Learning to relax while grappling and competing is one of the most difficult skills for beginners to learn. Renzo Gracie summed it up when asked about Rolles Gracie’s recent UFC 106 loss,
“It was embarrassing. I can tell you he wasn’t in that bad of shape. Fact is the nerves drained him of his energy. His stand up and ground work looked bad, nothing at all like he was doing in training leading up to the fight and it was if he couldn’t hear what I was telling him. I think the pressure he put on himself overwhelmed him. He’ll learn and be back.”
Rolles’ bout was a clear example of a skilled opponent losing due to fatigue. He is a great competitor and no doubt will be back with a vengeance, but we can all learn a fundamental lesson from him; even at the highest levels nerves and anxiety can sap your strength and cloud your mind.
One of the most common mistakes I see beginners make is what I think of as the entire body clench. No matter what position they are working from their entire body is clenched and working. If they are on the bottom, they are using every muscle possible to push you off. If they are on top, again every muscle is working for the hold down. It is exhausting. Even the fit grappler will quickly fatigue.
A key trait of high level competitors is the ability to relax; to use the minimal force and energy necessary to complete each move.
The following tips will help you get in the habit of relaxing while rolling:
1. Only clench muscles that are in use. Muscles that are not in use should be relaxed and resting. The easiest way to explain this concept is actually from teaching someone how to strike. You can try it. Imagine an opponent in front of you. Clench each hand into a tight fist and throw 10 consecutive punches into the air in front of you aiming at your opponents face. At the end of your power flurry note the strain you feel in your hands, wrists, and forearms; none of these muscles are helping you punch. Now try the exercise again without clenching fists. Allow your hands to partially curl naturally and only clench in the split second before your fist is meant to land. Not only will you use much less energy, your arms wont get as tired. Now imagine applying this exercise to your entire body.
Try this exercise: Run your mind across every major muscle group in your body starting with your legs and moving up your body to your core, chest, arms, neck, back and finally your face. Order your muscles to relax. Breathe. Relax. Breathe. You will be surprised at how much this single exercise will immediately improve your performance.
2. Slow down. Breathe. Think about your next move instead of just reacting. In the Special Operations community a common philosophy is often voiced, “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.” Try to execute each move perfectly. Think about the motion you are going to make and execute as smoothly as possible. At first, it will be difficult to slow down. Your every instinct is to fight as fast as you can to escape and maybe if given an opportunity to attack. Slowing down will give you a chance to apply tip 1 and relax every muscle except the muscles involved in your current movement. Increasing the fluidity of your movements will naturally increase your speed without adding fatigue.
3. Drill moves from positions until they are automatic. Once after rolling with Royce, I asked him what he did in a particular position and he couldn’t tell me. Certain positions for him are on auto-pilot. When you repeat a movement your body learns to maximize the efficiency of the movement until you don’t have to think about it any more. It is sort of like when you first start to learn how to drive. The first few times, you are concentrating on keeping the car in the middle of the lane and completely focused on steering, gas and the breaks. But after a few years, you barely think about those things anymore. Your subconscious mind takes over and accomplishes the task without your having to think about them. Jiu-Jitsu can be like this for you.
As a starting point try to repeat every move you know from each position 100 or more times. Find a partner and shoot for a hundred reps as a warm up or cool down. Repetition will increase your fluidity. Your body will learn the motions and it will decrease the amount of energy you consume executing. If you doubt this one, go on YouTube.com and watch some Abu Dhabi matches. Take note of how smoothly the competitors are executing their moves. Not only are these guys incredibly fit, but they are fantastically smooth and efficient in their movements.
4. Practice minimalist Jiu-Jitsu. Narrow the number of moves you are going to use from every position. Avoid adding a new move for 3-4 months. By narrowing your focus you will actually greatly improve your efficiency and fluidity. Continue to apply tip 3 to this core set of moves and you will quickly reap the benefits of an improved game.
5. Visualize in your off mat time. Pick a position you are working to improve and visualize how you will execute your move. How will your opponent react? How will you move? How will you breathe? What muscles are involved? Relax. Breathe. Focus. Repeat. Don’t underestimate the power of this exercise. I took an involuntary hiatus from Jiu-Jitsu for nearly a year while fighting in Iraq and I had nothing but time to think about different positions. I read books, studied positions, and visualized myself fighting nearly every day. I was extremely surprised at how much I retained when I finally got back on the mats. My time was not wasted and I actually improved in some areas without even practicing. Hopefully you won’t have to take any time off and can use visualization to help you to extend your practice time.
Well there you have it, five simple tools to help you get to the next level.
Relax. Breathe. Focus. Repeat.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a martial art that focuses on grappling and ground fighting techniques. It is also referred to as Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Those learning its techniques are taught how to gain a dominant position over the opponent with the help of techniques such as chokeholds, joint-locks and compression locks. The art was derived from early 20th century Kodokan Judo, which descends from Japanese Jujutsu. This martial art has gained popularity in recent years, making it far easier to find classes than in the past.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a great method of self defense, and has been especially recommended for women. Since women who are attacked are most often thrown to the ground, the techniques taught in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are particularly effective in helping women learn to fight from this submissive position. In addition, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is thought to be particularly effective for women because it does not require a lot of size or strength to be used effectively. However, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu offers benefits to your health, too. Here are some ways practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu can help you.
