard). While here, I am in grip fighting mode. If someone grabs a foot I rip it away. If someone grabs a collar I rip it away. If someone pushes my shoulders I scoot to deflect the pressure. I scoot in and test the hooks. I fish for arm drags and underhooks. I scoot away if I’m not getting what I’m after… breathe… I scoot to the left. I scoot to the right. I jump up to combat stance. Fish, hook, shoot a single, grip fight, sit back down, scoot, pull, push… you get the idea. Basically, I never stop moving. Why? Because I can’t let bigger opponent’s dictate where the game takes place. I can’t let them get a hold of a leg or a collar or a sleeve. If they do, I’m stuck.

It’s the same in closed guard. I attack an arm, I attack a collar, I attempt a sweep, I attack another arm, I arm drag, I scoot to create a new angle, I attempt another sweep, I push on a hip, I pull on an arm, I push on a shoulder, and most importantly, I never let my opponent get comfortable when in my guard. I move and move and move and move… breathe… and move and move and move. Why? Because if I just close my legs and hold on I lock myself into their game. I give them permission to dictate how the fight goes. As the smaller fighter (most of the time) I will lose that fight. But, if they can’t catch me, they can’t beat me.

When passing the guard I never settle for one pass. Rule #1 for me is to never let an opponent close his legs around my back. That’s not safe for me. Big men can muscle sweeps on little men. I can’t allow that. I keep moving. I grab a leg. I push on a hip. I hold an arm. I move back. I stand up. I step in. I step away. I shoot a knee through. I pull back and get double underhooks. I push knees to the ground. If I get stopped in a pass I give up on it and reset, or transition to another pass. Pull the legs, push them, shoot around, grab a collar, overhook a knee, push a hip, stand up, kneel, combat stance, stand up again, step through… breathe… never stop moving. Never stop testing. Never just get stuck on one pass. If they get a hook I fight it. If they grab a collar I fight it. If they sit up I push forward, or kneel, or think about doing a front flip over their head but decide not to because I would probably break my neck. I never stop moving. Why? Because if they get a hold of me I lose my advantage. They can’t attack what they can’t catch. They can’t pin down what they can’t get a hold of. It’s my game (which might be the most important attitude for little guy BJJ).

When in side control I test submissions. If I don’t have what I need I transition to mount. No mount? Kneeride. If that’s not there I go to north-south. If I can isolate an arm I go to side control to attack. Mount? Kneeride? Rinse, repeat. I don’t stop and hold someone down and slowly work on an arm, or hold on tight to their head. That locks me into them and allows them to use their weight and size. My game is constant movement. When I stop moving I am playing their game.

From mount I tend to stay very light. I ride mount rather than hunker down and hold mount. I lift my legs. I throw out baits. I attack collars. I attack arms. I turn. I twist. If I lose position I bail quickly. If I get one deep collar grip and need them to move an arm to get the other I just let them roll me. If they roll me they usually don’t defend their collar at the same time. I’d rather finish a collar choke than hold mount. Mount is full attack mode. One after another after another after another… breathe… after another. My game isn’t holding on for dear life. That’s them. My game is changing angles and attacks. If they’re having to defend they’re not escaping, are they?

Underneath it’s the same. From side control I’m always looking to escape. If a big man decides to just hunker down, and I know I’m safe from submissions, I’ll take that time to rest. But, once he moves, I attempt an escape. I shoot for a mile with every inch he allows. If he’s moving I’m moving. He doesn’t get to rest up there. He doesn’t just get to apply weight.

I don’t stop moving. That’s not to say that everything is super speed. I can take it nice and slow. I can inch my way along. But, my natural game is fast and flowing. I don’t stop moving.

As a smaller fighter I would say that this is the biggest reason that I’m able to compete with bigger opponents. Movement, and lots of it. On the days when I don’t move, I tap a lot more often.

So, if you’re small and you find yourself constantly stuck against bigger opponents I would suggest spending a couple session in constant movement. See how it feels. See how they react. See how things open up.

Float like a butterfly.

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