At first I thought that this particular question was going to be simple. Someone, let’s call him ‘Bob’, wrote me about extreme claustrophobia when trapped in a bad position:
“I am hoping that you can help me with problems of extreme claustrophobia while grappling. For some reason, I just become anxious and begin to panic if I feel like I can’t escape. Being under side control and feeling like I can’t move or breathe is the worst.”
My initial reaction upon reading this was that I was talking to a beginner, and that my counsel should go something like this: don’t worry, many newbies get freaked out at first when they find themselves trapped. Just keep on concentrating on the following things and everything will work out in a month or two:
- keep breathing when you are on the bottom,
- get on your side a bit instead of being flat on your back,
- keep his weight off of you with your elbows and forearms (i.e. defensive posture)
- learn to survive the smother
But then I read on and found out that Bob was actually a 3 to 4 year grappling veteran at a reputable school and has had claustrophobia issues since day one on the mat. OK, he probably already knows the things I was going to tell him; what else can it be?
Aha – I thought – it has to be conditioning!!! He might be technically skilled but is grossly out of shape. He might be losing the will to fight as soon as he gets into a bad position simply because he is tired!
Wrong again! He went on to tell me is very fit and that he does extensive, intense conditioning sessions.
He closed by saying
“And I do know my escapes. It’s just that I’ll try a couple of times and if it doesn’t work the panic starts to rise. I try visualization, which helps. I try to consciously relax and breath (easier said than done) and this helps to a degree.”
So all my easy answers seemingly didn’t apply. What was worse, is that I had no intuition about what he should do, mainly because I have never experienced claustrophobia (on or off the mat). I know I’m supposedly an ‘expert’, but being at loss for answers prompted me to put out an appeal to the Grapplearts readership. Answers, suggestions and stories soon flooded in, and I compiled them into an article on Combatting Claustrophobia While Grappling.
I am very grateful to everyone who contributed, and think this will be a great resource to both claustrophobes and their coaches. Thank you for your help.