Are you a Tool?
Ever wake up in the morning feeling great? I mean like Tony the Tiger GRRRRRRRREAT?!
(And it’s not because you ate sugary cereal)
All cylinders firing, all systems go. Your mood is up, your day is going smooth. You eat well all day in anticipation for some good rolling. You can’t wait to train! It’s all you think about and visualize. You spend copious amounts of time searching online for clips to watch and articles to read to fuel your motivation.
You get going to the gym, put on your beats to elevate your mood even more. Class starts. Warm-ups are a breeze. You’re on top of the world! You’re ready to roll. All is well. You feel like you’d put Tony the Tiger himself in the Mata Leão! Then you get absolutely SMASHED by your training partner(s).
Welcome to Jiu Jitsu.
Every academy has a “hammer” (or more than one depending on where you are on your journey. When you’re a white belt, everyone seems to be your hammer). There is someone you work with that just makes everyone feel like a beginner. No matter what your game plan is, it goes out the window when you roll with the hammer. The shut down all your moves and submit and sweep you at will. No matter your current belt rank, they make you feel like a NEWB.
What do you do in this situation? Do you get frustrated? Do you feel fear? Do you look for another partner? Do you run back home? How you respond to this is a vital part of your progress and growth in learning Jiu Jitsu. Dan Gable famously said, “Once you’ve wrestled, everything else in life is easy.”
Just like in life, you need to deal with challenges head on. Running away and avoidance are not options. You’ll be a better human being every time you get on the mat, if you let those lessons sink in.
On the top of your list of things to do? Survive, Defend, Escape. In the University of Jiu Jitsu, Saulo Ribeiro explains this concept in great detail. Patience is the cornerstone of this concept. Without patience, panic will set in. Energy will be wasted, you will try to burst out of your Gi getting out of the bad situation, you’ll eventually tire and get tapped.
What is hard to realize, although I guarantee it was the case, was that the “hammer” was once a nail. Toughened through the experiences of surviving on the mat, they developed sound defense and survival in order to weather the storm and eventually fight back with their own offense. In fact, depending on where you are in your journey, you may STILL be a nail with certain training partners. Each person’s journey will guarantee meeting a hammer. Basic defense and survival tactics will improve your ability to frustrate the hammer. There is always an opportunity to work on these skills.
The Nail Fights Back
There are a few things you can do to improve your “tensile strength” as a nail.
- Accept being the nail. If you know your training partner is a hammer, then be prepared to accept being the nail. That means staying patient, calm, and focusing on your basic defensive postures when in bad positions. Create your frames, protect your neck, keep your elbows in, and use your hips to create space and distance. And don’t be afraid to tap if you get into a “checkmate” scenario. Reset and try again. It’s the key to faster progress.
- Breathe. Deep breathing is an overlooked quality and necessity in Jiu Jitsu. Breathing properly keeps you relaxed, even while under duress. When you’re caught in a bad spot, keep your body loose and protected, breathing deeply in and out of your nose. This is a key component of Rickson and Kron Gracie’s Jiu Jitsu. Steve Maxwell also has excellent resources on this topic. A brief video from him will get you up to speed on this topic. When you are relaxed, your body is harder to control, your detection senses are heightened and you’ll be harder to submit.
- Celebrate small victories. Every time the hammer tries to advance on you in position or by submission, and you thwart that attempt, you’ve won a small mental victory. This mental victory is for you to understand your survival tactics are working, and it also may put a small “chink in the mental armor” of your opponent. Making them work harder is not what they thought, and you’ve done it.
What isn’t important, is winning or losing your matches on the mat in the academy. Surviving and defending is winning. When you tap, you learn. It’s better to tap when your opponent catches you in something because you may end up using improper technique to escape. I’m not saying this doesn’t happen when you’re having a spirited roll with a friendly training partner, or if you are training for actual competition. There are different objectives to be mindful of when competing. But if you’re learning the art of Jiu Jitsu for self-defense you don’t want winning your roll to be your goal. Focus on the items above, and eventually you’ll be a hammer.
And if you do find yourself as someones hammer, be mindful of where they are on their journey. You’ll get more out of them and yourself by working on the fine points of your technique by removing your ego from having to “finish” your opponent. A true win-win.