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Reflections from my first 6 months of BJJ

Monica Wojciechowska

Was fortunate enough to have trained with the amazing people of RGA Tarifa when in Spain this past November :)

I’ve been training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for half a year now and still hooked. Jiu jitsu’s really been a life saver during the long, grey winter months of Northern Poland (not to mention the best addition to my travels to Tarifa, Spain and San Diego, California this past fall!). In my perspective, jiu jitsu is really the perfect recipe for maintaining a healthy mind and body:

  • challenging mentally and physically - forces you to think
  • helps you build endurance, strength, and flexibility
  • live contact with people (and supportive, welcoming community) - especially important in a work-from-home world
  • fresh air and some Vitamin D thanks to biking to training
  • fosters creativity and problem solving abilities - when someone is choking you and you have to find a way out, you suddenly gain new perspective into dealing with other situations in life when you feel like someone or something is choking you out

I think it’s often true in life that the more you do something, the more you like it. Ideally, you do it because you like it. You gradually get better because you consistently do it. And the better you are, the more you like it, and the more you want to keep doing it. If you’ve found the right thing to like and to improve at, this is a beautiful cycle! Here are some of my main takeaways during my time of doing, liking, and learning:

  • It’s not necessarily about action→reaction as much as it is about establishing and maintaining control. Don’t seek to respond to what they have done. Seek to regain control. Make it a game on your terms instead of a game on theirs.
  • Table principle - a table with 4 legs stands firm, a table with 3 still stands, but less firmly, a table with only 2 falls. If you want the table to fall, take away two of its legs. If you are the table, don’t let *your “*legs” be taken away.
  • Don’t be too tense. If you do so, you are easier to sweep. Think of this like moving a heavy barbell vs. moving a flimsy sack of concrete that weighs just as much. The barbell will be easier to lift and move.
  • Position before submission. Establish control before attacking. First get to a position where you are in balance and then begin to think of an attack.
  • Turn (their) potential energy into (your) kinetic energy. Don’t force things, use your opponents force against them. For example, if they are pushing you one way, let them fall that way with a sweep instead of trying your hardest to push them the opposite way.
  • An object in motion will stay in motion, an object at rest will stay at rest (inertia). Don’t let the opponent settle with their weight on you, because then it will be very difficult to get them moving again.
  • Don’t pick up limbs like shopping bags. Don’t “lift”. Rather, “slide”. It takes more energy to use perpendicular force instead of force applied along an angle.
  • The higher your elbow, the weaker your arm. If you elbow is above your shoulder, the arm becomes very weak, so try your best to keep t-rex arms in front of your body. Elbow below the shoulder.
  • A straight/locked arm is stronger than a bent arm (for example when trying to create space between you and the opponent). Same with legs (spider guard).
  • Triangle attack - if it’s not working / if you can’t close tight enough, you likely need to change your position. Twist away from your feet and look to create the longest “lightening bolt” shape you can.
  • Don’t go too deep with your elbows. Elbows shouldn’t break the line of their body (for example, in closed guard on bottom or in turtle on top grabbing seatbelt) because that puts you at risk of arm bars or sweeps.
  • When taking their back / applying hooks in the turtle position, go for the closer hook before you go for the further one. Otherwise, they will be able to topple you over. Also, keep chest-to-chest alignment when taking the back, the more aligned you are to them (like a backpack), the harder it will be for them to shake you off.
  • Maintain contact with the opponent at all times when in a less dominant position / when they are trying to pass your guard. That will make it more difficult for them to quickly/suddenly pass your legs. When in a more dominant position, maintain posture.
  • When sparring with much larger opponents, use your stronger limbs (legs) against their weaker limbs (arms). In scenarios like this, spider guard is your friend.

Now, I think it’s important to add that this list isn’t necessarily the “ultimate guide to jiu jitsu success”. 1) I’m not a master, 2) I’m not even close to that. BUT, when thinking about the first 6 months of my jiu jitsu journey, getting to the stage where I am able to put even a list like that together, able to recognise patterns between techniques is a success in itself 😄 My jiu jitsu will improve and the list will expand and evolve, but for now, I’m just glad to be having fun and in a place where I can begin to apply techniques learned in one training to another. I think what helped me most during this time was:

  • Taking full pride and joy in being in the position of the underdog 🐶 This is a super special time in your BJJ life. You are a beginner! You can only say that for so long. So it’s best to see this as an opportunity! To learn. To lose. To explore. To do stupid things. To PLAY! Like finger painting vs. being an artist. Later you can become an artist, but right now, just enjoy the mess!
  • Learning the vocabulary. There’s lots of it (kimura, armlock, triangle, rear-naked choke, guard, half-guard, etc...) Even if you don’t know how to do it, it’s helpful to know what it is.
  • Establishing a goal. There’s so much to wrap your heap around at the beginning. It’s like throwing someone that doesn’t know how to swim into deep water. Or actually, like throwing that person into deep water and telling them to swim to shore when they have no idea where “shore” is. if you don’t know your goal, you can’t tell whether you are closer or further from it. So by understanding what the better positions to be in are, you can at least have an understanding of what to aim towards, where to swim to. Even if you are still struggling to swim 😅
  • Ask a lot of questions. Even if you don’t have a question, at least try to think of a question. With questions come answers/explanations and more understanding.
  • Learn what you don’t know. Turn “unknown unknowns” into “known unknowns”. Only then try to turn the unknowns into knowns.
  • Consistency over intensity. Training every day is super helpful, especially if you are practicing the same technique vs. going all-out once a week. I saw this mainly when I switched from going 3 times a week to 5 times a week.
  • Training as a woman - don’t overthink it. Not many differences, just the fact that your opponents/rolling partners will often be larger. But that’s to your training advantage 🙂 AND THAT’S THE WHOLE IDEA BEHIND JIU JITSU (that a smaller, weaker person can defend themselves against a larger opponent by using the right techniques, timing, and leverage)

First half-year ☑️, second half-year - I’m comin for ya! Excited to see what it’ll bring! Maybe my first competition? 🤔 And another list of reflections perhaps 😄

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