Strength, speed, agility and flexibility are the physical attributes that come to mind when one thinks of physical attributes that can be developed to improve one’s grappling. Mental attributes that many people consider are technique, toughness and strategy.
An interesting attribute that isn’t often discussed is that of mat awareness.
In simple terms, mat awareness is the understanding of positions, imminent threats, and opportunities. Mat awareness is knowing where the other person is going to be before they go there and knowing where to be to catch the other person off guard. It is why wrestlers and judokas have an easier time learning BJJ than the average person walking in off the street. It is perhaps the single most valuable skill for real life violent altercations.
There’s only one way to develop mat awareness and that is mat time. Unlike physical attributes or even some mental attributes, there are no shortcuts for this. You need to be on the receiving end of attacks to understand how to defend against those attacks. This is also why it is advisable for upper ranks to put themselves in bad spots: because if they wind up in those spots in competition, their chances of survival go down as the talent of their opponents goes up.
Mat awareness doesn’t mean you’ll be able to stop the attacks that are coming at you; it just means you’ll know what is about to happen. For this reason, mat awareness can translate to a safer rolling experience. If I know I’m about to get submitted with something potentially injurious, I will tap preemptively.
A good way to improve this skill is to flow roll. When people flow roll, they begin to see patterns in position development. This ultimately develops into the ability to prediction of positions before they materialize, which can be highly beneficial.
Another good way to develop awareness is to drill combinations of moves. This will allow you to begin to see moves as they present themselves and innately understand how to chain them together. The ability to play any given position often translates to awareness in that same position.
Developing mat awareness is a grueling but important task for any grappler to undertake. The more you are exposed, the better. For this reason, exposing oneself to many different styles of grappling and many different shapes and sizes of training partners and opponents will ultimately bring about improvement.
What are you doing to develop your mat awareness?