Detach Yourself for Better Jiu Jitsu

Detach Yourself for Better Jiu Jitsu

We've all been there, frantically rolling whether at a competition or even just your average open mat, and you find yourself caught in a submission you may or may not even have seen coming.  Or you've been stuck in bottom mount or side control for what seems like hours and you're beginning to show the signs of a panic attack. Almost without warning, you start writhing around, bucking your hips, and for all intensive purposes, making matters much much worse.   It's normal.  It happens most days.  And it sucks.  

How do you get better at recognizing these submission attempts and more importantly, how do we not get caught in them so much. Can we develop a mindset that allows us to be one step ahead of our opponents every move?  Perhaps we need to learn how to detach.  Let's look at what this means.

In the video below, former Navy Seal commander, author, podcaster and BJJ black belt Jocko Willink talks about the idea of detachment and what that can do for your life and how it can help you make better decisions and take more positive action steps in your life.  Check out the video and let's talk about how we might apply this to our BJJ.

Jocko's message in this video is not strictly meant for a BJJ context, but there are so many parallels between every day life and the challenges we face on the mats, that it's not an extreme extrapolation at all to consider these points within that jiu jitsu context.  Detachment in BJJ could come in a variety of forms, but in a nutshell I see it as the mindset of focusing on what I'm doing, while also paying close attention to what my opponent is doing, in a way that is calm, clear-headed and devoid of emotion, so as to make the best possible decisions during my roll.

Make sure you approach detachment like anything else you approach in BJJ.  Some things come easier than others, but most techniques and positions take hundreds and hundreds of repetitions before we feel comfortable with them.  The same can go for the practice of detachment.  If you were had someone on your back with their hooks in and seatbelt grip across your chest and I told you to practice detachment, the only thing keeping you from flipping me off would be the fact that you're trying to defend the choke.

The first time you ever think about detachment, you may want to reflect back on a training session and think back to points where you felt your emotions rise up.  Jocko calls it "emotional quicksand".  This is the point where you may begin to make mistakes because you feel uncomfortable, trapped, fatigued, or some other negative feeling.  I remember being a white belt and rolling with someone who was much, much larger than me (over 100lbs) and during one of our rolls, I briefly felt that I was not going to be able to get out no matter what.  Thankfully, he adjusted his position, but for what seemed like an eternity, I contemplated tapping out of sheer panic.  This would be an example of emotional quicksand.  Making decisions (not necessarily good or bad) based on questionable feedback and information from our emotions.

Once you've spent some time reflecting on rolling sessions that are over, you can begin to implement some techniques that can help you begin to practice detachment and improve the likelihood of a positive experience on the mats.  What are some things you can do to actually support this sense of detachment?  How in the heck do we buy the time to "step back" and notice things like Jocko recommends?

How are you using your body?

One of the biggest light bulb moments in jiu jitsu is when your instructor or a more experienced grappler makes a minor suggestion like "don't be flat on your back" or turn to your hip or something so simple, with a million years, you would have never thought of it and it revolutionizes that particular position or the execution of that technique.  As a bigger practitioner over 225 lbs, there are a lot of bad habits I've had to work on to become a better player.  I try to study smaller grapplers as much as I can or grapplers who are very well known for being technical, as opposed to using brute strength.  

Put yourself in the best possible position you can and you'll buy yourself some precious time to take a look and notice things that are going on.  If I stay flat in side control and let my opponent crush me with the shoulder of justice, I am just expediting my demise in the emotional quicksand and I begin to panic and do dumb things.  If I would simply turn into the opponent and begin to secure my frames and grips, I could vastly improve the position.  Putting your body in the right place and using it properly will go a long way in allowing you to detach.

Grips and frames

Similarly, putting your limbs in the right places which protect you, decrease pressure from the opponent and create or take away space as needed is an important skill.  No matter what the position, understanding when it's appropriate for our grips and frames to create or take away space is integral to most of the success we have in that position.  Too often errors in these two areas can prevent the effective execution of techniques.  If I'm on the bottom and I don't create the necessary space, I won't get out.  If I don't maintain the proper grips on someone's hips when I need to, they will simply move, adjust and defeat my attempts to enact my game plan.

If a grip or frame is not helping you with your goals, adjust it or abandon it.  It's common when rolling with lower belts to have them grab onto a grip and hold onto it well beyond when it is serving any useful purpose and can actually lead them into some bad places if they are not careful.  Know when to let go and regrip.

So the first step to improving or developing any skill whether that is a technique or a mindset is to come up with a plan.  By reflecting on how you are currently performing, you will begin to assess your current levels of detachment.  Then by improving your body comportment to the opponent, coupled with grips and frames when they are appropriate, you will begin to create opportunities to step back instead of finding yourself stuck in the emotional quicksand of bad, panic-driven decisions that you are used to.

Another way to improve your jiu jitsu is to understand the pathways between positions and the submissions you want to employ.  Matheus Diniz has created a series called Position to Submission that will help you develop your BJJ gameplan.  You can access it here at BJJ Fanatics!

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