When you watch a white-belt match and a higher-belt match, you’ll probably notice a few key differences.
For one thing, the higher belts are going to be pulling some much cooler and sleeker moves than their less-experienced counterparts. And of course, you’re likely to see that the belts that tie their gis together are, in fact, different colors.
But one of the most distinctive ways that more experienced jiu jitsu practitioners differ from beginners is that they know how to go into even the most intense rolls with a clear mind and controlled breathing. If you can master it, too, you’ll be shocked at how quickly you advance in BJJ.
It’s easy to get a little spastic when you’re rolling, especially when you don’t have a whole lot of techniques up your sleeve and you’re getting destroyed by someone who does know what he or she is doing.
But when you start taking rapid, shallow breaths and relying completely on your strength, you’re going to run out of energy much faster than your opponent. When that happens, you can bet he or she is going to take advantage of your exhausted state to force you into a submission that you’re too tired to fight.
One of the best ways to learn to train your body and your mind to chill out is by finding “rest stops” while you roll. These are positions in which you can take a moment to gather your thoughts, take a deep breath, and plan your next few moves.
Closed guard, whether you’ve pulled it or are stuck in it, can be a great position to take a breather and let your opponent wear him or herself out. The same goes for when you or your opponent gets mount.
Basically, any position in which you are neither at risk of immediately losing an advantage nor have the potential to immediately gain an advantage can be used as an opportunity to calm yourself.
When what’s done is done and you have to figure out how to improve your position from where you are, it’s time to get a brief moment of zen and let your brain tell your body what it should do next.
Not only will learning to relax enable you to roll longer, but it will also teach you to roll smarter.
Rather than focusing on how you’re going to survive for another half an hour at open mat, you’re going to be learning the best moments to wait and the best moments to explode. You’ll become more in-tune with your opponents’ movements, figuring out when you should be taking advantage of their poorly timed moments of relaxation or exhaustion and which of their attacks are going to require you to expend a bit more energy.
It goes without saying that you should never just hang out in any position for too long; your brief moments of relaxation should be very brief indeed. But when you use them properly, you’ll learn to read your opponents better and know when you should be conserving and expending your energy.
Sure, you’ll probably get tapped a few times when you think you’re safe and sound, but it will pay off big time in the end. After all, if you don’t know how to relax in your own gym, surrounded by your own teammates without any pressure at all, how are you going to survive multiple adrenaline-filled rounds at a tournament?
Just like anything else, practice really does make perfect when it comes to relaxing in jiu jitsu. It’s not something that’s going to come naturally overnight, but with time, you’ll find that you can make it through entire practices and tournaments without getting yourself too worked up.
If you make a conscious effort to focus on calming your mind and body while you train, you’ll be shocked at just how much better you’ll fare both in practice and in competition.
Jiu jitsu is as much a mental sport as it is a physical one, and once you get your mind and body to cooperate, you’ll notice a huge improvement in the way you roll.