Monday, May 4, 2009

Mental Aspect in BJJ

In BJJ, more important than physical conditioning, more important than how many or what techniques you know and more important than speed, strength or any other attributes you may or may not have, is the mental aspect of BJJ.

By mental aspect, I am not talking about whether or not you are an aggressive player or defensive counter attacking player or whether or not you can handle pressure in an MMA match, BJJ competition or even real life street fight. Those mental aspects are too complicated, rely on too many factors and too individual to cover in one post, and different coaches, psychologists and other so called mental performance specialists all have their own differing opinions on the subject.

What intend to post about is the second to second mental attitude as a BJJer you should take in every grapple with every opponent, no matter if you are grappling the newest and most helpless white belt, to grappling Rickson Gracie.

John Will once told me the difference when wrestling someone like Rickson, Rigan or John Jacques, compared to anyone else is not simply that they are technically excellent, but that they are always pushing the buttons, holding the reins or forcing the issue. It seems simple enough a concept, but took me many years to assimilate this into my game. Its only now that I try to do this to everyone, in every position that I am in.

What does it mean?

It means that in all positions, you must always keep your opponent on the back foot. Keep your opponent always on the defensive mentally, although you might not be in the best position to attack.

If you are on top, you should crush, smother, suffocate, irritate, attempt multiple submissions, and completely scatter your opponent's attention to the wind.

If you have guard, never EVER let your opponent get comfortable enough to even start thinking of initiating a pass. Thus you disrupt his balance and posture endlessly, making him forever adjust, force him to defend sweeps, your getting to his back, and submissions. As the guard player especially, you have to keep attacking until he cracks (you sweep, get the back or submit). The moment you stop keeping him on the back foot, THEN he will initiate a pass.

If you are in your opponent's guard, even if he is a good guard player, and you are being pushed to the limit defensively, especially against a good open guard player always give a threat of a leglock. This does not necessarily mean dropping backwards at every opportunity, but for example, grab the ankle as if you are going to for an ankle lock. When he defends that, thats the time you can go for your pass.

If you are underneath, especially against BJJ players, you never let him settle in any position. No doubt its tiring, but you must always be initiating an escape, blocking his positioning, and forcing him to chase after you to get position, all at the same time avoiding easy "obvious" submissions. Easier said than done, but although its tiring, forcing him to fight for position is better than defending from a good solid position and defending submissions.

Lastly, especially against players who are undoubtedly better than you, you just have to bear in mind that even black belts go for basic submissions. So while you defend against the obvious chokes, arm submissions and even leg locks, if possible do something that is not obviously going to give him a submission, yet even if futile, make him mentally defend. For example if under a knee ride, one handedly grab his foot as if you are going to initiate a toe hold. It might not do anything, but it hopefully will force him to think of defending, and that few seconds while he is not attacking, is where you might escape.

Not ground breaking stuff, but a reasonable goal to try an achieve. If you can do all that on a constant basis, you will be a nightmare to roll with, and thats good Jiu Jitsu!

Sam Wee is the head instructor for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) at the KDT Academy (, Malaysia and has been teaching BJJ since 2003.