By David Close
One of the most useful skills one can develop in life is being mindful. This skill can be transferred to a variety of situations/topics but let’s apply this to everyday BJJ training. The main aspects to address for mindfulness will be in regards to taking care of your training partner, taking care of yourself, and maximizing your drilling time.
Most class instructors will always talk about taking care of your partner when training, in order to prevent injuries. But this also extends to paying attention, at least loosely, to your surroundings. At times when rolling, others will come near you while in transition as they are lost in their own world. As a result, you can have an accidental knocking of heads so to speak. Everyone has seen those times when one group collides into another, causing everything from small bumps to major injuries. While everyone should be paying attention to prevent such things, you must be aware of surroundings to essentially save yourself (and by proxy your partner). So even if it means you don’t complete that pass or have to let go of a position as people are incoming, just accept it. Your partner will appreciate you after they recognize the danger from the incoming people, you save yourself from injury, and hopefully you give your partner the perspective of watching out for others as well (remember we have to lead by example after all).
An old adage is that you have to look out for #1 (i.e. you) and while rolling this is definitely amplified. One of the things I have seen while teaching is injuries that happen because people put themselves in bad situations. When you place yourself in bad spots, especially bad biomechanical positions, you are playing with fire. It is a matter of time before an injury occurs as you are essentially putting the responsibility of your body solely in your partner’s hands. This is a foolish notion, as your training partner may not be able to see the danger you are putting yourself in. To give an example, years ago a student was told the importance of not locking his arm out when trying to stand up from a single leg attempt. He was told how if people tried to complete the takedown, the locked out arm would have no place to go and as a result, it would break. A half hour later while in rolls the exact situation happens and you guessed it, the student broke his arm. His partner did nothing wrong as he was using proper technique, but the injured student put himself in danger by ignoring the advice and locking out his arm. If you look at your training environment you will see people do these sorts of things all the time. And if you are mindful, you may even become aware of when you do it too. If you can make people aware, please do so as we never want to see our compatriots get injured after all. And you have to examine your own movements to discern if you are keeping yourself as safe as you can. If you want longevity in this art, this is a valuable skill to start cultivating as early as possible.
The last bit of mindfulness is to self-examine how you pay attention to your instructor as they teach. The instructor needs to give enough details on the movement and then guide the students through as they practice. However, there is zero excuse to not even know where to begin when your instructor has shown the move 3-4 times, given time for any questions, and even done the move at varying speeds. People learn at different paces and need a variety of teaching techniques used, which is perfectly acceptable. But sometimes some just “space out”. This happens to all of us from time to time, and it is normal. However, for students who are normally this way and can’t even tell you the starting position for whatever you are drilling, you are allowing yourself to form a habit of laziness if we are being honest. Yes it’s understandable that some people learn in different ways, but unless there are legit issues you should have a certain level of “being in the moment” that allows you to learn the movement. The bigger issue becomes the fact that if you aren’t even addressing this as a problem, you are slowing down your training partner as they are having to lead you through the movement. As a result, both of you get less drill time in. This doesn’t mean you are stupid or slow, but instead that you aren’t focusing yourself as you step on the mat (again this is all disregarded when a person has legitimate issues that have been diagnosed, more often than not however, this isn’t the case). Remember that you are capable of anything in life, but you have to apply yourself. So when technique is occurring, focus yourself so you can maximize your mat time as well as your training partner’s time as well.
In conclusion, if we practice being mindful of where we are and what we are doing it will always pay off in dividends. Ultimately, you are responsible for your own safety as well as your own training progression. No matter how badly your teacher may want you to be safe and to learn, if you don’t take some ownership as well in this process, it will be that much more difficult an endeavor. – David Close
David Close is a lifelong martial artsist, a BJJ Black Belt and a 3rd degree Black Belt in Judo.
He holds two engineering degrees and teaches BJJ and Judo classes at Alliance Champions in Greenville, SC.