THE CONNECT/DISCONNECT PRINCIPLE

At the core of every technique in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu there is a principle (or many), an underlying concept that transcends the specific technique being taught or learned.  When we practice a certain technique we start off with grasping the surface elements to it. The physical movements or “pieces” to that technique are important to get familiar with. But after some time our understanding of that techniques goes deeper. We go below the surface and become familiar with a principle that not only allows that technique to work, but can be applied to a wide range of techniques. So, we need to drill the specifics of a technique repeatedly for two reasons: To absorb the physical movements into our subconscious (ie, muscle memory) so that we can stop thinking and just react instinctively, and to gain an understanding of the principle that gives the technique its utility.  Once we start understanding principles (and there are many) we can then link them to other specific techniques, seeing similarities between them. Once this happens learning specific techniques gets significantly easier. Thus, our skill level begins to take off.

One of the most powerful and useful principles I have learned is something I call CONNECT/DISCONNECT.  This principle has intertwining external and internal aspects.  A physical and a mental side.

PHYSICAL CONNECT/DISCONNECT

In a nutshell, CONNECT is the attachment part, where we are one with our opponent. We move together, physically linked. It is not just in physical contact, it is where we are glued together. There is no separation. DISCONNECT is when we detach (to varying degrees) and move independently of our opponent. There is some separateness that is allowed so that we can alter our relative positioning to our opponent.   This is an easy enough concept to grasp, but when should we connect or disconnect?  That’s more difficult and heavily involves awareness and timing. Here we have to look at the internal aspect of the principle.

MENTAL CONNECT/DISCONNECT

Training and experience (mat time) will mostly solve the answer of WHEN to connect or disconnect. However, a correct mindset will help with this.  Generally, wanting something stubbornly (what I call “insisting”) is counter-productive to the development of our TIMING.  And as we know, TIMING is the “when” to do something.  So, simply put, when we “insist” on having our way and wanting something aggressively, we ignore the CUES that may be right in front of us.  When we get fixated on a certain technique we get tunnel vision and unaware.  This lack of awareness hinders timing.  So, “insisting” is a misapplication of CONNECT.  Therefore, to aid in our cue recognition and timing we must DISCONNECT from wanting ANY specific technique. Our awareness must zoom out and cover a broader scope (ie, DISCONNECT) so that we may discover the paths of least resistance. We remain mentally disconnected until we need to focus our awareness (CONNECT) and zoom back in and analyze a problem at hand. This “awareness-connection” helps with scenarios that are completely foreign or new to us. Our analytical or thinking brain then needs to take over and problem-solve.  We CONNECT to the problem, figure it out, internalize and digest it into our subconscious. Then we can DISCONNECT once again and flow instinctually. To me, mental DISCONNECT is synonymous with FLOW. And only when we can flow internally can we flow externally.

CONTINUAL

It follows that we must switch from CONNECT to DISCONNECT and back again forever.  It is impossible to stay in either of these states continually.  Physically, CONNECT/DISCONNECT allows us to transition. its all about MOVE, HOLD, MOVE, HOLD, etc.  Mentally, it is necessary to be aware and follow the path of least resistance. We DISCONNECT from wanting or insisting on anything and accept the opportunities that arrive before us. If, for whatever reason, there are no opportunities at hand and no path of least resistance, we can zoom back in and CONNECT to get the ball rolling again. When we get stuck like this, we can call upon our analytical brain to problem-solve.   It would be like a river flowing that suddenly gets damned up by debris. We must then send the troops out into the river to clear the debris and get the it flowing again.  But beware, once the debris is cleared the troops need to get back out of the river so it can flow. If they don’t those troops that helped clear the debris then become another type of debris. In this metaphor, the initial debris is a new or foreign problem that we don’t have the subconscious skill level to solve yet, the Troops are our analytical or thinking part of our conscious brain, and the river is internal flow, reality acceptance and non-judgement.

Knowing when to CONNECT and when to DISCONNECT is vitally important. The physical/technical application of this principle is easy to learn. Just train often and consistently. Listen to your coaches and put forth effort. Don’t waste opportunities to drill or roll.  With the internal side of this principle we should start by relaxing our body as much as possible. The mind not only affects the body, but the body can also influence the mind. Be aware of your breathing and muscle tension. Realize that not every moment is life-threatening. Be calm whenever possible, and it is always possible.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Can this CONNECT/DISCONNECT principle be applied outside the realm of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu? Is it useful in everyday life?

Lessons learned ON THE MAT can be applied OFF THE MAT as well.

 

PRESSURE AND FLOW

Two main ingredients in Jiu Jitsu are PRESSURE and FLOW.  But which is better?  Different styles usually emphasize one over the other. Some styles give each their equal due.  The politically correct short answer is that neither one is better than the other. They are interdependent.

Pressure

Pressure is the continuous physical force exerted on or against an object/body at a point where there is contact.  This is best demonstrated in the top position due to the benefits of gravity.  Most BJJ schools emphasize pressure while passing the guard. For good reason. It is effective!  Bearing down weight onto your opponent’s defenses has great advantage. Pressure is linear or straight. Used in conjunction with gravity.

