The Psychology of Grappling: Wrestling vs BJJ

Wrestling vs Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

     I’ve had a couple of glasses of wine so I apologize in advance for any incoherence beyond the usual.  My whole life (20 years of it, anyway) I’ve been a wrestler but in the last 2 weeks I’ve finally started to understand what it means to be a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) player.  
     Lets begin first with wresting.  Wrestling is all about breaking your opponent’s will.  If you can establish physical dominance, then he will break mentally, then you win.  Wrestling practice focuses on establishing physical dominance—both strength and enduance; technique, although important, is only one of the means by which you accomplish your ultimate goal–breaking the will.  In practice the coach tries to break your will by pushing your physical and mental limits; this prepares you for competition.  I have to admit, there is something deeply satisfying when you break your opponent’s will.  You can usually feel when it happens.  It satisfies something primal.
     BJJ is different.  BJJ is all about outsmarting your opponent.  It’s physical chess but you don’t win by force, you win by anticipating your opponents moves and countering them.  I’ve messed around with BJJ on and off for over a decade but it’s only in the last 2 weeks that I finally understood what it was about.  For the last 10 years I’ve been doing BJJ as a wrestler; but BJJ doesn’t work that way.
     The beauty of BJJ is that a less physically gifted opponent can beat the physically gifted opponent if he’s clever.  The most difficult thing for a wrestler to do is to adopt the practice mentality of BJJ.  In wrestling you never ever ever let yourself get pinned (or beaten in any way) in practice because if you allow yourself to get beaten in practice it will happen in competition; also you will develop a mentality of losing.  In wrestling practice, if you are going to get pinned in practice or taken down, you fight out of it as if your life depended on it–as though you were in a match.
     BJJ is the opposite.  In BJJ practice you allow yourself to get beaten to understand what not to do and to practice getting out of that situation.  The mentality is the opposite from wrestling; in BJJ practice, the more you lose, the more you learn–assuming you analyze why you lost and how you might escape next time.  In fact, many BJJ players will intentionally allow their practice opponents to put them in a bad situation in order to figure out how best to escape it.  
     The most difficult thing for a wrestler doing BJJ is to adopt the mentality that it’s ok to lose in practice.  For ten years I was a wrestler doing BJJ–this explains why I plateaued after 2 years, but as of a few weeks ago I had this revelation.  It’s not easy undoing almost a lifetime of habits but it’s the only way to learn…

Or maybe I’m just getting too old for the wrestling mentality…

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