Soul Rolling with 10th Planet BJJ’s Michael Hillebrand

Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.–Zen Saying

Breathe. Don’t use strength. Relax. Breathe more.  Such is the life of the jiu jitsu player, especially in the early days of his or her journey.  I look back and realize I’m still learning to breathe and I’ve been training for about seven years.  I still use strength too much.  I still get tense when I get stuck in bad spots.  The bottom line is that this is a lifetime journey and if you are true to yourself, you realize that these same sticking points probably plague you as well.  How do we get past these seemingly simple roadblocks?  How do you get past plateaus?

Jiu Jitsu Times sits down with 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu Brown Belt Michael Hillebrand as he shares his thoughts on his concept of “Soul Rolling” and how one can begin applying the idea in their own training to help get past those troublesome sticking points.


10th Planet San Francisco's Michael Hillebrand-Photo:  Personal Archive
10th Planet San Francisco’s Michael Hillebrand-Photo: Personal Archive


Jiu Jitsu Times:  “Michael, How do you deal with plateaus in your training and development?”

Michael Hillebrand: “I look at Jiu Jitsu like stairs. With each step up your Jiu Jitsu gets better. In between the many flights of stairs there is also many landings. The landings represent the points were one feels as if they have plateaued. The plateau is temporary and you will eventually conquer that landing and keep climbing the stairs. I had hit a big plateau for a while and was thinking of how to get over this landing. I was getting very frustrated with myself. I was doing everything  I could, I would spend every minute either in the gym or at home studying  more Jiu Jitsu. As I was studying footage of the highest level fighters like Marcelo Garcia, Jean Jacques Machado, Xande Ribeiro, Caio Terra, etc. I noticed that although they were all doing jiu jitsu each one had their own unique signature style. In my opinion that only can come from heart.  The next day I walked into the gym and just rolled.  I freed myself of all thought and just rolled.  I let everything come from inside and just did whatever felt natural.  And that was the start.”

Jiu Jitsu Times:  The start?  What was it the start of?”

Michael Hillebrand:  “This was the start of what I called this “Soul Rolling”: when your spirit and creative energies take over your game and take you where they want to go. At the end of each class, I would write down every submission that I hit, and what positions I found myself in most often. At the end of each week I would tally up my notes and see what submission I was most drawn to, and what positions I frequently wound up in. Once I knew my top submissions, I would start drilling and refining them until I knew those submissions like the back of my own hand. I wouldn’t stop drilling until I could hit the submission on complete auto pilot using nothing but muscle memory.”

Jiu Jitsu Times:  What belt level were you at when you started experimenting with this approach?”

Michael Hillebrand:  “I first started when I was still a purple belt. When I first started training I was thinking of moves in terms of single techniques they just apply in a given situation, rather than connecting and flowing movements together. I think this is why in a lot of beginners movements can be very stiff, awkward and spastic. Once I switched to the concept of soul rolling. I noticed I was using less strength, my movements became smoother, my timing felt incredible, I was just listening to the rhythm of my soul.”


Soul Rolling with Michael Hillebrand-Photo: Personal Archive
Soul Rolling with Michael Hillebrand-Photo: Personal Archive


Jiu Jitsu Times:  Do you recommend applying the concept of soul rolling at the earlier belt levels?”

Michael Hillebrand:  ” If you develop a style too soon, you can get stuck a single set of moves and your game gets stagnant. You probably can easily think of the blue/purple belt at your school that always looks for the same sequence of moves and hasn’t changed or seemed to even get much better in the past couple years. So while it’s important to let yourself free roll to find a style, it’s also important at the lower belts to break character and change your pace. Your style should go through phases. Typically the best time to break character is when you have been stuck in a plateau for awhile that you can’t break with your current style.”

Jiu Jitsu Times:  How would you help someone who came to you and asked for guidance in finding their own style?”

Michael Hillebrand:  “Finding your style isn’t that simple. Its a journey that is constantly evolving and changing. Only that person can find that. As a instructor all you can do is help remove the roadblocks they may be putting in their own way. I can’t give them the answer, but I can help give them some different ways to try and find it.”

Jiu Jitsu Times:  Any final thoughts for our readers, Michael?”

Michael Hillebrand:  “Look at the highest levels of competitive jiu jitsu practitioners: everyone has a specialty, something they are known for, something they were naturally drawn to. With all of the different body types, backgrounds and personalities that exist in the jiu jitsu world, diversity is inevitable and natural. We can’t all be berimbolo players or power house take down artists. Your style, your art, should come from your soul. You just have to be open minded enough to listen to what your heart is telling you.”

Jiu Jitsu Times:  “Thank you Michael.  Where can people see you teaching or training and how can they follow what’s going on in your world?”

Michael Hillebrand:  “Thank you, I can be found teaching at 10th Planet San Francisco or online by following me on Instagram at @Michael_Hillebrand and on Twitter at @MikeNunja. For seminar info you can email me at

Teaching at 10th Planet San Francisco-Photo:  Personal Archive
Teaching at 10th Planet San Francisco-Photo: Personal Archive

In the end, this is your journey.  It’s not about belts.  It’s not about moves.  It’s about what this art can help you become and what you can do for the art.  Breathe, relax and roll as you truly are, not as you think you should be.




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