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Aggression, Relaxation, Tapping and Ego

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    Aggression, Relaxation, Tapping and Ego

    I was recently talking to a purple belt about what had most improved my performance, and one of the main points I realized was that I had just changed my mindset to allow myself to be more aggressive. While watching all the top competitors at my weight class, I noticed how they're always moving and using their speed to their advantage and never letting their opponent dictate the fight. Aggression, basically. This got me thinking and I started trying to do the same in my rolling. And the results have been great.

    I'm not talking about using needless strength or adopting a "win at any cost" attitude in friendly training; I'm just staying active, working to improve position, hunting for submissions, and not giving up in bad positions or waiting to see where something is going to end up. This is a significant change from playing defense and obeying the grappling cliche "wait for them to make a mistake".

    While rolling, when I was waiting to see where the match would go and then counter-attacking, I kept ending up in bad situations because I'd let things get locked in before I acted, and since I'm usually smaller and lighter than everyone else, I'd get crushed and stuck in place. Now I'm trying to be one step ahead and avoid getting locked down; I'm breaking grips before they are used against me; I'm working for my posture in every position; and I'm also passing guard and taking top much more instead of just falling back to guard.

    I had pretty much the same realization as BJJ brown belt Andre Anderson writes about in his article:
    Not using too much power is important if you want to develop your technique, but if you want to develop a game you can really use against another competitor at a similar level, you have to be very active in your training and avoid the laziness of relaxing. I am NOT talking about spazzing out, but I am saying that you have to take the fight to the opponent at 100% in training if you want to really improve.

    I didn't realize this until after a private with Marcelo Garcia. He told me that I was too relaxed and that I would need to step it up if I wanted to really be ready for a competition. He was totally right. Just giving myself permission to force the fight to go where I wanted it to go made a huge difference in the game. I used to counter attack, but now I can lead, counter, and defend as needed. It added a whole new dimension to my game.

    It was as Marcelo said in Arte Suave (a video magazine): "If you aren't attacking, you are defending, and if you are defending it means that you are losing the fight at that moment."

    I had developed this really reactive game from the bottom back when I had lung problems from a rib injury. I couldn't really push myself so I had to develop better timing and really wait for opportunities. The problem is that in a 6-10 minute match, those opportunities do not present themselves too often with a good opponent. So I would lose by a couple of points and never really get into the match.

    I never really felt like I was stalling though...just that I was trying to be too "effortless". You know how you watch the really good guys and it looks like they are barely moving? Well, I thought my BJJ needed to look like that. But after Marcelo's pep talk I realized that the good guys DONT look like that when they are fighting guys at their level.

    Since I kicked up the aggression, my game has totally changed. On top I don't give any space and on the bottom I am constantly moving to my strongest positions. Most importantly, I am not waiting until the opponent gets his grips before I start to escape...Instead I'm not giving him the grips and forcing him to escape mine instead.

    Aggressive means initiating the position changes instead of countering your opponent's actions. It means not being lazy, for example, when someone is bearing down on you in your halfguard trying to flatten you out.
    Another article that helped change my mindset was Relaxed Intensity by Brandon Slay, a former Olympic wrestler. Especially these parts:
    Some might say, "But, Brandon, you have to be intense," and I would agree with you. Intensity is extremely important, but "Relaxed Intensity" is what a wrestler should ultimately strive for. To accomplish "Relaxed Intensity," a wrestler needs to set goals with his coach, work intelligently each day towards achieving those goals in practice, visualize the thrill of victory and when the moment of truth arrives -- relax and simply execute all you have worked so hard for in practice. This is certainly not something that comes naturally. My teammates in college at Penn used to tell me all the time how tight I was when I drilled. When you drill or wrestle with someone who is very tight, it's hard for you to stay relaxed which becomes frustrating. Plus, when someone is too tight you can always tell when he is going to move or attack because they have to relax before they move. Having the ability to snap into action and be very explosive is the product of being relaxed, not tight. Don't get me wrong; I didn't solve my problem of being too tight overnight. I had to concentrate on relaxing in each and every practice and in each and every match, which lead to higher levels of energy and explosiveness.


    Staying relaxed in the sport of wrestling is so important, but I don't want you to become a wet noodle. As you're relaxed, maintain good position by keeping your head up, back straight, hips in, staying off your knees and staying into the man. Also, keep a high level of intensity. You don't have to act all crazy to be intense. You can be intense by creating motion, pushing the pace, continuing to wrestle in every situation and staying focused on your match and the things you do well.
    I had a beginner ask me how I felt intensity and relaxation would apply to him, since he still doesn't have enough experience or know enough to tell how he's supposed to do either one right. So here's what I told him:

    One thing to consider is what you mean by "intense" and "relaxed".

