One of the best, and worst, things about grappling is that the feedback is quick, direct and brutally honest.
Take ANY technique – be it an armbar, a guard pass or a pin escape – it’s easy to find out if you’re doing it right: just go out and try it in sparring! If your new killer technique is a big flop and you get crushed, then you’ve got some additional work to do, don’t you?
This process is a great motivator, but it can also be hard on the old ego sometimes. So, as we get more experienced as grapplers, we often start using little tricks to save our egos from the ravages of all this brutally honest feedback.
One of these tricks is to ALWAYS go easy when you’re sparring. If you’re never really trying your best then it gives you wiggle room to make excuses.
“Sure he passed my guard, but I was only going at 50%…”
Well what if you go 100% and your opponent STILL passes your guard. Wouldn’t that tell you something about the state of your guard game?
Now I’m the last person to say that you should go full throttle every time you spar. In fact, if you go hard every time then you’re going to overtrain and get injured. But the reverse is also bad: if you go easy every time then you’re never exposing your skills to the harsh light of reality…
So, on some days you just have to grit your teeth and tell yourself that NO-ONE is going to pass your guard today, or that you WILL tap someone out with your new technique. Making this commitment ahead of time focuses the mind wonderfully.
Always going easy with your students is a common trap that coaches fall into. When someone is sparring in coaching mode then they usually give their student/opponent room to escape their pins and submissions, and maybe even feed them the opportunity to apply their own submissions.
This is very kind and considerate. I do this myself some of the time.
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Once in a while put the coaching to one side and concentrate on your own training.
My friend Ritchie Yip who teaches BJJ and MMA has a tongue-in-cheek way of describing this mindset. On days when he’s going to spar with intention he calls it being “Ritchie the a$$hole.” Of course this doesn’t mean that he uses full power heel hooks, or malicious techniques like driving his chin into his opponent’s eye socket.
But still, on those days he’s out to pin and submit everybody!
By never going into high gear you always have an excuse for your technique failing. That might make it easier on your ego, but it’s also going to hold you back from making progress.