Jiu-jitsu is a series of peaks and valleys. When we’re on a peak we don’t always realize it, but when we are in a valley, we can struggle to find the motivation to train because we feel like we aren’t making the progress we believe we should. In an effort to combat this, I started challenging myself to complete the entire month of November by not submitting any of my training partners while rolling, which I have been referring to as “No Sub November.” The first reaction I receive when telling my training partners what I’m doing is usually, “How is that different from any other month?” and to be honest, there isn’t a change in my outward rolling style, but a change in mindset while rolling. This has helped me change the mental game which has assisted me in improving my outward style of rolling. Here are some of the ways this change has helped me.
Position before submission. This is the primary benefit of “No Sub November,” and it is the adage of jiu-jitsu practitioners everywhere. However, is it something we always put into practice? No. Previously, I was not practicing what I preached to our students and, admittedly, I was more concerned with being able to get a submission without any thought of what type of position I was putting myself in. During No Sub November, I found myself being able to attack from dominant positions without sacrificing my position, and I felt I was becoming more technically sound. When you change your mindset from “I need to win” to “How can I advance this position?” you no longer find yourself hitting the dreaded training slumps as often. It no longer becomes winning or losing — it becomes “Where are the holes in my game?”
It’s a great way to break out of a rut. Many times while we are rolling with our training partners, we find ourselves trying to “win” every round like it’s the finals at Worlds, and we fail to address holes or weaknesses in our game. By taking a break from constantly searching for the submission, I found myself realizing areas of my game that could use some additional attention. For example, the first year I started doing this, I was mostly a closed guard player. Every aspect of my game was routed through the closed guard, but once someone passed my guard I was useless. Once I accepted that weakness in my game, I became more willing to open my guard in order to transition to either butterfly guard or half guard. As a result, I’ve become better at butterfly sweeping and attacking from the bottom of half guard, which is something I couldn’t have seen myself doing two years prior.
Recognizing common reactions and figuring out ways to exploit them effectively. Once you remove the mindset that you need to always attack a submission and start worrying about improving your position, you start to notice common patterns to how people react when put into certain positions. It is important to take mental notes (or write notes post-training) when you’re in these positions. Take note of how your partner reacted when you got to mount — Is this a common reaction? What possible attacks are there, and how can you exploit that reaction? How can you advance to other positions while still maintaining dominant control? This is the single biggest benefit to helping improve my game, and it was how I began chaining techniques together which, in turn, advanced my understanding by leaps and bounds.
The way you learn and analyze technique will change. When you begin to understand how to chain techniques together, you’ll start seeing techniques that are being taught from a different angle and asking “what if?” If I can chain that anaconda choke to a d’arce choke, what if I try to chain the guillotine choke, and how would I get there? What if I try to use the arm triangle to open up a path to the back? If my partner is passing my guard, what if I transition to half guard, and try to sweep them right away? By asking these questions, you can start to experiment with different attacks and positions to open up different paths.
Jiu-jitsu is as much mental as it is physical, and No Sub November is one of the tools that helps me exercise my mind as much as my body. If you’re looking for a new tool to mix up your training and refocus your brain, give this a try. What are some things you’ve done in an attempt to help improve your jiu-jitsu understanding?