The Balancing of Opposites

In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, we are in a constant struggle to balance opposites. For example, you need to train hard enough to get better, but not so hard you get burnt out and injured. We’re constantly told to leave our egos at the door (whatever that means) but we should also take pride in our progress. We each need to seek the right balance to get the most we can out of our training.

Below are some of the main “opposites” I feel most of us could benefit from striking a balance between:

Focus on using technique over strength…

…but don’t let that be an excuse for being weak.

In BJJ, we love the idea that us weaklings can defeat those big, dumb meatheads without breaking a sweat. That’s what the Gracie marketing teaches us. That is what got me into BJJ, so I’m not one to knock that fantasy too hard, but it’s not the complete truth.

Strength matters. The purpose of BJJ is to try to make it matter less, but you can never get away from it entirely. When solving BJJ problems, the best answers come from pretending you have minimal physical attributes (i.e. strength, speed, power, flexibility, weight, etc.) and finding a solution that works because it is smarter.

My main reason for saying you should get stronger is because injuries are the biggest reason most of us have to take time off training, and strength is the main attribute associated with lowered risk of injury. You do not need to become a powerlifter but a basic fitness program that aims for general strengthening and healthy joints will keep you in the game longer.

Learn to stay calm under pressure…

...but don’t let that make you lazy.

As an instructor, I want beginners to think about what they are doing so they can try doing real techniques instead of some untrained, instinctual reaction. At the same time, I do not want them to get paralysed by overthinking it. In the end, they will find the right balance after going too far in both directions and ending up somewhere in the middle.

Where I think many of us go wrong in BJJ is going too far in making ourselves and our students too chill while rolling. You run the risk of killing a beginner’s survival instinct by making them too relaxed. Sometimes the best thing you can do is decide you don’t like what’s going on and just get the hell out.

Dedicate yourself to mastering what your teacher shows you…

...but also explore what other teachers have to offer.

Every day, the options for outside instructional material expand: YouTube, DVDs, membership sites, apps, and more. Access to detailed instruction by world champions has never been easier to get.

The problem with having access to so much information is that you can take your everyday teacher for granted. That is unfortunate because the most important learning you will do is still done the old fashioned way: on the mats, with your instructor, one class at a time.

Appreciate the instructor you have and focus on the lesson of the day. Then, in your free time, pick a topic to research and study instructionals on it to work on at open mat or after class.

Develop a gameplan around your signature techniques…

...but don’t become a one trick pony.

More techniques exist than any one person can master. For most of us mere mortals, we need to pick those techniques that come naturally and devote ourselves to mastering those. Every successful grappler I have ever met has developed “their game” and they have a distinct style.

Where this goes wrong is when your game becomes stale and you fail to evolve and adapt to new strategies. Especially at the lower belts (though it remains true even at black belt) your game is still developing too much to be able to confidently say you’ll never need a certain technique. You need to experiment and sometimes return to old material to see if it has a place in your game now.

If you plan to teach, you need to at least be able to demonstrate a much greater amount of techniques than you necessarily need to have built into your “A game”. For example, I can teach a complete leg lasso guard game but I do not use almost any of it personally (because I don’t like how the grip wrecks my fingers).

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When we are faced with two seemingly opposite but equally valid arguments, the truth usually lies somewhere in between. We each have to find out how to strike that right balance and hit the sweet spot for us. Accepting that not every question has a single correct answer may be uncomfortable at first, but by examining each possibility, you will get closer to the answer that is right for you.

Matt Kirtley

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