The white belt watches the smoothness of the upper belts and sometimes feels that level of fluidity is out of reach. Anyone can move smoother and increase speed in BJJ. The clunkiness of newness can be overcome.
Relaxation In BJJ Unlocks Speed In BJJ
Speed kills and relaxation is the prerequisite to speed (read more about relaxation here). This may seem counterintuitive at first. Effort is heralded as golden achievement in so many areas of life. The harder we try to be fast or smooth, the worse we actually are at it.
The Secret Of Speed
Speed results not so much from the swiftness with which you can contract your muscles, but the swiftness with which you can relax them so they don’t act as brakes on your acceleration…The concept of relaxation applies to any motion. The more relaxed your antagonistic muscles, the faster – and paradoxically more powerful – that motion…The source of such strength is simply explained. A relaxed muscle can be stretched to greater length than a tense muscle. Up to a point, the more stretched it is, the more forceful its contraction.
Try a little experiment. Grip a pen or pencil very tightly and write a line across a page of writing paper. Then relax your fingers and copy what you’ve written. Compare the two specimens. The second will almost surely be much more accurate and readable than the first. At first, the speed at which you write may be slower, but as you become accustomed to it, your speed will gradually increase until eventually you’ll be writing legibly at a faster rate, and with far less fatigue.
Maximum Performance (Page 19)
The Method To Increasing Speed In BJJ
When rushing powerfully through movements, I can’t mentally rewind the DVR to determine the missing elements of a move. I cheat muscle groups out of the slow strengthening stabilization which is essential to executing the movement when tired. I can power the move to make it work when I am fresh . The movement falls apart when I’m exhausted, and I become tired faster when powering my way through the movements
Stage 1 Relaxed Execution
At Stage 1 I work through the movement step by step. I methodically get the perfect angles, weight distribution and positioning to make the move feel effortless. The goal is to finish it with limited exertion. I want to set a baseline of the minimum required force to finish the technique to make sure my details are as perfect as possible. If I have to squeeze until my body is shaking to finish a choke in drilling, then I have missed some of the major details of the movement. In this step I am focusing on my brain commanding quality movements of my body.
Stage 2 Relaxed AND Smooth Execution
In Relaxed Execution I move at a nice slow speed but there is a clunkiness between steps. I tend to be thinking: step 1.) grab the lapel step 2.) grab the sleeve step 3.) shift weight and hip-out.
There is an implied pause or break between the step when I think of steps in this way. In music I would consider this a “rest note.” Honing transitions is the pathway to expertise. So the key is to flow as slow or even slower than the Relaxed Execution step I did previously, but without these in-between movement pauses. A common mistake here is to worry about speed instead of smoothness. The move should take about the same time as it was in the clunky step before, it should just be fluid without stops.
In the example, I would grab the lapel, and as my fingers are wrapping for the grip, the other hand would already be moving for the sleeve, and as that hand reaches and the fingers are clamping down on that grip the weight shift and hip-out is starting. Don’t rush these steps! Focus on teaching the body to move through the technique automatically without the brain’s step by step commands. Muscle memory is developed here.
Stage 3 Relaxed AND Smooth AND Quick Execution
Stage 3 happens almost on its own once Stage 2 has been mastered, . As there is less and less thought required to transition between the steps of a movement, the speed of execution naturally accelerates. Repetitive technical drilling while being careful not to skip the lessons of the first 2 steps will lead to an individual’s maximum speed of a movement in short order.
Applying Speed To Rolling
Being “fast” is a 2 part formula
1.) Natural Movement Speed
Actual movement speed based on muscle twitch and neuron fibers. This is largely genetically set like flexibility, explosion, or body type. I can improve these areas but only by a smaller percent. The Hierarchy of Smooth Move Mastery I covered earlier is the path to speed.
2.) Trigger Timing
This is a factor of pattern recognition solidified by habit that allows you instantly to react as your opponent initiates a move.
The black belt feels the subtle shift in your breathing before you go for the sweep.
The brown belt misses the breath, but feels the muscle tension.
The purple belt misses the breathing and tension but feels the hips move.
The blue belt notices when the grips are set and their own weight starts to shift.
The white belt becomes aware as they are getting swept and their back touches the mat.
The more sensitive I am to what my opponent is doing, the more I can pre-empt their movement and counter it before it becomes developed. Pre-empting is where you feel mystical speed in BJJ. There is a certain teetering point of every movement though, where I am past the point countering. Sometimes I can use a “life-line” and exert extra strength to finish my counter anyways, but this is a costly way to grapple.
Improving Trigger Timing
Experience and purposeful training and gameplan organization are how to improve trigger timing.
Plan out an A and B options cheat sheet. (A.) they posture I go to the hip bump sweep B.) they drive down I go to the pendulum sweep). The more A/B plans I have, the more triggered positions I am ready for.
I must focus my training to always improve my timing and execution. Staying sensitive to my opponents moves and in the moment is essential to building useful experience.
In conclusion, improving speed in BJJ is feasible once relaxation is mastered. Strategic thinking and in depth analysis are the second piece of the puzzle.