A good friend and training partner of mine is constantly giving me a hard time about holding back when I roll. He notices it not only when I roll with him but when he sees me rolling with other people. Being a good training partner, he will frequently do things to annoy me while we roll until I get angry enough to forego the restraint and submit him at any cost.
Now I will freely admit that it is true that I hold back a lot when I roll, I even discussed it in this post. As much as I am trying to be aware of this behavior now and change it, I know that I still hold back. I still worry about all the things I mentioned before, getting my partners upset, hurting them, etc. but I got to thinking about this last week after a rough night on the mats.
I had rolled with a training partner of mine that I really enjoy rolling with. He is very good and very challenging and this night was no different. He submitted me either 3 or 4 times, I forget which (or maybe my pride refuses to remember) and I got really frustrated after the last time he submitted me. There was cursing, there was anger, there might have even be pouting.
After I had cooled down a bit and had time to be ashamed of my behavior (I only hope that my training partners understand that most of the time I get angry on the mat it is anger directed inwardly at me and not outwardly at them), I was thinking about why it was that this particular roll was so upsetting to me. It’s not like I am unaccustomed to getting submitted…hell I’ve probably tapped out 20 times since that roll! So why? Why do some submissions sting more than others?
For some reason what my friend said about me holding back popped into my head while thinking about this. Was I upset because I had allowed myself to get submitted by holding back? Maybe. Maybe not. That still didn’t feel quite right. It then occurred to me that I got upset for exactly the opposite reason. I felt like I was giving almost all I had to the roll and it was still not good enough.
This was a moment of epiphany for me. Of all the reasons I was aware of for holding back some of my aggression, this was one I had never consciously thought about before. The more I thought about it though the more it made sense. Sure it’s scary to think that if you unleash the beast (as the kids are fond of saying) that you might hurt one of your training partners or yourself. But in another way it’s even scarier to have to face a situation where you gave all you had to give and it was not enough.
I realized that by holding back I am maybe giving myself a cushion to soften the blow of being defeated. I can think “well I didn’t win but if I had given a little bit more…” and console myself with what could have been. I am giving myself an out instead of having to face the scary truth that on this date, at this time, my opponent was better me.
Most of the time I know that it is not bad when I “lose” while rolling. That I am still at the beginning of my BJJ journey and of course I am going to get caught. I also know that anyone can get caught by anyone, that is the nature of the sport. But I also think that it is hard for me or for anyone to have to admit to themselves that their best is not good enough.
While this is probably not the biggest reason I hold back when I roll, I think it probably factors in. It definitely was a major factor in my anger that night.When I think about it now with the benefit of hindsight and a cool head, I realize that to improve my jiu-jitsu, it is much better for me to give my all and come up short than it is for me to hold back because I am afraid to fail.
Next time I get angry on the mat I hope that I can have the clarity to remember this moment of epiphany and console myself with the knowledge that while today my best was not enough, sometime soon it will be.
I am deeply ensconced in preparation for the NY Open on April 20th. I have talked a lot about working on my mental game, which I am still doing, but I am also working on being very aggressive when rolling. I had an “aha” moment on Friday when training at a friend’s gym. I was rolling with people I hadn’t met before and I guess I reverted to a more passive, defensive game. It is something I didn’t even realize I was doing. I was about to roll for a second time with a white belt guy and he asked me “did you go easy on me before?”. Without thinking I told him I had not (I didn’t do anything consciously anyway) and he said “oh I just expected worse when I saw your blue belt”.
Now obviously this peeved me off a little bit. I thought “well if he wants more, I’ll give him more” and after we bumped fists I just attacked. I submitted him twice in the six minute roll. I took this attitude into the next couple of rolls and had similar success (they were all white belts but bigger than me…so it’s ok to beat them up!).
I tried to keep this killer mentality going into training on Sunday and it worked out very well for me. I even got some compliments from the guys (my favorite being one of the guys asking me “do you have a key for this lock?” in reference to his inability to break my guard…he said it was harder to break than some of the men’s!). I thought about my good weekend of training afterwards and I realized that getting in touch with my anger on Friday had really helped me roll aggressively.
