I had an interesting and enlightening experience the other day: I often preach the merits of exploring and learning from bad positions. It’s tough sometimes to recognize the value of this, but ultimately the more time you spend in the gym working on your weaknesses, the less they will affect you outside of the gym.
On Thursday night I was training with a white belt. This white belt is at least 50-60 pounds heavier than me, and substantially stronger. He also has a wrestling background, and has been training off and on for a while. I decided to start our rolls in bottom side control, and to only start actively seeking to escape that position when my partner was trying to initiate submissions. The goal here was threefold:
- Develop the ability to withstand this guy’s pressure. The more time I spend in these positions the less uncomfortable they become. I want bottom side control to be “fun” for me. I want to be as impervious as a person can be to positions like it. Training with someone with great top pressure and accepting that position as the starting position and NOT trying to escape it immediately is one way to accomplish this.
- Develop awareness of when attacks are coming from that position. When someone’s strength is their top game, there’s a good chance they spend a lot of time setting up submissions, and there’s a good chance that those submissions are geared toward people who think they’re familiar with the position but may not be as adept with it as they think.
- Develop escapes that lead to submissions or reversals. When I escape a position like top side control in competition, there’s a good chance I’m already at a deficit in points and energy. There’s a good chance that I’m losing the match. If I practice landing right in spots that allow me to submit the other guy or score much needed points of my own, I’ll have a better shot of recovering from those situations when/if someone passes my guard in competition.
Because of the size and weight difference, I’m quicker and more mobile than my training partner, and there is a skill difference between us. If I insist upon “winning” and only play from positions in which I feel confident, I will “win” most if not all times, and sometimes when rolling with this training partner my objective is to win. But not on Thursday. On Thursday the objective during that roll was learning.
So we started out in side control, and I took a passive approach, patiently waiting for him to be comfortable enough to attack. And then BAM! He was able to land a beautiful and unexpected neck crank. I tapped. He was really happy! I think this may have only been the first or second time that this training partner has submitted me. And you know what? I was not unhappy at all!
From that moment onward, the fantastic setup he used to set up his crank was obvious to me and I was able to stop it and even hit reversals off of it. I had never seen that setup before (or rather don’t remember seeing it before this roll) but for me, the moment he was able to secure and finish the neck crank was a valuable moment, probably more valuable than any other roll I had that day.
If I needed to “win” in that roll, if success was more important to me in that moment than learning, that tool wouldn’t be in my repertoire today. And, worse yet, if at some point I were in a competition environment and someone knew that precise setup, I would lose that match.
This moment did a few things. It helped me work on those three goals I listed above; t taught me to recognize a preventable submission; and it helped this white belt feel a bit of confidence in what he’s doing, because I know it can be frustrating to not enjoy success day in and day out, and in this moment he succeeded fair and square. When learning takes precedence over ego in the gym, great things can happen.