I wrote down these three points about the time I got my blue belt.

  • Stay Calm(Breathe)

  • Keep moving(Don’t quit)

  • Look for opportunities(Attack)

It was an approach I was determined to focus on regarding my training.

This was my goal for any roll I did, whether training or at a tournament. This isn’t an all or nothing kind of approach either, I still experimented, placed myself in different and adverse situations and worked with the “younger” belts as I focused on my goal. Despite the solid losses in my first tournament as a blue, I believe it paid off by way of the improvements I had made to my overall game.

Personally, I think it will continue to pay off in my training and future competitions. It is with these three points and an observation I made on game day, that I’d like to finish this string of thoughts regarding what helped my mental state and my approach to competition so far.

This is the final post in a series that I had intended to publish within a month of my first tournament, but here we are and I’m going to see it through!

Here is the link to the first post.

Here is the link to the second post.

So, without further ado, let’s break these down.

Stay Calm (Breathe)

If you’ve been practicing Jiu-jitsu for at least a month, you should have heard by now your Coach/Professor, and maybe a few seasoned color belts telling you to breathe.

White belts especially – all of us – have made this mistake. We unconsciously hold our breath while doing a move and gas out quickly. Or, we will be breathing heavily through our mouths not conscious of what we are doing to ourselves breathing so quickly.

I was conscious of this and had already changed gears regarding my breathing. My first step on that path was to fall back to the old school martial art controlled breathing of in through the nose and out through the mouth. Focusing on steady, controlled breathing during training sessions at the gym or on the mat. This helped but there was another step to take on that path in order to stay relaxed and focused, as well as control my breathing and properly oxygenate my body during a roll.

A friend of mine who owns his own fitness consultation/improvement business (and is an extremely healthy guy) identified the next step on this path and suggested that I begin implementing a new breathing pattern, completely counter-intuitive to my approach.

He said it was better for my body to do both, inhalation and exhalation, through my nose.

Say what, now?

Basically, breathing in and out of the nose (keeping your mouth closed) allows the body to absorb oxygen better as the lungs extract oxygen from the air during exhalation. Exhaling through the nasal passages is a slower process, so it allows the lungs more time to extract this oxygen.

It took some practice and discipline because it was a slightly harder approach but I definitely noticed a difference. I would say my aerobic “tolerance”, for lack of a better word, improved. The control of my breathing improved and I didn’t feel as winded as I did sucking air through my mouth. And when a round of cardio or a roll on the mats was finished, I maintained discipline, continuing to breath this way and found myself calming down into rest mode quicker too.

Why do people tell other people, when they are freaking out, to breathe?

To calm them down.

This was another area I was focused on improving when breathing during my rolls. As I’ve mentioned before ad nauseum, I am pursuing a calm state during competition. Another benefit of this controlled breathing technique is that it reduces stress, it can calm you down.

I’m tempted to cheekily grin here, I’m reminded of of Tyler Durden’s introduction in Fight Club where he shows the Narrator the “docile” figures in the plane crash instructions. Calmed because they’ve been doped up by pure oxygen.

So, this was my first point during the rolls. Mentally reminding myself to stay calm, and the first step is to breathe.

Note for white-belts: I personally think the sooner you focus on your breathing, the less “spazzy” you will be as you become calm and more aware of what’s going on. Obviously, as white belts we are usually fighting the “oh-shit-what-the-fuck-do-i-do?!?” in our heads too. But still, breathe, Neo…

Keep Moving (Don’t Quit)

Rolls can be quite intense and there are a legion of reasons to cause you to freeze on the mat. From dealing with solid, well-applied pressure to facing a more skilled partner. You could be caught in a new position or having a submission applied on you that you haven’t seen before, or just your mind racing to keep up with whatever is going on in your roll. I don’t know how many times this has happened to me, especially when I’m going against someone with more skill.

Enter the “Keep moving” mantra.

I believe it is a reminder to not just lay there and wait for the other person to move. Sometimes it is only going to be small, inch by inch movements, but keep moving! You do not want to make your opponents job easy. By moving, it forces you to think, to feel where your opponents body is in space and time (where is the pressure? what is the direction of said pressure? where are they off balance?). It can create the opportunities to escape that mount or side control or set up that sweep or maneuver into a dominant position.

Many of these opportunities will just be missed if you aren’t moving.

This approach really helped me play my top game and especially passing open guards and transitioning from one side of my opponents body to another. It assisted in my bottom game too, whether it was transitioning from different open guards to escaping mounts to pulling half-guard, etc.

I’m not talking about spastic, spazzy, scrambling movements.

The more fluidly I was able to move and transition and keep moving, keeps them guessing and opens those opportunities I need to get the advantage.

Conversely, there will be times to pause. But the point for me was to move and make it harder for my opponent to secure a solid, dominant position. It’s not always 10000% successful, but this is what has helped me.

Look For Opportunities (Attack)

The more I moved, the more opportunities I was able to see.

The more opportunities I was able to see, the more I was able to take advantage of those opportunities. Continually moving allowed me to pass open guards more efficiently. It allowed me to transition from one side of my opponents body to the other. I’d be able to identify an arm-bar or a triangle choke quicker.

These are just examples. You’re moving and then “oh shit! there it is!”.

I’m no gym hero and I’m no competition beast.

The point is to take the training your Coach/Professor has given you, utilize this training while moving to create or see windows of opportunity and then capitalize on those windows. This was just how I approached my training and what I reminded myself to do while training, and it worked.

Game Day

To close, I want to leave you with a simple observation that I made. It is something my Professor has said countless times, and if you train, you’ve probably heard it too. Hopefully you can internalize this if you decide to step on the competition mat, slap hands, bump fits and put your skill to the test.

They’re people, just like you.

I paid a lot of attention this time around to the matches in my division this time. I wasn’t necessarily gauging their skill level. But I was observing them as a student of Jiu-jitsu.

They were blue belts… just like me.

Some pulled guard well, some didn’t. Some had good takedowns, some didn’t. Some were more technical, some were more aggressive. Just like people in my gym.

I had a good time during my four matches. It was the best experience I had to date. Yes, I lost all four matches, by submission. But it was different. I was not getting in my own way, I was implementing jiu-jitsu and playing the game better than I had before. It was the closest I had reached to no mind.

I still have work to do, I’m not at the place I want to be completely, but I’m getting closer.

One rep at a time, one roll at a time, one day at a time.