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How Can BJJ Teach Spatial Awareness?
What is spatial awareness? Spatial awareness: Spatial awareness is the ability to be aware of oneself in space. It is an organised knowledge of objects in relation to oneself in that given space. Spatial awareness also involves understanding the relationship of these objects when there is a change of position.
So now the question is how can BJJ help us develop this skill in a real world self defense environment? The answer is simple, roll!
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If you are like me and train at a school that has a packed mat full of people you have probably stopped your training to avoid running into someone, hitting a wall, or falling off the mat on the hard floor. Every time you stop your training to readjust you have failed the spatial awareness portion of your training. Why is that? Is it not important to not fall into another group of students? To not hit the wall (personally I say use the wall as a training tool)? To avoid falling onto the un-matted area of the gym? Yes, you probably should avoid these to diminish the chance of unnecessary injuries, but if you are constantly pausing to change positions because you were unaware of your surroundings you are not only losing out on precious training time but you are also hampering your own progress in learning to stay aware of your surroundings in a high stress situation.
Fights happen outside, fight happen around objects, fights happen around groups of people, while you are training you should strive to know where everything and everybody is on the mats at all time, all while giving your complete attention to your training partner who is trying to strangle you. If you are training and you get close to another group do not reset (unless you are extremely close and there is a chance of injury) instead, change your positioning during the match by using your techniques, pretend you are in a real fight and you are getting close to a sewer drain or a pile of broken glass, or maybe you are protecting a loved one who cannot escape and you are getting close to them. You cannot simply ask the attacker to move away, instead you need to be able to take charge of your actions and change the course of direction.
This is something I first learned from one of my very first Karate instructors and now incorporate into my BJJ training. When we would spar people would get annoyed with others who came into their groups space, but as Martial Artist we need to be capable of staying completely aware of our surroundings, especially during a fight. My instructor would say a packed mat full of people sparring is better than a small group, not because of an increase in potential sparring partners but because of the increase in hazards. Yes it can be dangerous training on an overly full mat or even just a partially filled mat, but we are learning to fight, not bake cupcakes and this is a great way to become adept at learning and practicing spatial awareness.
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This may seem daunting, how can you give complete attention to the one you are fighting but also stay aware of everybody else around you? It is not easy, but BJJ is not meant to be easy. Start small and keep in mind that you will fail, just like when you first started training this is an aspect that will take time to develop and hone, and even then once spatial awareness is a part of your skillset you will still fail from time to time. That is just the reality of fighting, you cannot be all knowing all the time, but strive to be and notice how this greatly improves your self defense skills!