BJJ / Grappling Mentality: Be Wewy wewy afwaid!

“Our way of action is in...the belief that inherited personal qualities are things to be proud of and defects to be ashamed of and hidden. Habits of thought and action formed in this way are of little avail when we are confronted with tasks in which our social standing cannot influence the outcome of the act...This demands flexibility of attitude of mind and body quite beyond that which we form in the present social environment"

If you fancy delving into the philosophy behind judo (and by extension, jiu jitsu) this is a great book. It's available to download for free and is full of both philosophical and technical gems.

The reason the quote above really caught my mind is because it reminded me of something John Will (5th degree black belt under the Machados) talked so passionately about during his seminar at Factory last year: the willingliness to go out there, take a risk and accept that it's ok to make mistakes.

John's angle was that we are wired to avoid mistakes. Evolution dictates this. At least to a degree, we are the progeny of the ones who survived, not those who experimented and failed. Trial and error could be fatal, literally, back in caveman days.

He also highlighted, however, that that is no longer true on the BJJ mat and to some extent in life in general. If you are training at a healthy BJJ gym / academy with a healthy environment*, you should be constantly encouraged to experiment and try things out. Don't take the grappling instructor's words for a technique or concept, try it out for yourself. Experience it. Fail with it until you succeed.

I've heard many instructors say that those who only ever play their A-game at the gym are being douchebags. Smashing everyone they can, never learning by putting themselves in positions they’re not good from: wrestlers who spend the whole round hugging you down, guard players who never want to get up and pass...etc. But never before meeting John had anyone explained the psychological mechanism that drives that behaviour: Fear.

Being afraid is natural. The legendary Rickson Gracie himself once called a man without fear a fool**. The general idea is to get on the mat and experiment in spite of your fear. Learn by doing and experiencing what your training partner can and can't do to counter and prevent you. It's important to remember why Helio Gracie decided to fight the much younger and much bigger Masahiko Kimura:

"The Brazilian press was strongly opposed to me fighting the bigger man, and everyone wanted to know why I wanted to fight him. I told them I wanted to find out how the big guy planned to beat me. I told them I wanted to be a guinea pig. It was the ultimate test."***

If you liked this, check out Arcanum's excellent post.
*How do YOU to describe a healthy training environment?
**to be exact, he said: ”I believe intelligence and fear are very close together. Guys who say they are not afraid of anything, they are stupid. They are silly to me…I am afraid of everything

*** from Grappling Magazine’s Doug Jeffery’s July 2010 interview with Helio Gracie


Liam "The Part Time Grappler" Wandi

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Brendan @ BJJ Gi Reviews said...

Great quote from Helio at the end!

The Part Time Grappler said...

yeah he was wisdomous!

fenix said...

Good post. JBW said very similar things when he did seminars at our school. Pretty motivational and very much outside the apparent norm in our society, isn't it? That effort and training can beat talent, experiments and mistakes lead to learning and that fear (and other emotions) are not just ok, but necessary. To me, that means I have input in my destiny and it's ok to be human :-) This, I can live out not just on the mat, but everywhere in life.

I'm just reading Josh Waitzkin's book The Art of Leaning. It's a great read. He talks about his chess and martial arts career and uses examples from his own life to illustrate his points. And his points are pretty much in line with the above idea.

Interestingly, Josh picked up BJJ as a third art to learn. He trains with Marcelo Garcia. In any case, it's a book I'm really enjoying and there are lots of lessons to be learned from that, especially on the subject of learning to harness emotions.

JBW said...

Liam - I really enjoy your always interesting posts. Thanks for the effort - and with good fortune, I will be seeing you early May. best respect: John Will

The Part Time Grappler said...

@fenix, very curious about the Josh book! Ever since I heard him chat on the fightworks podcast

The Part Time Grappler said...

@John, thank you for the very kind words. they mean a lot to me. We all look forward to seeing you here.