Flow

Flow is different.  It is the act of moving along in a steady, continuous stream.  In BJJ, flow is mentioned often, especially in regards to transitions. However, flow isn’t always large graceful movements.  Flow can be quite small too. A small twist of the hips or re-distribution of weight. Flow can be measure in several feet or fractions of an inch.  Flow is spherical or rounded. The radius of it can change according to the situation.

Combination

Both are obviously necessary and useful.  An ocean wave has both pressure AND flow.  If you have ever been in the ocean and had a wave hit you (or better yet carry you),  you will certainly have felt its pressure. But the movement of the wave is where its power lies.  If the wave encounters an obstacle, it tests it.  If the obstacle is a child’s sandcastle then it bowls right through it, crushing it.  If the obstacle is a boulder, then it envelopes it and flows around and over it.  Both instances showcase the
“path of least resistance.”

Recommendations

While grappling, be a wave.  Test the defenses and obstacles.  If it is a sandcastle go through it. If it is a boulder, go around it.  White Belts, when you hit strong resistance to something, change course.  Blue Belts, when you hit moderate resistance change course.  Purple Belts and up, when you hit mild resistance change course.  In this way, I believe, flow is better developed.

SIDE NOTE:  Neutral Ground Sheboygan heavily emphasizes FLOW.  Not because we don’t value pressure, but because FLOW is what is most often neglected.  Pressure is almost never neglected!  (My opinion)

TRANSITIONS / POSITIONS

The Brazilian Jiu Jitsu credo “Position before Submission” is well known and is a principle, although not used 100% of the time, that we should  adhere to. However, I think another credo that is certainly ignored by a great many of us who train in BJJ is this:  “Transition over Position.”

A simple definition of Transition is “the movement from one position to another position.”   The key word here is MOVEMENT.   Where positions are static, Transitions are kinetic.   They are like Yin & Yang, having a symbiotic relationship.  We need to both understand/utilize Positions, AND be able to Transition to other positions.  The problem arises when we over-focus on the Positions.  Granted, Positions are an integral part of the art, but so is movement. We can be experts at Positions and Positional control/dominance, but if we cannot move between these positions, we will never really be experts at Jiu Jitsu.

A Kindergarten analogy would be that of a dot-to-dot picture.

Positions are like the numbered dots.  Transitions are the lines we draw to connect the dots.  Simple enough?  It could be argued that the lines are actually MORE important than the dots.  When a child focuses only on the numbered dots, his/her lines will be squiggly and ugly.  But, if the child focuses on making each line perfectly straight in between each dot, the they will have a better, more accurate, picture.  The straighter the line, the prettier the end result.

In my opinion, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is best expressed through smooth, accurate movements. Transitions are a large part of that movement.  We know that transitions exist, but tend to overlook their importance anyway. Why?  This is what I think: Transitions are nebulous, hard to identify and define.  They are in flux, always changing and moving.  The brain gets fatigued trying to make sense of them.   Positions are much easier for us to grasp. They remain in one place and are easily identified and categorized.  Thus, they are far less confusing.   In short, Positions are easy, Transitions are difficult.   By nature, something moving has more complexity than something at rest.

There are many schools of thought in the BJJ community.  Each academy has its own style or culture.  No one style is better than the other, they are just different.  For me, the “flow like water”  style is where its at. It is the most challenging AND the most beautiful.  A true artist seems to float on or around his opponent effortlessly.  With grace and equanimity.  This is all due to mastery of Transitions.

Are Positions important?  For sure.  I am not discounting their importance.  All I a saying is that Transitions are , at minimum, equally important.

The beauty of the art lies in Transitions

Recommendations:

To “flow like water” we must pay attention to our movement, Transitions in particular.  The movement does not need to be fast.  In fact, if we focus on speed our movement tends to be choppy.  Instead, the movements should be smooth.  With smoothness comes speed.  So, smoothness breeds speed, but speed does not breed smoothness.

Start viewing Positions like stepping stones to other positions.  Better yet, see them as lily pads.  Jumping from pad to pad swiftly before they start to sink.  If you do this you wont settle into a position to think or rest.

If you are in a Position and you don’t know where to Transition to (or how to Transition from), wing it!  Take a guess and just move.  If you guess wrong, you learn.  That’s worth it.  Messing up is a small price to pay for knowledge.  It is better than sitting still, afraid to move and not learning a damn thing.

What if you are afraid to Transition because you feel your opponent (training partner) might be baiting you? Do it anyway.  Stop being terrified of “the bait” possibility.  Force him to show you his cards (ie. the technique he has up his sleeve for you).  You will learn a great deal, and who knows, he may be bluffing.  In either case it will give you the opportunity to polish your movement or, in the worst case, practice your defense.

Caveat:  This is mostly for a TRAINING MINDSET where the goal is learning and improvement.  The COMPETITION MINDSET is about winning, not learning. Thus movement in competition tends to be much more conservative.  That’s because with movement comes risk.