Andrew Smith is a 3rd-degree BJJ black belt based out of Richmond, VA (Revolution BJJ). He runs BJJ Path, a video tutorial website.
Me, relaxed and having fun
As you go through your training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, you're going to notice certain axioms, or immutable truths, that apply all the way from white belt to black belt. Three of these would include not to turn your back, to try to stay on top, and to try to get the person in between your legs. Although these rules are meant to be bent, they always apply as central to the main concept of BJJ as a whole. One of the most important axioms that is better learned earlier rather than later is that of relaxing while rolling. You can't relax 100% of the time, but the more relaxed you are, the more energy you're going to save for when you really need it, and the more likely you are to learn while rolling. Here are some details on that concept.
The importance of relaxing
Here are three reasons why it's really, really important to learn to relax in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I've been training for 17 years now, so I've learned all three of these first hand:
- You'll be far, far less likely to injure your training partners. If you're relaxed, you can see the "big picture" of your partner's safety. People will be much happier to train with you, and they'll be less likely to be hurt!
- You'll also be far less likely to injure yourself. This is a huge key, especially as you approach the age of 40. If your body is always tense, you are much more likely to hurt yourself trying to spazz out of something using strength, and not technique. Try relaxing and notice how much easier it is not to win every single individual battle, and how okay that actually is.
- You'll learn so much more, and so much more quickly. BJJ training is not, contrary to early popular belief, about winning every time. It's about learning and improving. By learning to relax, you'll be able to discover many more "secrets" than if you just try to mow your opponent over every time. Conversely, your partner will learn more, too, as they're going to be able to transition a great deal more, escape, sweep, and pass the guard more regularly.
Note that none of this implies that you have to be a pushover by any means. It's all about finding the right balance. Once you figure that out, you'll be well equipped to train for a really long time!
Rolling at my gym
Did you say "chewing gum"?
Unconventional as it may seem, I often chew gum while I'm rolling. I know, I know- that's gross, you'll choke on it, you'll-shoot-your-eye-out (hyphenated to emphasize the inevitable sing-songiness). But I've been doing judo and BJJ for nearly 20 years now, and I've been chewing gum for the last 15 years or so. I'm still doing okay.
I've also had students with severe breathing issues find themselves suddenly able to breathe properly while rolling, measuring their breathing and saving their energy for when they really need it (or just conserving their energy so they can train for longer). One student swears by gum for training. Think about what chewing gum makes you do:
- nobody wants a pube in their mouth, so your mouth is going to be shut
- because your mouth is closed, you'll have to breathe in through your nose
- because you're breathing through your nose, you'll need to breathe slowly
- because you're breathing slowly, you're going to be rolling in a more controlled manner
- because you're rolling in a more controlled manner, you're going to become more technical
- because you're more technical, more people will like rolling with you
Eclipse Spearmint gum keeps its flavor the best while rolling (a lot of types of sugarfree gum turn into kind of a powdery mush after half an hour or so; Eclipse does eventually as well, but takes much longer). If you're up for a slower, much more measured pace of rolling, and if you value having fresh breath when you're trying to cross choke people from the mount position, this is the gum for you.
I've certainly tried my share of gum, too, so I have a pretty solid handle on what brands of gum work and which don't. Having said that, one thing to watch out for is that because this gum is spearmint flavored, if you drink cool water while chewing it, especially at the beginning (and, of course, staying hydrated while training is crucial!), then you're likely to get a bit of a "fresh" burning sensation in your mouth. This goes away gradually as you chew the gum, though, so likely won't be much of an issue for you.