Rolling with Others and how I think about it later

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Last night I had the privilege of joining a different school for a night of training. I am from Wellington, but am in Whangarei for a week. There is a club up here, so I decided to bring my Gi and have a roll.

This reminded me of something that, I believe, should be foundational to everyone’s BJJ life:

Whenever you have the opportunity, train with new people.

After 2 years at the same place you tend to have a pretty good understanding of everyone’s game. You naturally learn counters, and counters to counters. You discover strategies that work against different opponents. You know what positions to stay away from and what positions you can enter freely without consequence.

When you head off to another school, and hop on the mats with people you’ve never met before, you have to go through the entire discovery process again.

For example, from last night I’ve figured out the following:

– Against opponent A I cannot let him get to the top position. If I do, I won’t get out and will likely get submitted. I also have to be posture-focused while in his guard because he likes to attack from there. I also have to play a sitting hooks guard against him rather than a laying hooks guard (so I’d be attacking with my arms rather than my legs). This is because he sprawls on the hooks which exposes my legs.

These things mean that when I roll against opponent A, I have to look for underhook sweeps and drags from the guard. I have to use an early escape plan.

Since I spent the entire spar on the bottom I don’t yet know what works when on top. So, if we rolled again I would look to test that out.  My hypothesis is that he would have quite a physical bottom game where he looks to break posture. So, I would try to play a busy top game looking for underhooks and collars along the way.

– Against opponent B I cannot allow him to gain side control, because it takes more effort to get out of side control than it does to not allow it in the first place. I was defended while there, but he stayed busy, and kept attacking. Again, I didn’t have a chance to test the top. He also sprawls well on the hooks.

Similar to opponent A (probably because they train together) I would have to play seated looking for underhooks and drags. I would look to just play top and stay busy. I would defend sweeps, so as not to give up position.

– Against opponent C I can play a bit more, but need to be willing to work my way out of things. He defeats lazy-jitsu. He plays a very tight, grabbing game. Top would just be slow and steady, working towards better positioning. He is a north-north top player (someone that just keeps pressing forward) so a laying hooks guard is fine.

I would look to play more east-west in the guard and attack a lot with the legs, with drags and scissors sweep thrown in. My top game would be all about dominating staying clear of arms (so that I don’t just get stuck and have to waste energy working out), and using knee-rides and transitions. Since he likes to grab I would look for arms and opportunities to transition into submissions, rather than trying to work towards submissions.

– Against opponent D I can play a lot more. This opponent rolls, and scoots and flows. Grips, foot placement, blocking with shins and simply countering slight movements is the game are all important. This opponent doesn’t hold position, they advance while looking for spaces to attack. I get to play a lot, and give up position, and try different things, but I have to always be on because submissions could come from anything. There are no resting (mentally)positions against these kinds of opponents.

I would look to play even more against this type of opponent. Why? Because it’s fun.

The best reason to roll with others is that is tells you, very clearly what’s missing in your foundational game. I get to ask the question, “What, when I roll against someone I’ve never met, is a hole in my game?” I can now take these things away and create new triggers for my techniques. I can broaden my game just enough to fit the new things in without making it too big.

This is a great practice that every practitioner should do as often as possible.

Thank you to the folks I rolled with last night. Thank you for helping me grow my game. See you next time!

Personality

Understanding yourself is a key to understanding your game as a jiu jitsu practitioner. It’s one of the greatest things about the art. It’s just as alive as you are. It reflects it’s user. It adapts to who you really are.

With all the teaching out there today it can become more an more difficult to know what your natural style might be. There are a lot of people learning someone else’s game. We watch the latest world champ, get his DVD, and model our game cometely on him. The problem with this is that it doesn’t always reflect your personality.

Our entire society refelcts this. More and more rules are being applied to expressions of art. Other people’s rules. Rules are okay. They usually come from an established truth. But, when truth is used to hinder the discovery and expression of further truth… well, we just start to become bored and struggle with our chosen art. The struggle is that we’re not expressing who we really are through it. At that point, it’s no longer art.

It’s copy and paste.

So, here’s a practice to try out:
Go into sparring without any kind of gameplan. Don’t hold on to submissions. When you see one, grab it, lock it, then let it go. Don’t hold a position without activity, but don’t just abandon them lightly either. As much as you can, follow your instincts. Don’t stop to think. Just roll. Let go of all thought. Just roll. If you get caught, tap. You’re not aiming to win here. Just roll. You’re aiming to get a feel for your natural game.

When the session is over, go back and think about what felt right and what felt forced. What felt natural and what didn’t. What felt like instinct and what felt like programme.

I have done this over the last year in jiu jitsu. I have also done this over the last 20 years playing sports and video games. I have discovered my natural game.

Tight and patient.

I think defensively. I protect first. I naturally limit options for the opponent, and anticipate action. When I see what I’m looking for I test it. If it’s good I’ll take it. If it’s not I’ll toss it back. I wait until the right moment instead of forcing.

My natural game is to slowly back my opponent into a corner taking an inch at a time until I’m ready to cover that last metre.

Because of all that, my natural game also involves a lot of movement. In BJJ I’m constantly adjusting to the reactions of my opponent. They move an arm, I move a leg. They lean forward, I shift to the side. They sit up to attack, I hip out.

The vast majority of my taps have come from counters because the opponent didn’t have any other options but to play into what I’d set up. Or, slow and patient work from a dominant position.

It’s important for me to note here that I haven’t played my natural game for some weeks now.

I’ve felt off. I’ve been in a jiu-jitsu funk. The reason for the funk has been that I haven’t been playing my natural game. I’ve been trying to play someone else’s. That’s lead to me ending up stuck underneath most of my opponents, not holding top when I do get there, and trying to force things (which usually starts the cycle of underneath and loss of position all over again).

So, I’m going to find my calm, do a bit of clear minded analytical thinking, and get back to my natural expression of art instead of attempting to copy and paste someone else’s personality.

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.

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