Stop using your strength! Does this sound familiar? We’re not judging. We’re just here to help.
You huff, and you puff, and you fight jiu jitsu. We tell you to ‘go easy’, relax, and not use your strength. You hear us, but you don’t listen to us. You nod your head, and the moment you touch gloves, the bulldog is once again off the leach.
We don’t blame you. Your intentions are pure, and it’s not your fault.
Your nervous system dictates your behaviours. It is bound by habits that have been formed since your birth. In order to survive, you react to perceived threats. You sense it, your body adapts, your breath seizes up, and there you go again, throwing people out of the windows of the dojo.
Unfortunately this isn’t the best way to learn, for you or for your training partners.
We’re not testing for strength on the mats. If we were, we’d be in the gym.
Instead, our aim is to understand how to best utilise your skeleton, at all times. Both during conflict, during playful rolling, and in all of life.
Your skeleton is your strength, not your imposing will.
When you learn how to use your bones, you can pick and choose where you need to grit your teeth and force your willpower. And when you take away the force during training, you’re free to sense the intricacies that make jiu jitsu the gentle art.
Then, when you eventually do need to let the dog out, you’re crisp, and fresh; efficient, and effective; and ready to do what needs to be done within the situation at hand.
Always go back to the technique because that is where the leverage is found. This is how the technique flows into the organisation of your bones, your muscles, and your nervous system, and connects with your partner, and with the earth.
An essential element of self organisation is your breath.
You hear ‘go easy’, but it’s not enough. You need to feel it instead. We can do this via your breath.
Here’s a task.
Find a partner, and put some water in your mouth, but don’t swallow it.
Swish the water around your mouth and get used to having it there. Sense into how much you shut your jaw. Are you clenching tight, or are you letting your lips do the work? Your aim is to keep the water in your mouth, not break your teeth.
If you are not currently choking, you also notice that you have re-directed your breathing to come and go through your nose. Feel yourself absorb air along your palette, and down your trachea. Fill your ribs expand. Bring your breath down to below your belly button. And then let it go the same way.
Do this a few times.
Then with your partner begin to roll with light intentions.
Throughout the roll, check in with your breathing. There will be times that your movements require more oxygen than you are processing. Rather than spilling the water, seek to adjust your movement relative to your breathing pattern. This will then dictate the intensity of the roll.
Notice how your thoughts evolve with the different method of breathing. Sense the panic associated with not having enough oxygen to accomplish your goals.
You will quickly see that major bursts of strength are less than ideal. This is when you will start to rely on technique instead of the tools you usually have available to you.
You’ll get slower, and more tired, and this will be uncomfortable. But then you will actively remind yourself to breathe into your belly, adjust to the discomfort, and continue exploring leverage, and refining your technique.
The water is your friend, and it helps you to embody slowness, and this improves your capacity to learn.
Of course if it gets too much, all you have to do is swallow it – don’t spit it out onto the mats!
Don’t Fight, Feel.
This is a different approach to one that you’re used to. Yet when you work on your approach to jiu jitsu, you enjoy immeasurable benefits in all areas of your game within jiu jitsu. Your half guard improves along with your mount and all positions in between. Your pin gets heavier, and your submissions get sharper. Your jiu jitsu gets more fun, and as a result your days gets brighter.
It’s because breathing is the essence of life. So as you use jiu jitsu to understand your breathing better, you think better, you move better, you feel more calm, and safe, and alive everywhere outside of jiu jitsu too.
So when we tell you to take it easy, it isn’t a signal to be lazy, as much as allow for an increased sense of feeling. This is one way to understand it.
Now, keep training.