1. It increases endurance – You can begin practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at any fitness level. However, over time, you’ll find your endurance increases because of the requirements of the sport.
2. It increases flexibility- – Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu’s moves will require you to move in ways that are unfamiliar, at first. However, as the moves become easier, you’ll find that you’ve increased your overall flexibility.
3. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu builds muscle – Over time, even without weight training, you’ll find that your muscle tone and muscle mass have increased.
4. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu increases your aerobic capacity – This is a great workout – and you’ll find that you have greater aerobic capacity after a time. You’ll likely lose a few pounds, too, especially if you practice another aerobic exercise, like running, biking or swimming, on your off days.
5. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu increases your confidence level – The knowledge that you can defend yourself against an opponent is very powerful. When we believe our bodies are strong, we feel better physically and mentally.
6. Practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu reduces stress – Like any physically challenging exercise, practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a great way to reduce stress by taking out your frustrations on your opponent – or just on a practice bag. You’ll find you’re more relaxed and sleep better.
7. Jiu-Jitsu improves your focus and concentration – This sport requires mental concentration as you anticipate your opponent’s next move and formulate your own plan for defense and attack. This forced concentration helps you be better able to focus your mind during practice – and for other tasks, as well.
As you can see, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a great all around sport. You’ll increase your fitness level and reduce your stress level. And, perhaps most importantly, you’ll gain the skills to protect yourself in the event of an attack, and the confidence that goes along with the knowledge that you are capable of self defense. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu classes are easier than ever to find – so go out and sign up for one today!
Photoand Story by Dan Bernardi
Marc Stevens, right, trained under the direction of Ken Kronenberg, left, at Tai Kai Jiu Jitsu in Liverpool. Stevens is a current cast member on Ultimate Fighter 12, airing at 10 p.m. Wednesdays on Spike TV.
The third time was the charm for mixed martial artist Marc Stevens on his road to being featured on the television show Ultimate Fighter, airing on Spike TV.
On his third time trying out for the popular cable program, Stevens, who trained in Liverpool, was cast for a shot at UFC stardom.
The show pits two teams of aspiring Lightweight and Light Heavyweight mixed martial arts fighters against each other under the coaching of accomplished Ultimate Fighting Championship veterans.
Stevens has come a long way since getting his start in Mixed Martial Arts in 2005. Prior to then, he had only wrestled.
“I wrestled my whole life. After I left college I was watching the first season of the Ultimate Fighter and saw my old wrestling coach,” Stevens said. The coach was Josh Koscheck, who was an assistant coach at the University of Buffalo at the time Stevens wrestled there.
That spurred him to find out more about the sport of MMA.
Stevens began training with Ken Kronenberg at Tai Kai Jiu Jitsu (www. syracusebjj.com), 911 Old Liverpool Road, Liverpool.
At Tai Kai Jiu Jitsu, Stevens learned the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which is a style made famous by Royce Gracie, a UFC Hall of Famer. The style centers around grappling and ground fighting. Using this technique, a smaller defender can often defend against a larger opponent by using a combination of joint-locks and choke holds. This skill combined with a background in wrestling makes Stevens a versatile fighter.
Since 2005, Stevens had attended two Ultimate Fighter casting calls.
“This was actually the third time I had tried out,” Stevens said. “I got a call from my manager about a week before the tryout and he told me I had to be in North Carolina the next week for tryouts for the show.”
Stevens went to North Carolina, tried out, and returned home to wait.
“If they don’t call you just didn’t make it, if they call then you know your going to be on a plane in two days. You’re going to Vegas for casting,” he said.
He was flown to Las Vegas for three days of medical check-ups and interviews with Ultimate Fighter producers.
“After you come home (from Las Vegas) they call you either way,” Stevens said.
Luckily for Stevens, the call was one in which the Ultimate Fighter producers told him they wanted him on the show.
Stevens wasn’t sure whether he would automatically be granted a spot in the house or if he would have to fight his way in.
On the season premiere of Ultimate Fighter 12, Stevens was featured in a match against fellow upcomer TJ O’Brien to determine who would earn a spot in the Ultimate Fighter house. Stevens fought in the first match of the show and defeated O’Brien in 13 seconds.
When asked if that was Stevens biggest match of his life, he answered, “Yeah, I would. Some of the guys had said that. Javier Mendez, (founder of the American Kickboxing Academy) brought up a good point when he said, ‘This shouldn’t be different from any other fight, every fight is your biggest fight.’”
Stevens kept this in mind and tried not to let the fact that this would perhaps be the most noticed and widely talked about moment of his young MMA career affect his preparation.
“I had fought on TV before, but never on a stage like that. The thoughts (regarding the magnitude of the fight) would come in and I’d try to get them out.”
For Stevens, this is the most important time in his career. He explained that opportunities to be featured on a national stage are very rare and success is a necessity.
“As a fighter you have a short window,” Stevens said. “You’re no good to anyone if you lose, you’re pretty much done because nobody wants to watch it.”
To watch Marc Stevens on his quest to become the Ultimate Fighter, tune in to Spike TV at 10 p.m. Wednesdays.
Marc Stevens is a cast member on Ultimate Fighter 12 on Spike TV. The show airs at 10 p.m. Wednesdays.