I had a nice conversation the other week that spurred a number of analogies between training jiu-jitsu and other activities that may not appear to have a connection upon first glance. Most of these activites include other passions of mine like playing music. I first picked up the electric guitar when I was 15 and eventually got myself to playing drums from time to time. Now I'm not anything special when it comes to the drums but there are a few beats that I've got down and can keep steady. Apart from the guitar, drums requires the use of all four of your limbs (feet & hands) and that is where I start to draw the connection.
In your basic kit (drum set) you've got your hi-hat, tom, snare, kick-drum and crash. I've included a pic to better illustrate this.
basic drum kit
When I first gave the drums a try it felt awkward. My mind constantly shifted from one action to the next. From my left to right hand to either foot. There was a lapse between what I thought and what I could do so keeping time while playing all parts in unison was a real challenge. And yes, in a lot of ways that's how I would describe my beginnings in jiu-jitsu. A big part to my progress in playing the drums obviously came with putting in the time but from that, it was about getting myself physically accustomed to how I move and what each movement gave me in return. Knowing the intensity in which to hit the snare or where to lighten up when needed, all would eventually provided a voice for each part of the drum. Now having to put that together in unison was another beast.
I noticed that once I fixated or worried about a single action, my mind would divert and the body would follow resulting in a mistep. The balance was always having to be in touch with the overall feeling and movement rather than a specific task. The graphic below is a crude illustration of what I'm trying to explain. The figure in red is the physical body but the blue is the mind. Be placing myself a step back, I can be conscious of how my entire body is moving rather than focus on a single part. My body then works in unison without much thought other than to the beat. The body willingly responds to the pattern of motion and in turn yields a drum beat. I am completely relaxed and as fluid as I can be, cause once I tense up my mind is distracted and the beat falls apart.
So bringing this back to jiu-jitsu. When a beginner attempts to free him or herself from the mount the most common mistake is to push only with the arms, opening yourself to attack from the person mounting you. Even if the arms are kept in and pressing against the waste, the arms alone will not free you from the mount. It's when the body moves in unison with a singular purpose to create space and move away does the escape succeed. I'm often reminded of this when training with higher-belts and those with substantial experience.
What they're able to do is not neccessarily break through a single defense or attack but overwhelm you with so much that your thoughts are now isolated to one part of your body. You fear the shoulder lock and inadvertently allow them to escape your halfguard. The armdrag provides the window for having your back taken but as you defend this you give up the lapel choke, then back again to the takedown... In moments like these I try to clear my mind and take a step back. I recognise the position that I am in, the posture I need to maintain and with my entire body I react. If my attention is pulled to a single part, then I must defend and start over.
Now this may not apply to every single moment while training but the more consistently I can put myself in this mindset, the better I'm able to perform. Yes, there are moments where things are locked down tight but that's not necessarily the jiu-jitsu we're aiming for when training and learning new things. Smother and grind when you're in training for a comp and at competition but when you've returned to that place where learning is key, open up.
Below I've included the drum kit of Terry Bozzio who drummed for legends like Frank Zappa. Look at this, that is an insane number of drums and elements which make up his kit. Now this could very well be possible for some jiu-jitsu practitioners to accomplish and perhaps in the academy this versatility shines through. But I'm also betting some of the very best are still working with the basic drum kit when it comes down to their 'A' game. Perhaps their basic kit is still tweaked and customized but it probably doesn't exceed what they're capable of and most likely not like what you see below. Nothing against Terry mind you.
Terry Bozzio's drum kit
Regardless if you've had any experiencing playing the drums, the sensation of stepping away from yourself in order for your body to react in unison and with fluidity is something that we can all develop over time. (hopefully) Allow yourself to open up react to the moment with your entire body. Don't allow you thoughts to fixate on just one aspect of what you're doing but attempt to be as spatially-conscious as possible. If you've put in the time to really understand the movements and technique and allow your body to react freely you'll be pleasantly surprised with with the results.