I was very excited to take this new attitude into training last night and when class ended and open mat began, I eagerly prepared to roll. I rolled with my brown belt instructor first. No amount of aggression was going to help me there, he is just way too good. Next I rolled with another blue belt girl. I told her beforehand that I was in tournament mode and trying to be aggressive so to let me know if she wanted me to take it down a notch. She was a good sport while we rolled but I accidentally kneed her in the head once and I think I hit her in the face at some point and who knows what other nasty stuff I did that I didn’t catch or she didn’t mention. I rolled with one of the guys also competing in the NY Open next and similarly managed to hit him in the face a few times as well.
I think this is a large reason why getting in touch with my aggression is so hard. I was feeling like a badass going into class yesterday, ready to fight the world. After class I felt like a bully. I had beaten up on a teammate who weighs 25-30 pounds less than me and who is not training for a tournament and then I continued the trend in my next roll.
I got to thinking about this and why I felt so guilty after yesterday’s class and not after Friday or Sunday’s training. I think the difference is that these people are my regular training partners and my friends. I don’t want to hit my friends in the face (well most of them anyway). I didn’t really know any of the guys on Friday and Sunday we were training for a tournament so the expectation was we were going to go hard.
It got me thinking about what it means to be a good training partner. I am training for a tournament but the majority of people in the gym are not. Is it fair for me to be in tournament mode when I fight them? If you read any blogs or articles about annoying training partners, one of the top complaints is someone who goes ridiculously hard when rolling. I myself have complained about it!
But in this case I am training for a tournament. Am I being a jerk by going that hard when it is in preparation for a tournament in less than two weeks? Does being a good training partner also mean that you should be willing to go really hard for a while to help a teammate get ready?
I don’t want to let my desire to be nice and my guilt get in the way of my aggression, particularly when I can see what a difference it is making, but I also don’t want people to hate rolling with me. I guess the best solution for now is to roll with guys who are also getting ready to compete and to tell people to let me know if I am making them uncomfortable. I just figured out how to let me inner badass out and I cannot let her out of my site until after the tournament!
I am continuing my focus of working on my aggression and mental game and it has been going well so far. I have realized that in pushing myself I have to not only be aggressive but I also have to learn to let go of some of my fear.
When I was at the women’s camp last weekend, I noticed that I was enjoying the rolls a lot. Typically when I am rolling with people for the first time, I am very reserved while I try to feel out their rolling style. I started to wonder why I felt so much more comfortable in this environment and then it occurred to me. I wasn’t scared.
It is really hard for me, probably for anyone in BJJ, to admit that they have fear. How can you have fear when your favorite thing to do involves getting beat up on a regular basis? However I realize that I cannot overcome the fear if I don’t admit that it is there and I need to move past it to go to the next level.
So where does the fear come from? I think there is a natural amount of fear for anyone who does BJJ. There are about a billion different ways you can get hurt. I think there is arguably more fear when you are smaller and weaker than most of the people you train with though. You know that you can get outmuscled and hurt a lot easier than your bigger, stronger counterparts. Chances are that you have gotten manhandled in a way that has made you feel awful and/or uncomfortable at some point. I know I have.
Here is the story of what I consider my scariest roll to date. It was shortly after I had begun training at my weekend school and I was in for Sunday basics class. I was working with a new guy who had been training about a month. We were drilling armbar/triangle/omoplata transitions. I spent most of the class showing him what the various moves were as he was brand new (I had probably been training about 7 or 8 months at the time) and he was very nice the entire time. We got to the end of class and he stayed on the mat to roll. I was surprised that after a month he was allowed to roll but the instructor didn’t say anything about him being there so I figured it was ok.
He asked me if I wanted to roll and I said yes. Since he was brand new I thought he would go very light and just figured I would let him get me into guard and work what we’d been drilling. That was a mistake. As soon as we bumped fists he lunged at me and took me down to the ground…hard. I got him into guard and he was trying his hardest to do an americana from there. I had just opened my mouth to tell him that wasn’t really a high percentage submission from guard as I could just use my legs to bring him forward and ruin the leverage when he got frustrated, yanked me up by the arm (the one he had the americana hold on), twisted said arm behind my back and threw me about 4 feet to the side. I think that I started yelling “TAP” in midair and he quickly got off me and we reset.
