Most of us started training because we wanted to learn how to fight. But we keep training because it’s fun. It’s a place where complex problem solving and an average level of athleticism meet in a unique way. This is a quick list of things that I love about Bjj. We might encounter them in everyday training, or we may need to seek out higher level competition to experience the same thing later down the road.
1. Struggle to find control of a situation. You are stuck. But that’s ok. There is always a way out. If you don’t need to tap to preserve your body, you have nothing but time to figure out the best way to approach the situation at hand. This can be painful and frustrating when we first start. As we get better at protecting ourselves and staying calm in these situations, we can approach them with confidence and curiosity.
2. Learn a way the human body moves that you were not previously aware of. The human body is capable of a lot. When we first begin in Bjj, there are several alien movements that will prove useful with time. On occasion, a small adjustment from a specific situation will make the difference in how you see a position.
3. Learning more about a position that you thought you already knew. There is always more. Something obvious that previously made enough sense will suddenly open up to you. A detail from a seminar, a new friend who does things differently, or a purple belt who is studying an instructional can bring a small adjustment that makes a big difference.
4. Deliberately employing a new movement to see if it fits into your game. Trying what you just absorbed is a good way to improve your game. My friend Derek Bohi showed a back take from half guard at a seminar last weekend. He has used this to beat me, and I was humbled to listen to him teach the technique and explain the details. I tried it on a few different people before the exact angle I needed made sense. Every approach to a position is fascinating study that can take a long time to fully appreciate.
5. Learn from a loss and improve based on the experience. We all go through the psychological challenges of losing. The better the opposition you seek out, the more you stand to gain. As long as you are in one piece, you win at least by gaining the experience. In my first tournament at Black Belt, I had an open weight match against a famous competitor. After submitting me around the 8 minute mark, he patiently explained what I needed to do to give him a better challenge.
6. That look of surprise when you spring a trap. In chess, this is called ‘discovered check’.
7. You are controlling a position, and feel a stronger opponent struggling. This is one of the ‘magic’ feelings in Jiu Jitsu. A superior force is only useful when it reaches its target. For example, if you keep the bottom of the foot in the air, it will not be able to employ the strength of the legs.
8. Find a hole in a win to improve your game. I have always loved the idea of studying video. It’s easy to look at what went wrong, but could winning have still gone better yet? Doing this can minimize effort while maximizing results. That is, as long as you have the correct method of analysis. The slightest detail can derail a fantastic plan and then you’re not winning at all.
9. Apply something you learned in Jiu Jitsu and use it in regular life. I remember applying concepts to my trade of floor installing when I began training Bjj. I spent a lot of time analyzing the way to stand up, because we stood hundreds of times every day. Keeping my elbows in during a collar choke taught me how to preserve my shoulders when cutting material. If you’re not paying attention to detail, you could be doing something better.
10. Discover a piece of history, and make use of it in your game. Anderson Silva wrote in his book about finding a spinning back elbow in an old Kung Fu movie. He actually pulled it off in a high level fight. I like looking for ideas in old books or famous matches from years ago and seeing if I can recreate a specific battle to get the feel of the problems they were solving.
11. Get your ass kicked by someone who is really good. There are many types of really good players. Actually experiencing a top notch guy appear on your back when you were expecting something totally different is much cooler than you would probably think.
12. Watching your friends to see how they respond to each other. Sometimes they will do the same thing to everyone, other times you will see them play a totally different game. Being tired from rolling in the previous round doesn’t mean we can’t actively learn from what people do. Ask questions, most people will gladly share.