Saturday, February 11, 2006

BJJ Fighting to Win or Learn?

At then end of each class, in the rolling portion of class, I get two really great kinds of learning. The part where I roll with the seniors of the class. And the part where I roll with other of similar or less skill. These two types of competition lead me to have to two dramatically different mind sets and focuses for the training.

Fighting Senior Fighters

When rolling with the senior belts, we are blessed in our class to have some really great fighters on the Scott Schilling BJJ Team, I spend 80% to 90% of my time focused on defense of position and submission avoidance. The rest of my time is spent looking for opportunities for dominant position or getting a submission of my own.

All the time, however, I am trying to store snippets of what my senior opponent is trying to do, where they are going, why they are doing what they are doing, and what was cool or slick for future reference. I admit my retention is not as good as it was 10 years ago, but I still pick things up. This learning helps me in subsequent matches with the seniors.

A few things I have learned from fighting seniors;

  • Fighting a new senior belt can be intimidating the first time out. Relaxing helps. But I find that if I set the only expectation to be one of learning, I can fight as hard as I can with a calm mind which leads to personal victory in the match. Avoid fear because it will get you every time.

  • The more you fight a same senior, the better the rapport, and the more free you become to try new things. A good senior will help you develop as they kick your ass!

  • Never let Tommy get a hold of your lapel or collar. Ever.

Fighting Same Rank or Junior Fighters

When rolling with same rank or juniors, my focus depends on the situation. As a white belt beginner on the verge of becoming an intermediate, I must to fight other white belts with different skills who bring different backgrounds to the mat with them such as Karate, Wrestling, Boxing, or none at all. This diversity and lack of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu skill and knowledge leads to some interesting situations and dynamics.

After the initial feeling out period, I quickly get a feel for how I am going to fight in the match. Most of the same rank match ups are a game of dominant position where my focus is 50/50 defense offense. I have most fun in these situations and learn a great deal. I find that this kind of match is as close to Chess as the mat game can get, for me at least.

As for fighting with beginners, the game is completely different. Most beginners, very green, cannot defend very well and it is easy to set up submissions. I find this a great opportunity to try what I have learned step by step without too much opposition. After a submission or two, I focus on position; getting and keeping. I will also sometimes ease up on a position enough to just allow an escape. Then I try to re-capture position. This allows us to both learn.

A few things I have learned from fighting same rank and juniors;
  • The techniques taught work. If I relax and focus on step by stepping the technique, it usually leads to the desired result.

  • A strong beginner will most often focus too much on power and strength. If I relax and protect my positioning, they will make strategic mistakes leading to an easy submission. The triangle, for example, comes easy when a beginner is in my guard, stands up, and tries to hold me down with their hands. They will also most likely run out of gas after two minutes or so leaving 3 or 4 minutes to work with ease.

  • The best matches happen when my opponent and I are both relaxed and try to work on technique without going 200% on strength and power.

  • Keeping it light and having fun allows the best learning to happen.

So, in my limited experience as a white belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, the best experience from rolling happens when I focus on learning and working with my opponent rather than focusing solely on winning. Submissions happen on both sides, but if everyone on the team works together, we all get better.

If I fight to learn, I win.