In retrospect now I should have realized it was not good for me to keep going but I thought that it was my fault because I had thought he was going to go light and I was clearly not prepared. I figured if I took it up a notch this time I would do better. That was mistake number two. Even though I was “prepared” for him going harder this time, I couldn’t keep up with his speed and strength. He managed to twist my body into some weird position that I was not familiar with and then got frustrated and tackled me again. I think there was another submission after that and then the round ended. He told me when the round ended that he had been going for a knee bar and asked me if he had set it up right. I told him I didn’t know as I had never trained one. He told me he hadn’t either but he had seen it on YouTube.
I left immediately after this because I realized that I had hurt my ribs but even if I hadn’t, I would have had no desire to roll anymore. I will admit that I cried the whole way home. This was the first time I had ever felt so uncomfortable during a roll. So much was going through my mind. Was this what it was going to be like if I kept training with all guys? Could I keep doing BJJ if it was? Was my partner so concerned about “winning” that he didn’t care if he hurt me or any other partner? Did he not realize that he was completely manhandling me and didn’t need to be going that hard? In a way it felt like a violation. I had trusted him with both my training and my safety and I felt he let me down on both.
However, I also learned some very valuable lessons that day. One was to be very cautious when rolling with new people. I had always heard this but I guess it was a lesson I had to learn the hard way. I also learned that if I am uncomfortable with a roll that I should just stop it. I think that is hard for everyone. No one wants to admit that they can’t handle a roll but it is better to stop a roll or ask someone to take it down a notch than to get hurt and spend time off that mat (I had to take off for about a week and my rib continued to hurt for weeks after).
So this was, I believe, the end of my “I’m going to kick everyone’s ass!” mentality and the beginning of my cautious, safe rolling. I had taken it up a notch and so had he and it had ended poorly for me. I also spent so much time after that guarding my sore ribs that all I did was play defense. This was not a conscious decision on my part to stop being aggressive and play safe but I think it was always in the back of my mind that I didn’t want to go hard and make the boys go harder because they were always going to be stronger.
Now that I have realized what I was doing it has been completly liberating to let go of that fear. That doesn’t mean that I am just attacking everyone with no concern about getting hurt. I know most of the guys I train with and I know that I can trust most of them. I will always be cautious about rolling with new people and I will stop a roll if I feel like it is out of control.
But by not worrying about safety first and BJJ second, I am able to raise my level of aggression and I am seeing some great results. So if you are smaller and weaker know that you will always have to be a little bit more concerned about safety but don’t roll scared. Trust the partners who have earned that trust, let go of the fear and have some fun!
Last week one of my training partners told me that he could tell I was not in touch with my aggression. He said I was using my energy to hold back when I should be using it to attack. As some of you may have picked up from reading this blog (or from knowing me), I like to analyze everything. This was no different.
I mentioned what he said to a non-bjj friend of mine (I actually have some of those) and she told me that was somewhat expected as women are not really socialized to be aggressive. I thought this had merit but I wanted to dig deeper and think about why I was behaving this way. Right now I am only worried about fixing myself, I’ll work on society later.
I used to have a really bad temper. A really bad temper. I would scream, kick things, punch walls, tear apart rooms and so on. One time I got so mad at my sister that I almost banged her head into the floor.* This incident changed my life because it made me realize my temper was out of control and I took measures to fix it. When I tell this story to people nowadays most of them respond with disbelief that I could have ever had a bad temper. I am cool as a cucumber.
But I don’t want to be a cucumber in BJJ! I need to be aggressive and work my game instead of settling into other people’s games. This is hard for me. I get really worried about making my partners uncomfortable when I get aggressive. I worry about hurting them physically, I worry about making them feel bad if I submit them, I worry they won’t want to roll with me anymore. The problem is that I am not worrying about me and my game when I do this.
I am trying to change my thinking about this. We are all actively engaged in a combat sport right? I know that there is always risks when I roll and I need to accept that my partners know this as well. I am not going to actively try to hurt anyone but it’s time to take my game to the next level and this means I have to stop holding back my aggression. It’s time to unleash the beast.
*I promise that I did not physically harm her and in my defense she was really aggravating as a child