Most of us have heard the term “flow state” referring to when we are completely engaged in an activity and we lose all sense of time. In activities as different as playing a musical instrument, writing computer code or playing chess the participant reports being in “flow” state.
This is when we are performing at our best without necessarily much conscious effort and the words, music, or movements just seem to happen almost effortlessly.
I’m reading an excellent book titled simply Flow by one of the world’s foremost researchers Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. The book breaks down the essential elements of this flow state and how we can recreate it more often in our lives and in our jiu-jitsu training.
Have you ever had a roll with one of your favorite training partners without setting a timer and just exchanged positions without any attention to the clock? After the last submission, you bumped hands, glanced up at the clock, and were astonished that 30 minutes had passed! The entire time you were 100 percent engaged. The problems of normal life and the outside world disappeared. In the best rolls, your techniques just seem to come automatically and you seamlessly “flowed” in between transitions.
After, with the sweat dripping from your face and heartbeat return to resting, you experience a mild euphoria. Most of us have heard of exercise-induced endorphins but according to the author of Flow, the biochemical activity in our brains is much more complex.
As a BJJ addict, when I read books on personal development and optimal performance, I’m immediately looking for how I can apply it on the mats at the jiu-jitsu academy.
In reading about the conditions that make up a “flow state,” there are several components that are shared and central to rolling in BJJ.
These quotes from the book Flow are some of the essential conditions for achieving the “flow state”:
1) “Flow experience usually occurs when we confront tasks we have a chance of completing.” For example, when we land submissions.
2) “A high degree of concentration on the task.” When someone is trying to choke you, you better believe you are concentrating!
3 & 4) “Concentration is usually possible because the task undertaken has clear goals and provides immediate feedback.” If you catch the submission (goal) and get the tap (feedback) you are fulfilling #3 and #4.
5) “..a deep but effortless involvement that removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life.” When you tie your belt and step onto the mat, your outside life is temporarily forgotten.
6) “A sense of control over your actions.” Check.
7) “The sense of the duration of time is altered; hours pass by in minutes, and minutes can stretch out to seem like hours.” My most enjoyable way to roll is with a training partner of comparable ability without a timer set. I completely lose sense of time and am completely absorbed in the roll.
My favorite Rickson Gracie quote alludes to this flow state: “The most interesting aspect of jiu-jitsu is… of course, the techniques are great…but the sensibility of the opponent, sense of touch, the weight, the momentum, the transition from one movement to another. That’s the amazing thing about it. You must allow yourself to go as on autopilot. You don’t know exactly where you’re going until the movement happened because you can not anticipate what is going to happen. You must allow yourself to be in a zero point; a neutral point. Be relaxed and connected with the variations. Flow with the go.”
Rickson Gracie – “Choke”