Challenge Yourself

Last week I posted an article about the type of student that hobbles their own progress with overly eager, and athletic resistance to the subtleties of Jiu-jitsu. As I was talking about the article, which was received well by many of my students, I began to realize that I could have summarized it in a much more succinct way. Though, perhaps the long-winded list of stiff partners, eager-to-win practitioners, and technique-hoppers (not giving techniques enough chance to be useful to them) was of more descriptive use for those players who have not had experience enough to comprehend the summation I listed at the end: If you’re strong play weak, if you’re fast, play slow . . . the idea, as I later realized was to, in short, create challenges for yourself.

If you’re the big guy working with a smaller one (I’m saying guys, but I also mean the ladies!) and the smaller fellow does not outrank you—your job is to sit back and work the material you stink at. For most bigger players this means DEFENSE. By defense we are talking about the guard and surviving side positions. I’m not worried about a two-hundred and fifty pound player on top of one outweighed by fifty or more pounds. This is a serious advantage in gravity, and while Jiu-jitsu is, of course, about developing skills to help us defeat the bigger opponent, always choosing to be the offense at every possible opportunity will not develop the half of your game you probably need the most work at.

I’m going to say this baldly. Jiu-jitsu is about defense. More specifically it is about your guard. Every schoolyard kid who’s been in a scuff knows that being on top and raining punches from above is great! But who works the other side of this game? Only we do!

Your job in the classroom during the free training is to challenge yourself. It is not about using your size attributes or speed attributes liberally. It is about finding your weaknesses and putting people on you to force yourself to improve. This, in a nutshell, is how you make yourself great at jiu-jitsu. We take turns with position training—most often the guard—because this is an unbeatable means to challenge yourself to improve arguably the defining position of jiu-jitsu.

I call my teaching style “Open Guard”, not because I never use closed-guard, or I think closed guard is no good. Not at all. There are terrific tactics to use from closed (especially in no gi training) as well as open guard. The point is there’s little to do without ever opening your guard. And I don’t want my students anxious about opening it. Truth is most techniques are going to require you to open at some point and if you’re nervous about breaking your legs open, you will never get past being a beginner. Never opening your legs means you will exhaust yourself and miss most of the best jiu-jitsu offers. All the good stuff! Smaller jiu-jitsu players are likely to also remind you that there’s no chance of closing your guard on very big players—so suck it up!

When you train, tell your partner you’d like to work your defense. If they want to as well, just take turns (this is how mature practitioners train). Take guard position, open your guard, and try for those sweeps and armlocks that are most challenging.

Challenge yourself every time you are on the mat. It is in fact the only way to improve. Challenge yourself to be a great Jiu-jitsu player!

Thanks for reading! See you on the mat!

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