My training partner Juan was a white belt like me, except he had 3 stripes on his belt, where I had none. He was presently on top of me in side control. As I struggled against his superior position and extra 30 pounds, one of his many sweat droplets fell into my left eye. In between Juan’s grunts I think the word “prison rape” flashed through my mind. As I panicked, the Professor shouted out, “RELAX!!!”
In the early days of my Jiu Jitsu training, I couldn’t quite wrap my head around this “relax” concept…I was anything but. How could I be? It felt like some of my training partners were trying to kill me – plus, just being in close physical contact with another male was enough to raise my blood pressure. Not to mention, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing…
Yet I trusted my Professor, and the relaxed poise many of the advanced students demonstrated during training was not completely lost on me.
I found that learning to relax in Jiu Jitsu is simple in theory, but challenging in practice. Overriding the natural tendency to become stiff and defensive when engaged in close combat with another person is not easy.
Yet, somewhere along the path to black belt, it happened. I did learn to relax – not only my body but also my mind and, I believe, my soul as well. The more I relaxed, the faster I progressed. This is one of the paradoxes of Jiu Jitsu.
Here are just a few of the benefits of avoiding the tendency to become nervous, uptight and tense:
- We are less likely to panic and do something stupid.
- We are less likely to be injured.
- We will be able to train longer.
- We can be more creative.
- We will progress faster.
- We will develop the ability to quickly and coolly assess a situation – even under stress.
- We will be a better training partner.
It is the ability to be relaxed, clearheaded, present and cool under fire that separates the best from the mediocre. On the Jiu Jitsu mat, a strong individual is not a rigid individual. In fact, exactly the opposite is true. Strength comes from adaptability. It’s important to bend, to move on, to change, to compromise, or you risk snapping like a dead branch in a stiff breeze. Let us not forget, Jiu Jitsu is the Yielding Art.
Of course, like Jiu Jitsu itself, developing the physical and mental control to relax in a stressful situation is an ongoing process. I still fall back on bad habits when I get out of my comfort zone – becoming tense is a deeply engrained response to stress. Having better players deftly use relaxed mobility to slice through my stiff resistance always serves as a healthy and humbling reminder.
Some things we can do to relax:
- Do not become emotional.
- Avoid rough, loud mouth-breathing.
- As much as possible, breathe through the nose.
- Avoid angry faces.
- Let your face, mind and breath all reflect an inner calmness.
- Devise a strategy, and employ actual techniques.
- Be patient.
Conclusion. Jiu Jitsu training requires us to relax – but not like the person on the couch eating milk and cookies. Instead we should be like the river that flows around obstacles; or like the modern buildings of Tokyo, which are built to withstand earthquakes. Their foundations are strongly enforced, but there is also room for sway and give.
To be relaxed in Jiu Jitsu does not mean to be weak, or to flounder around in an aimless and confused manner. No, it requires self-discipline. The ability to relax in Jiu Jitsu requires skill, knowledge, a cool head, an appraising eye, poise, balance and correct judgment. And it is the key to graceful and effective movement.