Physical attributes are really important for Brazilian jiu-jitsu and submission grappling (a point further discussed in this article about physical attributes and BJJ).
Being able to feel your opponent’s intent and react to it even before he moves (like when he’s trying to bridge his way out of your mount) requires sensitivity. In fact, sensitivity is one of the most important physical attributes in grappling.
So let’s talk about some ways to develop this mysterious attribute called “sensitivity.”
The tried and true method to amp up your sensitivity is simply to spend more time on the mat. If you’re working with real-live opponents and dealing with real-live pressure and resistance on a regular basis then you will eventually develop sensitivity.
But if you want to specifically work on your sensitivity you can try sparring with your eyes closed. By relying on feel, rather than vision, your sensitivity and spacial awareness will develop much faster than if you were always using your eyes. (I often use this to handicap myself when I’m sparring with someone who has much less experience than me).
Another great method is to do drills with your eyes closed.
For example, check out these four relatively simple technique repetition drills that can all be done with your eyes closed (just be sure not to impale your partner with your knee during the guard passing drill!).
Maybe the most effective application of this idea is to do reaction-based drills with your eyes closed.
For example, let’s say that you’re trying to train your defense to a specific attack. The specific type of attack almost doesn’t matter – it could be an armdrag from butterfly guard, an armbar from mount, or a standing guard pass. The important thing is that your partner can apply it to you on both the right and the left side.
Start with your eyes closed – your training partner will start his attack, but you won’t know whether he’s going to your left or right. You have a single, specific counter in mind, and as soon as you feel the attack you respond with the counter on the appropriate side.
The idea of this drill is to bypass the normal circuit of first seeing the attack, then thinking about your counter, and then deciding to initiate your defense.
With severely limited options (i.e. right or left) and your eyes closed you feel the attack and then go directly to your counter. I was using this training myself the other day with my good friend Ritchie Yip and it really helped solidify the arm drag counter we were working on.
If you’re looking for ideas on how to train this way, then take a look at my classic Grappling Drills DVD – almost all the exercises on this DVD can be ramped up a notch by doing them with your eyes closed!!