    You can be "intense" by muscling moves, straining, fighting out of everything, being brutal, etc. Or you can be intense by pushing the pace, staying ahead of them, not letting them establish control, preventing attacks and defenses before they are a major problem, actively working out of bad positions, etc.

    You can be "relaxed" by just waiting for them to do something, only capitalizing on their mistakes, not working to keep good position or posture when you're losing it, etc. Or you can be relaxed by keeping your composure (especially in bad situations), only using as much effort as needed, not getting frantic, knowing when to give up on a failing technique and move on, etc.

    So it all depends on what you mean. I don't recommend the first way of being "intense" because you'll just stop yourself from learning good technique. I do recommend the second way of being intense since it'll help you have some "game" while you're developing your fundaments and rolling with guys better than you.

    Likewise, mistaking "relaxed" for "passive" or "motionless" wouldn't help you either since it too can lead to sloppy technique and bad habits. But I think it is VERY important to learn as soon as you can how to keep your wits about you in bad positions and intelligently work out of them, and not get so excited when you're doing well that you start making mistakes.

    From my experience, most beginners need to work on being relaxed first (whether they do it in the best way or not) because they've usually got more than enough "intensity". This is usually hard advice to take at first, since they're still thinking "How can I relax when I'm always getting beat?" And I don't really have a pat answer for that. I just know that enough mat time and experience will sort it out for them once they decide to give it a try.

    I've found that I go back and forth through cycles of being too relaxed and too aggressive. My game starts declining when I go too far to one extreme, and that it's best when I can strike the right balance. I'm constantly jockeying these factors as they rise and fall, and while they'll maybe never stop fluctuating, it is through this process that I've experienced many of my improvements in training.

    But this is only one side of what I feel has helped me improve. This next realization might seem contradictory, so just realize that everything has a time and place. It's simply this:

    "My biggest improvements have come after I stopped caring about tapping."

    It was only when I stop caring about tapping that I really start trying new techniques and positions, playing new games, working on my escapes, etc. This is how my game grew and why I'm always trying new things. If I worried about tapping, I'd still be holding closed guard trying to collar choke someone's chin for 6 minutes straight. This mindset has helped me really open up my game and find what I think is FUN instead of worrying about "losing" (if that's really possible in training).

    Luis Gutierrez of SBG has written a lot of training philosophy that has effected how I think about BJJ. I'm trying to find some specific quotes, but here's an example that will give you an idea of how unserious he feels you should take training:
    Let everyone tap you occasionally and then nothing is new whether you are trying or not. No one will ever know if they won or lost as you have given away both.

    This way, everyone is trying hard but not with an end in mind, just more and more attempts at anything they can get.

    In other words, we play as if it's a pick up basketball game. Win or lose, you know you will go again and again and again to the point that only fun matters.
    Luis' attitude has really affected me -- how he feels that all training should just be play, and that there is no real "losing" when you are training with friends and trying to improve yourself and them. I'll see if I can find more of his writings to share since I really enjoy them and have found they've helped me improve my performance.

    I can't say I've got a perfect handle on all of these points -- aggression, relaxation and letting go of ego -- but it's all been good food for thought and helped my game, so I figured I'd share.
    Last edited by Aesopian; 5/10/2006 10:18pm, .

    Awesome article Aeso, and your writing voice has matured... it comes across much better without the tiresome in-jokes.

    Cracking job.


      Hmm I see myself doing the wait and see thing. I supose I should get more agressive too.


        Nicely done. Sums up my own experiences in BJJ thus far pretty well.

        As a beginner, I think 'reactive' is where I'd characterize myself, because I still don't know a lot of moves or subs, and I don't have alot of confidence in the techniques I do know (yet) to commit to them enough and pull them off.

        As for writing style -- it's pretty good. Clean up your grammar and spelling a little bit and you'd be damn near professional. :)



          Great article, I agree 100%, not that you really care but I spent a better part of an hour and a half on Tuesday with two beginners (less than 6 months in) on one concept, "knowing when to give up on a failing technique and move on".

          It always happens that the beginner will, FINALLY, sintch in a figure four, but have nothing, and like a "guard nazi" absolutely refuse to let it go even though there is nothing there.


            Aggression / determination is BJJ's chi.


              When I first came to this site, I saw Aesopian's never forget avatar, level of terror sig and thought "...okay" and came to the conclusion that damn this guy's an idiot extremist nut-job with a brazillian fetish.

              I hate being wrong about someone.

              Insightful and intelligent writing on the subject of training. Nearly always there is something that either chimes with my own mentality as regards training or my experience. A couple of the links he puts up lead to awesome articles. It's annoying. The worst part is his general comments on how to approach training aren't limited to grappling.

              Originally posted by badsifu
              That was a great article. The same can be said for a striker's game.

              Aesopian, you piss me off. Its really irritating to have your preconceptions about someone removed forcefully. Still, keep it coming.



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