Monday, September 26, 2011

Experimental Grappling

BJJ has been so fun for me over the last few months. I am realizing how lucky I am to be able to train in a place where I can safely go out on the mat and try crazy crap, knowing that if/when I make mistakes, the guy I'm rolling with isn't going to crank my arm or ankle off. 

Because I have that freedom, every grapple lately has been an experiment. I don't worry so much anymore about whether or not the guy will try to muscle me or whether or not he will get on top and I won't be able to get out. Even being on bottom is a chance to try new ways of escaping. I end up trying a lot of stuff that just flat out doesn't work. 

The other day, I was grappling this guy named Jimmy. Here are some adjectives that describe him: humongous, fast, made-of-bricks, athletic, technical, scary, friendly, awesome. Anyway, he could bend me into a pretzel if he wished. But he doesn't. Instead, he lets me climb around and try to do crap. At one point in our grapple, he lifted me up by the hips kind of like a dad lifts up their kid so they can pretend to be superman. I knew I was going to be swept (I didn't have any base of any kind. lol) so I just decided to try to hook my legs around the front of his to see if that would do anything. It didn't. I landed with a thump. Jimmy laughed at me. I laughed at me. It  didn't work, but it did give me an idea that I can try for next time. 

Being willing to make mistakes and do possibly stupid things has really opened up my mind to different options I have as far as movement goes. Even with people who aren't as willing to roll for fun as Jimmy is, I still have been trying to have a mind-set of trial and error. They might be keeping score, but I am trying to figure out what works and what doesn't. 

This has been SO helpful with learning how to move underneath bigger, stronger guys once they get me in turtle or side control. I still have problems with both positions, but my confidence about being able to not get submitted while I am there and about being able to get out is slowly growing. 

The biggest factor for me that makes these experimental grapples happen is letting go of my fear and forcing myself to relax. Sometimes I sit down and the guy across from me looks like he's getting ready to fight a tournament match. I have to tell myself to stay calm. Keep relaxed. Don't be afraid. Move. 

If I am able to keep that mindset, then the grapple is usually enjoyable. If I lose sight of that and start to let myself worry about how good or bad I am doing, then things go down hill.

Some specific things I have learned through experimenting are that, when I am on the bottom under turtle, I make much better progress if I focus on moving myself instead of trying to push the other person off of me.  I've noticed that most people make space when they decide to go for a submission and that is the best time to get out. They usually lose focus on their base at that time too and are more easily swept. A lot of times, a person is so bent on getting a submission, you can use their weight being on top of you to sweep them, especially  from turtle. I also noticed that people who are attacking from side control tend to use their arms and make space with their hips when they're going for submissions, which lets me get a knee in or wiggle out the side somehow.  

A lot of what I am learning isn't about specific techniques, but about timing and paying attention to weight distribution. 

The other really cool thing about experimental grappling is that I am not the only one who experiments. One of my favorite things is when I grapple with someone better than me who is also in the mood to do out-of-the-norm things.It usually means that I tap a lot. But I get to see cool stuff I had not thought of before. 

I am planning to compete next month and, as usual, my nerves are starting to do their little song and dance. We will see how it goes! :)


Georgette said...

Really great post. Especially because you manage to articulate WHAT it was that you learned by experimenting. I try to experiment but I never remember my lessons :(

Also, someone wiser than me said-- it's not about learning the techniques. The techniques are just lenses through which you examine the principles. Once you have played around with specific techniques enough to digest the underlying principles, you can forget the techniques and play the real game. Sounds like that's exactly what you're doing! :)

fenix said...

I completely agree. That's the road I'm travelling at present, too.

Experiment, do crazy stuff :-) See where it goes, see what I can learn from it. No more performance anxiety, every roll is an opportunity. And so much cool stuff happens!

And the bit about principles rather than technique (which is what Georgette quoted, too) struck me as well recently.

As a result, grappling is more fun by the day.

Megan said...

Wow...I never really thought about how much of a blessing it is to train in a place where you don't fear retribution for experimentation. Great post.

J.B. said...

Jiu-jitsu is supposed to be fun. It is a combat sport, but it is also grown up play time. Jiu-jitsu without experimentation and play sounds terribly boring to me.

Great post, and even better attitude!