A “spaz” is someone whose movement is explosive but lacks precision. For the visually-inclined, here’s a Venn diagram:
Being a spaz is something we forgive beginners too easily, as if it’s the awkward teenage phase everyone has to go through, as if it’s not within their control. No, you don’t grow out of being a spaz, you have to work your way out of it from day one.
The basic principle of life is that you get good at what you do most often. Period. You’re not going to stop being a spaz by spazzing harder, longer, and more times a week. You stop spazzing by deliberately relaxing and moving in a smooth controlled fashion.
Relaxing is one of the most important things a beginner can learn. But it isn’t a switch you flip. It’s a constant struggle. You have to remind yourself over and over and over as you roll or drill to release the tension in your muscles. Only once you learn to relax can you begin to build precision in your movement.
I learned this lesson first when I was studying classical piano at a young age. The secret to moving ten fingers in a clean, crisp, super-fast pattern is to start SSSLLLOOOWWWW. Music has a beat, so “slow” has a number, thanks to the metronome. The process is simple:
- Set the metronome to super slow.
- Play at that speed without once tensing any of the tiny little muscles in your hands.
- Continue playing at that speed until you don’t make a single mistake for.
- Slightly increase the speed of the metronome.
- Go to step #2.
That’s piano though. In grappling, there’s often a big dude doing his best to break off your arm as you try to relax. So it’s different, right? Wrong. Never ever should you stop that dude by tensing or spazzing. When learning, whether you’re playing piano or are locked in a death-match with an NCAA All American wrestler, you have to relax.
So when you’re first learning a movement in grappling, here’s the process I recommend:
- Release tension: Relax as much of your body as possible while still accomplishing the movement.
- Move slowly: Perform the movement both in drilling and training at the slowest pace you and your partner can bare physically and psychologically. It doesn’t have to be glacial speed, but you can never go too slow at first. It is ALWAYS better to start super slow and increase speed when you’re 100% confident you got the movement down at that speed.
- Move smoothly: Each part of the movement should be performed at the same speed as every other part. Unless… gravity or momentum requires you to move faster in certain parts.
Once you achieve precision with the movement at the slow speed you can shift one gear up. For me, in training or drilling, each gear usually corresponds to approximately 100-500 reps.
When precision is developed, style can form. You might be an explosive cobra that’s loud and proud as it murders its opponent. Or you might be a giant python that hides away patiently waiting for the pray to wander into its death by asphyxiation.
But first: relax, slow down, and move smoothly.
I was dishonest in saying that there is no difference between learning piano and learning grappling. The truth is that getting smashed on the mat is somehow much more damaging to the ego. This is perhaps the biggest struggle of a martial artist: to relax and move smoothly as you get smashed over and over and over on your path to mastery.
Every man is born a spaz. It is his burden and his quest: to shed this robe of awkwardness and emerge a noble savage, a fearless primate in full control of his intent and action.