Keeping the Will to Fight


As is so often the case, Mark Twain said it best: “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” This applies to dogs, grapplers, MMA fighters and jiu-jitsu players alike.

Obviously a grappling match is a physical and technical battle, but having a strong will to win gives you the edge when technical and physical attributes are closely matched. The size of fight in the dog (or the will to fight of the jiu-jitsu practitioner) is not constant however, and sometimes it can disappear altogether.

When you’re sparring you can sometimes feel the exact moment when your opponent’s will to fight slips away. All of a sudden he doesn’t want to be there anymore, his movements and techniques lack conviction, and often he offers you easy submissions just to bring the match to an end.

The ebb and flow of your will to fight can be influenced by many things, but the two huge negative factors are 1) exhaustion, and 2) frustration. Both of these factors can absolutely sap your will to fight. In this article we’re going to take a look at preventing these fight killers.


The most obvious reason for getting exhausted is that you might be out of shape. You don’t have to be fat to be out of shape: you might be skinny but if you’re not challenging your lungs and muscles at regular intervals then it is unlikely that you’re going to be in grappling shape.

What can you do about it? Check out these resources (all are previous articles and tips on

If you ARE in good shape but still find yourself regularly exhausted while grappling then there might be some other factors at work:

You might be holding your breath while grappling.


Someone might be blocking you from breathing with their weight – choking your diaphragm. Escaping this often requires bridging, but not really to escape the position. Initially at least your bridging will be more about creating room to shift your body slightly and get his weight off your diaphragm.


You might be getting smothered, making it hard to breath, leading to exhaustion, leading to your will to fight vanishing.


You might be freaking out and wasting all your energy due to claustrophobia, a condition often undiagnosed among grapplers. Learn how other grapplers recognized and dealt with this condition.


Frustration on the mats is very disheartening: it’s hard to keep your spirits up if nothing works, no matter what you do. Severe frustration can be enough to make most of us start doubting our own abilities, and can even make some people throw in the towel altogether.

If you’re feeling frustrated because opponent is bigger and stronger than you and nothing you try is working, then check out what I’ve previously written about this topic:

If you frustrated by your opponent’s technique then it might be time to change the rules and confront him on another playing field. Is he an open guard player? How about attacking with leglocks? Does he open your closed guard with ease? Maybe it’s time to baffle him with the half guard. You can read more about the concept of using your strengths against his weaknesses here.

Sometimes all you need is to make a little adjustment and your frustration vanishes. A good illustration comes from my own sparring: recently I was trying to escape my training partner’s sidemount and things just weren’t working at all. I started getting very frustrated with myself and my technique, but then I realized that I was only trying to escape by using lateral hip movements to put him back into my guard. I had been completely ignoring escapes involving bridging and/or coming onto my knees.

On that day I had a uni-dimensional side mount escape game, and this meant meant that my opponent could anticipate and shut down all my escape attempts, resulting in a very frustrated and disheartened Stephan Kesting. As soon as I realized what was going on I faked with lateral hip movement, bridged, turned and turtled. From there I spun and put him in the guard, and immediately started feeling a lot better.

Sometimes (albeit rarely) you will be outclassed on every front: your opponent is bigger, stronger, faster, more conditioned, more flexible and more technical than you.

If this case – if you’re truly outgunned on all fronts – then you’re allowed to feel frustrated, so long as you take this frustration back to class with you and resolve to develop an unstoppable level of technique.

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