Mind Games – Mental Toughness and BJJ [Part 2]


Mind Games – Mental Toughness and BJJ  Part 2



Move Passed the Past


“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past. “
~ George Orwell


Motivation is another factor to consider when it comes to mental toughness.   It’s hard to remain motivated to press on when your opponent is dominating you.   To be mentally tough, you need to be able to disregard the past in the moment and move on.   Don’t dwell on how your opponent nearly caught you in that kimura from cross side position. Giving negative thoughts even the smallest amount of mind-space is like planting a seed of doubt that will take root like a weed and slowly erode your confidence.  Control the past by denying it any hold on you during your match.


Program Your Mind For Success


“If your mind tells your body to stop, you will stop. Train your mind first and enslave your body to it.”
~ Unknown


Your mind is an incredibly complex computer that, just like the ones we use daily to surf the Internet and type up reports on, can be programmed to make you more successful.  Here’s where the aforementioned objectives come into play:  set frequent objectives in training or in life and reward yourself for reaching them.  By rewarding yourself for accomplishing these objectives, you will condition your mind to expect rewards for achieving.



While some people may choose material goods or luxuries as rewards, positive affirmations can be a powerful reinforcement as they are instant and can be given during a match from your coach, your team mates, or – most importantly – yourself.  David Meyer, a Machado black belt, has a list of good mental affirmations in his excellent book “Training for Competition: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Submission Grappling” including:


  • · “My opponent will be more tired than me.”

  • ·“The mat is my house and I will command it.”

  • ·“I am better than I realize.”


Now, here’s the key part: each time you achieve something, you need to tell yourself that every negative thing that was a part of the process that it took to get that reward is no longer important.  By doing this in your training and your daily life, your mind will start to see each achievement as a mental reset point and disregard the negative parts of the experience, allowing you to move forward calmly and with focus instead of anxiety over what almost happened in the past / what might happen in the future.


Don’t let any negativity from past experience accumulate as even small mistakes weigh heavily on your mind, especially when many get added together.  Clear your mind with each objective accomplished.   Then focus on setting and accomplishing a new one.  The future is yours to determine.  The past is over and done with.


From the above example, once you escape the kimura attempt give yourself quick mental praise for escaping and reset your mind.  Now you need to quickly decide what your next objective will be and focus on it with 100% of your being.


“Don’t get caught in a kimura!” should not be your next objective!  Objectives must be positive and active; they must be performance-based and progressive.  So, “Get back to guard” or “Sweep him” are good objectives as both require you to take an active role and both improve your position.  Depending on your skill level or your current situation, you may need to break that objective down into even smaller objectives.



Positive Self-Talk


“Self-suggestion makes you the master of yourself.”
~ W. Clement Stone


Negative self-talk has been the downfall of many never-were’s in sport as well as life.  Learn to re-frame any think into positive and task-specific statements that will help you accomplish your immediate objectives.  If you’ve got a guy in your half-guard and he’s bearing down on you, instead of saying “Man, he’s crushing me / He’s gonna pass my half guard soon / I can barely hold on / I couldn’t sweep this guy if you paid me a million dollars!”, regroup mentally and re-frame your self-talk.


First, reward yourself for getting him into your half-guard and then reset your brain:  “Good job keeping him in half-guard / I’ve got him trapped / Let’s sweep him!”


Then give yourself some new objectives to work towards:  “Get your hips outside / dig the under-hook on the same side / disrupt his base.”


You may be surprised to find that this once-unsweepable opponent is now 75% on his way to being swept.   Sometimes, all it takes is breaking down what seems at first to be an impossible task into smaller, more easily handled objectives.


You can talk yourself into accomplishing your objectives instead of letting your initial fears define your destiny.


Seeing Is Believing


“I keep lookin’ over my shoulder and peepin’ around corners
My mind is playin’ tricks on me.”
~ Willie D of the Geto Boys, from the song “Mind Playing Tricks On Me”


You may believe that someone may beat you because of his reputation, because you’ve seen videos of his fights, or because of your lack of faith in your own skill – especially if he’s beaten you before.  This type of negative thinking often creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Keep your mind-space free and clear of as many negative thoughts as possible – they are counterproductive to your progress.


Visualization Training can be useful in overcoming negative thinking.   Picture yourself beating this opponent.  Picture how it’s going to happen – not only in the specific techniques but the quality of your performance.  Couple visualization with positive self-talk, and you will have a very powerful tool in helping rid yourself of anxiety and apprehension.   You could also employ a similar technique, called Guided Imagery, by having your coach or a teammate talk you through a positive competition scenario as you picture it happening in your head.


The idea in both cases is to for you to write the script for your own success and then make it happen.



Put Thought Into Action


“The meeting of preparation with opportunity generates the offspring we call luck.

~ Tony Robbins


In training, you can add Visualization Training to techniques like the “Combate!” drill.  In this drill, first pick your go-to takedown, guard pass/position consolidation and submission, visualizing how they will fit together in a smooth flow.  Once you can see it in your head begin drilling the flow live.  Square off against a training partner, shake his hand, and have your coach say “Combate!”  Now, execute your string of techniques again and again and again, with your partner offering little or no resistance.  Do this for a 2-minute time span, and try to get in as many repetitions as you can.  For each repetition, make sure your coach resets the match every time by having you and your partner shake hands and giving you the verbal cue of  “Combate!”  Your partner can also increase the amount of resistance he is offering with each repetition to get more of a live feel.


This constant drilling of your go-to flow from the time the ref says “Combate!” is putting visualization into action.  Will every match happen like that, with you getting to execute your best moves all in a row?  No, of course not!  But if you visualize it happening and drill it precisely, you will be able to recognize all the cues and execute your game plan when the right opportunity presents itself.


By: Sen-Foong Lim




 A graduate of McMaster University’s School of Rehabilitation Science, Sen has a very scientific mindset to both his game and his instructional style.  His unique slant on BJJ stems from his understanding of biomechanics, human function, and therapeutic exercise.

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