Question: My Mind Goes Blank During Sparring…

Mind going blank during training

—————————— QUESTION ——————————

Hi Stephan,

First of all, I want to thank you for creating your instructional apps and having these frequent tips/newsletters.   They have really helped me to get started in BJJ.  Even though I have been signed up to receive your emails for a while now I have only just begun my training.  

A problem I’ve been having is that no matter if someone is in my guard or I am in there’s my mind goes blank or rather starts thinking about all the techniques I have learned and which one to use.  This causes me to get frustrated feeling that I am wasting my partners time by not being much of a challenge for them, and that when I do get past their guard I tend to stop wanting to start over not sure of what I should do next if we continued (if you can’t tell I tend to over analyze things).  

Any suggestions as to how I can overcome this  this just something that will get better with more training? Ultimately I want to be a training partner that will not only help others to improve their game, but also be able to improve my own.


—————————— ANSWER ——————————

Hi Fred,

This is a tough question to answer since we don’t train together regularly. But a LOT of people have the same problem, so let me take a stab at it…

First of all, it may simply be that you haven’t been training long enough.  The first couple of months of a grappler’s career can be frustrating and difficult, in part because grappling is SO different from most of the day-to-day activities of an average person.

So you may find that this problem goes away, all on its own, just with a little bit more accumulated mat time.

Another part of the problem might be that you’re being overwhelmed by the almost limitless number of choices that you have in the guard.  Have you heard of Hick’s law which states (roughly) ‘The more choices you have the longer it takes to make a decision.

Therefore maybe you should try limiting your choices.

Try going for only ONE thing from the guard when you’re sparring for a little while. And this DOESN’T need to be a complete technique – it can be as simple as gripfighting to get the specific grip you want (collar and sleeve, double sleeve, head control, overhook, etc.) and then trying to hold that for as long as you can.

If you get that grip, hold it for 30 seconds, but eventually your opponent passes your guard and smashes you then YOU’VE STILL WON because you achieved your one objective

Then, as time goes on, you make your game incrementally more nuanced.  Get the grip (which should be second nature after a few sessions) and move onto the next step.  Let’s say your ultimate goal is a submission which requires you to get your foot on your opponent’s hip.  Well, your goal is now to get your grip AND get your foot on the hip.  If you achieve that, once again you’ve won, no matter what happens next.

Then move on to the next step in your progression, training it the same way.

Limiting your choices and building your moves incrementally like that should help you avoid feeling as overwhelmed.

Finally, one other strategy you could try is training some of your techniques BACKWARDS.

In backwards training you don’t even worry about how to get into or set up a technique.  Instead you start by first getting really comfortable with the final position in a technique.

Once that final position feels natural and normal, and your body is used to being there, then it often becomes a lot easier to figure out how to get to that position.  The entries become a lot more natural, and applying that technique feels about as normal as walking down the block to get to your home.

For an example of backwards training in action check out this video breakdown of the X Guard.  Either watch the whole thing or skip ahead to about 3:14 to see how you might apply this concept to the X Guard position.

I don’t know you personally, so of course I may be offering you good solutions for the wrong problems.  But give these suggestions a try – they’re a good place to start anyways.

Stick with it, I’m sure you’ll figure it out!

Stephan Kesting

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