Doing Versus Thinking In BJJ

In my mind, I finished the sweep and passed effortlessly to side control.  I was going to win.  But that isn’t what was ACTUALLY happening.  That was my imagination separating from the realness of the moment.  That was me projecting how I wanted things to go by playing a movie in my head that wasn’t matching up with the now.  I ended up losing the match. There isn’t room for simultaneously doing and thinking in BJJ.

Doing Versus Thinking In BJJ

One of my favorite books is Maximum Performance by Leonard Gross and Laurence Morehouse.  Leonard Gross was the guy who designed the original exercise routines for astronauts to perform while in space (No gravity, means no weight lifting or bodyweight resistance!), but also spent years interacting with maximum performers from Olympic athletes to top businessmen. (I have written about content from this book before in Stop Trying So Hard To Be 100% Awesome)

This is what Maximum Performance said that really resonated with me.

“We try to think while we’re doing, which impairs the doing and we try to do when we’re thinking, which prevents us from thinking clearly.”

It goes on to say (read this slow letting each word soak in, don’t rush it, get it!).

“While you perform you mustn’t think about the technique of your performance.  While you think through the details involved in performing, you mustn’t perform.  You can do both at once of course, but you won’t do either well.  To think or perform at your best, you must keep the functions separate.” (page 22)

Applying The Concept

Thinking MonkeyThe first time I read this, I felt a sense of connection to the truth of it.  How often after class had I been taking my shower but thinking about all that happened in class and when I got out of the shower a half hour had passed, because I was thinking while doing?

How often have I had trouble writing a blog post because as I convince myself I am brainstorming I am running around the house doing laundry and dishes and realize no substantial progress has been made because I was doing while thinking? I could take a 5 minute shower and sit and think for 20 minutes much more effectively and have 5 minutes to spare.

I could sit and think and work on my blog post and get it done much quicker and have more time to focus on DOING the chores later.  But how to separate thinking from doing?

It doesn’t matter what Jiu Jitsu your mind knows, it is what your BODY knows!

On the mats separating thinking through the details of improvement without the pressure of a “performance,” is essential.  I would say this is one of the largest mistakes that a white belt makes in trying to learn new movements.  He tries to nail the technique the first time he does it as if it is a performance.  He should be doing more thinking in BJJ.Thinking Man

Watch the upper belts.  They tend to approach things in a much more relaxed experimental manner thinking and working their way through it and because of this experience they have built over time they have better results.  The results may not be there on the first repetition, but because they are in thinking mode they are free from forced doing.  Once they feel the movements, you can see them performing the technique in open rolling without thinking on the details anymore.  The white belt however, is stuck trying to think their way through the movement, while attempting to do and neither tends to go very well.

Separating Thinking From Doing

It is my nature to be constantly thinking.  One of the things I like most about Jiu Jitsu is that it helps calm my mind.  It is hard to worry about work when there is someone on my back trying to choke me.  But what advice did Leonard Gross and Laurence Morehouse have on achieving this separation of thinking and doing on demand?

“In our ambition to succeed, we’re driven to do everything at once.  This isn’t the way the body/mind functions.  You can’t abruptly “stop and think” as is so often counseled.  Stopping is an active process.  What you can do is stop, pause, and then think.  There needs to be an interval between doing and thinking and thinking and doing.”

This is simple and works.  So in the context of a roll, lets say that I am self aware enough to realize that I am too much inside my own head.

Stop the action (doing) maybe by getting to a stall type position like closed guard.

 Take a deep breath in and out while focusing on just being and NOT doing and NOT thinking


Now, I can shift myself back into my body and begin doing. Here, there should be less thinking in BJJ.

What you thinking about Monkey?Very often before reading this concept I had done this exact thing, but not reliably and without a link in my head to what it accomplished.  After a crazy scramble, how often does someone settle the position for a moment take a deep breath and reframe what they are going to do.  This accomplishes the same goal.

Practice focused thinking in BJJ and see how separating thinking from doing on a daily basis affects your life.  Let me know the results!