Treat BJJ as a game

I am finally getting there, I am treating BJJ as a game – it’s taken years. I want to accelerate my Jiu-Jitsu development as fast as I possibly can and I know that to do this, I must relax, try new ideas, concepts and techniques and not be bothered about tapping. It’s a balance. You want to do well when sparring, but doing well at all costs will destroy your chances of becoming technically better or considerably slow your development down. It makes it much easier to go training if you can treat BJJ as a game, too – there’s no fear, it’s impossible to lose. I don’t mind admitting that I’ve missed training sessions in the past because I didn’t want the pressure of having to fight and win. I wish I’d had the game playing mindset back then, I would be much further on with my technique development.

I now know that training is about learning and not just winning. Separating the mind from a desire to tap everyone you spar with is the fastest route to making progress.

I read a great deal about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and constantly find articles and interviews that express the views of the champions and the resounding theme is that you must be ego free, try new techniques and not worry about tapping. If you are tapping you are learning.

It is important to train with people who can dominate you and tap you out. If you are not being pushed by others, your skills will not rise as quickly as they would if you are training with people who are better than you. They are often better than you because they are further along the BJJ journey.

It is very tempting to use the techniques you are best at in sparring – the ones you see the most success from – but how will you develop other techniques and bring them to a high level if you have not tried and developed them in sparring situations? What is for sure is that when you try new techniques and concepts, it is highly unlikely they will work first time, but this is the process of development. If you can’t bring yourself to try something you have recently learnt because you are scared of losing position or being tapped – you will never ever become skilled with that technique and although you may win many sparring matches with your limited game – the ultimate loss will be yours.

Are you really ‘winning’ if you don’t grow your repertoire but you tap the same people week in week out with the same limited game? One day, someone more experienced and more athletic than you will absolutely smash you and you’ll wish you had developed a deep technical defence and a fluid, ever-changing, difficult to read and deal with, offence. I have been cut to shreds by eleven stone guys in Brazil and it was humbling, totally technical and absolutely impossible for me to stop – despite the fact that I was stronger than them. This is the level I dream of getting to – and I know that consist training, relaxation and willingness to experiment with new techniques is the key.

In fact, having just written this piece, I’ve decided I am not going to refer to sparring matches, I’m going to refer to training matches, from now on.

I am not promoting myself as the expert with all the answers because I know I still have an incredible amount to learn. I am trying to develop my Jiu-Jitsu on a daily basis and my development includes analysis of recent performance, visualisation and mental preparation for my next training session. I often drive home from training sessions and think deeply about how and why I was dominated, if of course I was, how I was tapped and why, and reflect on my successes, too. Little successes, little steps forward are very satisfying for me. Tiny improvements, perhaps managing to get into a particular position and feeling and experiencing what it is like to be there for the first time, but not quite getting it right and losing position – an improvement of a previous week’s effort to get to the same position and providing I keep on trying despite the failures and set backs, I’m likely to get a bit further still if I persist in future training sessions. I’m treating my BJJ as a game.

None of what I have described is possible if I define success purely on the basis of whether or not I tapped my training partner. I know that finally treating Jiu-Jitsu as a game is putting me in the fast lane for getting to where I want to be – which is to be as technically good as possible.

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