Wednesday, December 7, 2011

power output: perceived vs real

I had two sessions today. The lunchtime class was small. There was only three of us. We did a little bit of work on leglocks and then rolled. After a few minutes with one of the light blue belts, I was called over to roll with Sensei. This lasted for just under half an hour and I got thoroughly thrashed.

He said he was rolling a bit lazy as he's recently had some time off due to the flu. Mind, he always rolls slowly, deliberately, with crushing pressure and a game three steps ahead of mine. I consider myself lucky if I manage to nearly get a sweep or nearly threaten a sub. Occasionally he has to take defensive action, but then I just get into deeper shit ;-). Hell, I consider it a good day if I can defend his attacks for a bit and actually escape once or twice before the inevitable tap.

And throughout all that, his energy output was less than mine. Far less. Ok, he's a bit heavier than I, but he shuts me down with technique. He knows exactly when a bit of strength is needed, and he brings that into play, but no more than necessary.

Fast foward to the evening session. One of the blue belts was teaching and I was helping out. At the end of the session, we rolled for a bit.

First, I got one of the newish white belts. He's tall and strong, but he's getting a handle on basic techniques. Pleasing to see, he tries to use what he's learned rather than just smashing his way through. He's actually said he learns most from the light and no-sub flow rolling we sometimes do. Ha, I call that promising.

Next, I had one of the other white belts. I said seeing it's the last roll for the day and I'm stiff and sore from luncthtime (no exaggeration!), let's go a bit easy. No sooner than he had the slightest grip, and as I sat back for some open guard, he smashed my legs aside with all his power and dropped across for a heavy side control. I laughed and said OK, but that's not what this was all about. That I would like him to use 10% power output instead of 100%. He was surprised. HE THOUGHT he was only using 10%. He said he is using way less than what he would have used when he first started. I replied that he still needs to reduce it 90%. We reset and had a more hesitant version of the first roll. I just protected myself and otherwise let him do his stuff. Eventually, he went for a rear choke which was a pure neck crank and I tapped.

I showed him the difference between a correct rear choke and the crank he had applied as well as a way of getting the choke. So that was all cool.

On the way out, he expressed again that he couldn't understand why I thought he was using too much strength. I tried to explain again, but it's hard to explain something I can't really demonstrate. It's a bit like explaining the scent of roses to someone who has never come across a flower.

The problem with using every muscle in the body at the same time and putting all one's power into a move, is that you can't feel what you are doing, or what your partner is doing. I pointed out that with more experience, he will feel for himself that he can use 10% of his current power output and do good technique (and last longer). And that we ALL started of going full bore and not "getting" it until later. Still, he looked disappointed in some way, or at least unconvinced.

I just wish there was a way in which we gain that awareness and control over our power output earlier in our grappling careers. Hell, I know I still try to muscle stuff at times (as if that works..!), and I do know better. In the end though, I think it takes mat time, especially mat time with senior (purple+) people to conquer that learning curve.


  1. I felt like that tonight--like I knew I was being too rigid and using too much strength. For a lot of guys, I think it is a hard concept to grasp in the beginning. Fighting = being big and strong to so many of them. The only way they start to figure out that bjj isn't about strength is for them to grapple more technical people--preferably people smaller than them--and realize that their strength isn't going to trump technique.

  2. I think you are right. It does take a certain amount of mat time to get past the need to muscle stuff. The more we have the chance to grapple advanced, technical people, the faster we can figure it out for ourselves.

    I guess that's one reason why it is undesirable to pair up new whitebelts for sparring. No matter how much they agree to go light and easy, it almost always escalates.

    I find I can roll nice and easy and not muscles stuff most of the time. But if I roll with a strong guy with little technique, I tend to allow myself to get sucked into a strength battle, at the expense of feel and good technique. Of course I do tend to lose the strength battle... Something else to work on!