The Mental Art of Competition: Part 7 MENTAL FLEXIBILITY

A weapon in the mental arsenal of almost every high level competitor is that of mental flexibility.  Mental flexibility is the ability to come up with effective answers to the problems an opponent poses coupled with some level of creativity.

Some competitors are considered specialists, which is a nice way of saying “one trick pony”, as in they have certain moves (or groups of moves) that they hit with much higher percentage than others.  However, at a high level any competitor will wind up facing someone with the ability to defend against their top attacks and the mentally flexible wind up winning.

Always train for the very best opponent you may have to face…

I’ve written several articles focusing on the importance of training with people who can beat you, or at least to put yourself in situations in which you can be beaten while training with those less physically or technically gifted.  The reason to do this is that when you go to competition, you may have to face the very worst situations imaginable, and if you train day in and day out to deal with those situations, your chances of overcoming and succeeding go up substantially.

Assuming you’ve spent your training time wisely, you should have the tools to beat any opponent who steps in front of you.  Your ability to use those tools at least partially depends on your mental flexibility.

One key example of mental flexibility is the ability to put together unusual submission strings.  For instance: I like to pair leg locks with loop chokes.  What I do is I attack the leg submission, when the other person pulls away; I release the leg and immediately grab the collar to set up the loop.  Because the other person is still thinking about my leg lock attempt when I initiate the choke, their chances of mounting an intelligent defense go down.  This is just one example of mental flexibility in action.

Another piece of the mental flexibility puzzle is seeing submissions where others may not.  For example, I’ve seen some guard passes that turn the other person’s natural reaction to being passed into some sort of submission.  (I’m specifically thinking of a couple of D’arce and triangle choke setups).

Being capable of coming up with effective and unusual transitions is just one example of mental flexibility.  It is important to be ready for all sorts of different scenarios.  My coach Pablo Angel Castro III likes to say that rolling is like driving in that if we take a route many times, we pass the same scenery and we see the same signs each time, and if we recognize the signs and the scenery chances are we’ll know which turns to take.  Be mentally flexible and you’ll be able to judge the scenery even if it’s not always familiar.




Emil Fischer is an active blue belt competitor under Pablo Angel Castro III training with Strong Style Brasa and is sponsored by Pony Club Grappling Gear and Cruz Combat. For more information, other articles, and competition videos check out his athlete pages at and

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Emil Fischer is an active black belt competitor under Pablo Angel Castro III training at Strong Style Mixed Martial Arts and Training Center near Cleveland Ohio ( and teaching at Ararat Martial Arts and FItness Center. For more information, other articles, and competition videos check out his athlete pages at and Emil is sponsored by Meerkatsu (, discount code EmilKatsu), Eddy's On Coventry, North Coast Cryo ( NottaRookie, YM ( discount code COOKIES), Defense Soap ( discount code COOKIES) Impact Mouthguards ( discount code EMILIMPACT), and North South Jiu Jitsu Underwear


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