Developing your Game.

As you move up into your ranking/promotion in BJJ, you slowly start to forget a couple of things along the way. Sometimes those things are the pieces we always need to look back as a reference that will help you grow and develop your game. I think at Purple that’s one of the many mental challenges you will face that separates you from a higher purple, to the next step of brown.

I remember when I first started BJJ I thought it was going to be such an easy transition and sport to pick up on. I had some wrestling experience in the past as a kid, but the high school I attended didn’t have (besides gym class) wrestling and many other sports (basketball, baseball, track etc…) so didn’t go to far with that. For the time I didn’t wrestle, I’d wrestle with a couple of friends that were on the team at other schools. Luckily, by junior year of high school, I started training at Anderson’s Martial Arts Academy.

I remember my first class. Boy was I stoked but I’m not going to lie I had that “grappling? I got this. This is my world” kind of attitude. Sifu made all the white belts line up and all the higher belts take the center. We had to roll with all the higher/advance belts for the center. I rolled against my first blue belt that day. From the knees I still went for the double leg takedown and nailed it! My mind just got a boost of confidence. Feeling so much excitement from the ability to take a higher belt down on my first day! I just wanted to stand up and shout “WHUT? WHUT?” Not only would that be terribly rude and disrespectful but that’s when it all came back to reality! What woke me up from this “ego booster” was that I began feeling a small inch of pain sparking up into my elbow and immediately my eyes zoomed down at the blue belt who cranked my arm up into an arm bar. All that had to have happened in at least 35-40 seconds and it was not any different from any one else I rolled with that day. That’s when I said to myself, “this is NOT wrestling”. That statement right there was the key that opened my door to growth from white to blue.

What I realized at white belt was this is Brazilian Jiu Jitu. Not only being able to fight from the ground however being able to fight off your back. They welcome the take down especially if you don’t cut that corner right, they’re going to pull that guard really quick. Which was what I learned that day. Guard is a basic principle that once you start you need to understand. Similar to how stand up styles, stance or forms switch or change such as orthodox, southpaw, Muay Thai, Boxing, etc.., the guard is similar to that. You have butterfly guard, X guard, half guard, rubber guard, spider guard and so much more. Instead of punches, knees, elbows and kicks, you’re attacking with holds, sweeps and submission. So as a white belt it’s very common to start playing and jumping guard a lot. From there I made it a priority that with all this knowledge to learn, I will keep the most open of minds! When it came time to roll, I’d also ordered myself to only submit using 2 submissions: arm bar and triangle for every person that I rolled with that week. I began doing the same thing with sweeps from the bottom such as tomoe nage and the scissor sweep. Each week I’d change the move ONLY if I saw much improvement from the moves I picked and felt suitable to my comfort level. This really helped me excel in BJJ fast. Win or lose, with the moves you choose allows you to see and feel what you’re doing wrong or right. It also allows you to work timing on a certain body structure and most importantly, you begin to develop the sight for the moves. What I mean by that is you start to see different ways to get to the move or even you’ll start to see the moves in different positions. This makes you super versatile within a move and allows you to start understanding transitions and how to direct a human body. Understanding all that was the first piece in developing my game and within 4 months of training, I received my Blue belt from Vitor “Shaolin” Ribeiro and my Sifu.

At blue belt, my mindset and thought process was no different. However, my submission toolbox and my entire BJJ arsenal expanded. I now began to mixed new submissions with old and being able to catch these transitions from multiple positions. I also started to learn how to attack the legs with straight leg locks and knee bars, which became extremely helpful when people would stand in my guard or even from a sweep. But what really took my game further and really added a piece to the many moves I made into my own game, was the takedowns. Once I was allowed to begin our match standing, I started working on throws and takedowns and because I was so used to take downs, I was quickly able to make that a part of my game in BJJ. After numerous amounts of drilling take downs, I would take my opponents down and land in side control automatically after the takedown during a fight or a match. I felt so comfortable engaging and shooting for the takedown that it really became a part of me. This was the first time I really saw what my game was going to be. From the ground I was able to find the arm bar and/or triangle from almost any position, even some of them being done off of a sweep. Now with mixing my old experiences like wrestling, I was able to take a person down, land in side control and felt dominate enough to force the arm bar or sneak a triangle from mount.

I had a minor block between Blue and Purple belt and I think this comes from focusing on too much ego of the sport. I couldn’t understand why I’d do so well in class but not as well in tournaments and fights. Hell, honestly it even caught up in class. I found myself forcing what I only knew and what made me good at “that time”. There’s nothing wrong with losing, but let’s all admit it, sometimes we do get a little bit upset when we submit to a lower skill level or belt especially more than once. ALWAYS PRAISE THEM though because they still beat you. Which means they’re doing something you’re not. I would play too relaxed not because I was relaxed but I’d underestimate those who continued to welcome new ideas and techniques. See I was limited to what made me good at the time I was at that belt or skill level. Once you move up, you’re rolling with people equal or higher your skill. You need to KEEP your mind open and stay humble. There will always be someone better, but that person isn’t you. Your job is to keep YOURSELF better. Be real and honest with yourself. I sat myself down and focused my energy on my emotions and did exactly that. I let go of losing and looked at my flaws. What I realized was that I got too used to and too comfortable with the way I was playing my game back then. I needed to think like I did when I was a white belt. The sooner I did that the better I got. My first MMA fight, I scored big with a huge takedown. I dominated the first round by staying on top and even almost choked him out with a rear naked. The next 3 fights were no different, all landing a huge double leg and a rear naked choke. See you won’t know what you’re capable of doing if you never try. You need to always explore and challenge yourself to new things even in BJJ. This is when the mental technique of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu made it’s mark.

Once I opened my mind to that mental aspect of the art, that’s when I got my purple belt. At purple belt I’m still developing my game. Only difference is now I question myself each day and each time I step foot on that mat. I ask myself before class, “what is my goal today? how can I help someone else’s game grow?” and after class I ask, “what did I do wrong today? What should I add or improve for next time?”. This helps me slow down and focus on control when I’m either drilling a technique or even during an actual roll. I’m so calm and relaxed that I’m able to think as I’m rolling. I’m able to see how I can I get from here to there. With all the new moves I learn, I always refer back to how can I make it my own and where can I get this from (positions)? Another thing I picked up at purple was helping others. By helping others you get better because now you’re going to need a new bag of tricks to use on them and also chances are they’ll use your move against you. People will always study your game so it’s important to also learn something new each day and help others discover their game. The physical aspect of BJJ is just one part of growth and development, you also need to have the mental part.

Few things to keep in mind when rolling:

  • Have a plan
  • Commit to that plan
  • Feel
  • Control
  • Breathe
  • Keep Calm and Roll on
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