As I gradually improve my jiu jitsu game, I notice my movement getting slower and more subtle. Understanding the tiny details and timing that make certain guard passes or sweeps work allows me to improve position without wasting energy. All that is a good and natural part of jiu jitsu growth, but it worries me in that I’m neglecting the thing at the core of any combative sport: aggression. I don’t mean aimless aggression, I mean keeping the kind of pace that allows me to stay one step ahead of my opponent (in competition) the whole match.
I’m distinctly aware of situations when I fail one attack and before continuing to the next I’ll take a little 1-2 second breather, not because I’m forced to, but because… well… there’s still a lot of time left on the clock and the guy I’m going against is pretty good and aggressive, and I surprised that the previous attack failed… and more excuses like that. That’s good in training, because training is about learning, but in competition it does nothing but gives my opponent the opportunity to start attacking as opposed to defending my attacks.
Anyway, aggression is not a simple switch you can just turn on. A lot of NCAA wrestling programs specialize in building aggression through intensive training (sparring and cardio) to basically give the wrestlers the confidence that they can push the pace the whole match and not crash in the process. It takes a lot of work to build that confidence. I think most people (including myself) are simply afraid to embrace this strategy. Unwilling to pay the price of going balls-to-wall. And so we point out that there are “smarter” ways to win. While that’s true, too often “smart” somehow begins to mean “passive”. It’s impossible to deny that in competition there are times when relentless aggression is necessary. Again, I don’t mean spazzing all over the place. I mean chaining together endless sequences of attacks without a pause in between until your opponent makes a mistake.
But as I said, it takes a lot of work to build that mentality, and that work takes a toll on your mind and body. Many of us love jiu jitsu, but have lives outside it. And a Dan Gable work out every day is just not something that a human being can manage without dedicating their whole mind to it. So most recreational competitors such as myself have to find a balance. In a way, it’s depressing to know that I’m not doing everything I would need to in order to win. At the same time, it’s a reminder that FOR ME winning gold at IBJJF events is not the most important thing. By the way, when I step on the mat at a tournament, I’m there to win, period. Put in an another way, I’m there to have fun, and to me winning is fun. Losing is not fun. I believe I have a chance at beating any purple belt out there today. And when I compete that’s what I go to do. But I have to be honest with myself about my preparation and only train as hard as the rest of my life affords but not less than that!
Marco Perazzo suggested to me a couple of months ago that I should be doing a little Muay Thai as part of my training because he’s seen it help a lot of jiu jitsu competitors step up their aggression a bit. I think that’s very true, and this advice has been on my mind for a while. I haven’t added it to my training yet. I don’t like starting stuff and then stopping. So I’m always very cautious about adding new things.
This whole post came after I read the following Patton quote that is an absurdly blunt example of the kind of unceasing aggression that I was talking about:
“I don’t want to get any messages saying, ‘I am holding my position.’ We are not holding a goddamned thing. Let the Germans do that. We are advancing constantly and we are not interested in holding onto anything, except the enemy’s balls. We are going to twist his balls and kick the living shit out of him all of the time. Our basic plan of operation is to advance and to keep on advancing regardless of whether we have to go over, under, or through the enemy. We are going to go through him like crap through a goose; like shit through a tin horn!” – George S. Patton