The Race Paradox

Suppose there are 2 people who are trying to see who can run the fastest through a field to the other side. One person takes off as fast as he can. On the way he hits brambles and thickets. He falls a couple of times but manages to make it to the other side fairly quickly never taking his eyes off the goal. He’s breathing heavy. His body is bruised and scratched up but he clearly won.

The second guy takes his time. Instead of focusing his gaze on the other side of the field he look down. With care and precision he makes his way across noting the location of all the holes and thickets along the way. He’s careful to keep himself safe as he moves to the other side of the field. He’s obviously lost the race but then an interesting thing happens.

He asks his friend to try again. This time the battered and bruised runner takes a bit longer to get through while the careful runner picks up his pace as he knows the course better. It’s obvious that the fast runner is breaking down. His body isn’t handling the repeated scrapes and bruises and falls nearly as well the second time through.

By the 4th or 5th time through the careful runner is easily winning. His performance gets incrementally better as he learns the territory and finds more and more efficiency in his routes. By this time it’s no contest. The fast runner has to admit defeat as his body can’t endure anymore.

What does this have to do with BJJ you ask? Plenty. One of the paradoxes of  Jiujitsu is that if you focus too hard on winning you kill your ability to make progress.  I’ve seen this over and over. As instructors we often don’t do a good job of articulating it to students. We tell them to “relax” over and over again. This is good advice but hard to do when someone is driving their shin into your cheekbone. What we mean by “relax” and “slow down” is that for learning purposes the journey is more important than the destination. It’s cool to pull off an escape or even a submission but the important part, the part that creates the learning, is what happens prior to that. It’s the journey. If you don’t recognize the brambles and bushes that left you bruised you will likely get bruised the same exact way your next time through.

This is the be in the moment idea that we often hear talked about in BJJ circles. It is nothing more than noticing and using your senses to record what is happening in the moment. How does it feel? Where are your partner’s legs and arms and elbows? How is his weight loaded? How is he creating pressure? This noticing is an important job. It is what creates the efficiency that allows us to avoid the brambles next time through. It’s a bit counter intuitive though. The noticing isn’t exactly action. You aren’t escaping or subbing when you are noticing. So, on the surface it may not look like much.

On the flip side you can sometimes see with beginners a great effort. They thrash and struggle and move with all their might to pull off an escape. What they don’t realize is that they are accomplishing nothing much. Even if they get the escape it isn’t efficient, or effective. It’s no way to build a BJJ game.

The best part of this mindset is that you find yourself enjoying the game so much more. There is much to see and notice and feel from the bottom of a good cross sides position! And, if you do notice and feel and experience in the moment while there-you will learn to love all parts of the game. That’s the real benifit. When that happens even a shin on the cheek can be pure bliss.  That’s a much better win than any submission can ever be. No contest at all.


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