The last thing my wrestling coach would always say to us before we stepped out on the mat was “Get after it!” I have to confess, for years, I never really knew what “it” was. Or rather I did know what “it” was, but couldn’t go after it. You see, I’ve been a reactive grappler for most of my life. In wrestling, I wasn’t great at shooting, but I had good takedown defense. My aim has always been to shut down the game of others, to tire them out, then dig deep towards the end of the round and try to finish with a win. I don’t know why. Probably because deep down inside, I’m just damn lazy. It takes a long time to get good at this style of grappling, but once you do, it’s extremely efficient. There are plenty of counter wrestlers that have been decent, but you’re hard pressed to name any of the best modern bjj players that aren’t uber aggressive.
As you get to the higher levels of BJJ, if you’re not at a world class gym, most of your rolls are easy. And I don’t say that to sound like an asshole. At this point I’ve been grappling for nearly half of my life and I’m not awesome by any means, but you develop descent technique once you’ve got a decade of grappling behind you. I think I remember Joe Rogan mentioning that he counteracts this skill discrepancy by beating the shit out of lower belts and hitting moves on them as hard as he can, but I just can’t do that. I’m a super nice guy and I don’t have a huge ego. I prefer to win with as little effort as possible in training. I like to float and throughly enjoy the meditative aspect of rolling in a manner in which people wonder how all their movement didn’t somehow stop you from passing their guard.
But this is awful for competing. And despite my seeming attitude of indifference during training, I still love to compete and I still want to win. So, I’ve figured out a few ways to combat the lazy manner in which I train BJJ. One thing is including intense exercise in your weekly training regiment. BJJ is notorious for promoting the mantra “If you want to get better at jiu jitsu, then do more jiu jitsu.” But, once you’re a brown belt and most of your rolls at a normal gym are not heavily competitive, it’s tricky to maintain the level of intensity you need to improve your skill, especially if you’re not hardcore like Rogan. I don’t know, maybe I need to eat more elk meat. In any case, high intensity exercise allows you to simulate the metabolic demands of multiple competitive matches.
So, I’ve found that conditioning can allow you to be ready for the infrequent super competitive rolls that serve as litmus tests for your progress as you get to higher belts. It allows you to “get after it” when need be. More recently though, I’ve discovered something that has probably been a limiting factor for most of my competitive grappling career, and that’s moving first. And I don’t necessary mean physically. In much of our training in BJJ, we tend to ease into our movement in training. We enter agreed upon positions with our familiar partners, we settle for inferior positions for one reason or another. And while it might not seem like it matters, it makes it harder to pull the trigger when it counts. So, recently I haven’t even been stepping a foot on the mat without this in mind. I don’t simply step into someone’s guard. I don’t stay on bottom for my incoming partner just because that’s where I finished. I don’t let anyone even touch me, without keeping in mind where I want to be and why with that particular person. You see this a lot in the best gyms around the world, and for them this attitude is easier to maintain because everyone in there (Atos, Unity, Cicero’s, GFTeam, Romulo’s, etc) have huge egos and can probably explain in detail any time someone legitimately and successfully completed a move on them. They refuse to lose and refuse to give up anything at all. No grips, no sweeps, nothing for the most part.
But for the rest of us mere mortals it’s hard to try and kill each other all the time. And if you’re bigger, stronger, or more skilled, it can be dangerous to roll that way with lower belts. But I’ve realized it starts in your head. When you step on the mat. On your drive to the gym. You can still be reactive. You can still play your game and have your style. But give up nothing. And take everything. Move first.
If only in your mind.
And Get. After. It.