I wish I liked grappling

Really, I wish I loved grappling, but right now, I'd settle for "like". I don't know why, but it's never been my favorite thing about budo. I love nage waza (throwing) and I love pretty much everything about aikido and jodo. But katame waza...

I know plenty of other guys who can't get enough of it, who would probably rather grapple than throw. Sick puppies, how I envy them. So what is it about it I don't like? Well, one thing mainly. And bare in mind, my reasons for struggling with katame waza are not ideological or philosophical or even practical. This is just me...

Basically, it scares the willies out of me. You see, I'm not a competitive person, not at all. I don't even like playing board games (my wife does, and it's always a chore for her to drag me into a game with friends, although I usually enjoy myself once I get into it). I've played soccer, and I like watching it, but I have a very hard time watching a team I actually care about (watching the US play in the world cup makes me a nervous wreck; teams in whom I have little or nothing invested I can actually enjoy).

Now, I realize that our dojo is not focused on tournament play, more on technique and principle, and so the idea of "winning or loosing" shouldn't theoretically be a concern. But when we venture away from kata (where the outcome is know ahead of time) and into anything resembling randori, I'm just not good as recognizing that it's still "play", that it's still "practice". My mind slips fairly easily into "fight or flight" and all my adrenaline dumps into the system and I panic.

With a few hours under my belt, I can usually keep a hold of myself when working with a newer judoka. But once I get mixed up with someone who knows a little bit about what they're doing, all composure flies out the window.

Logically, I realize there's nothing to be afraid of. No one here is out to hurt me, we're all friends. But once I feel the other guy breaching my defenses and zeroing in on a hold or anything else, it seems to trigger something deeper-seated than logic, something primal that supersedes all logic and self-control. There are a handful of joduka whom I admire greatly for their ability to maintain their composure even when dealing with a more inexperienced player who insists on going fast and furious. Of course, that may just come with time.

Which almost always seems to be the answer to most dilemmas we face in budo, doesn't it? How do I get over this obstacle? Time. Hours on the mat, just doing it. Not a particularly encouraging answer, for sure. I suppose we all want an instant answer: tell me something that will make me better now. Of course, it just doesn't work that way. We can pick up little things here and there to add to our repertoire of techniques or tweak the ones we already have, but only time internalizes principles and allows us to really do magical things.

Once in a while, I'll work with someone on the ground in a way that I do enjoy: put simply, we trade. In other words, my partner gets me in something, and I take time to think about it, even talk out loud about it. I try things, some of it doesn't work, but eventually something will, and then I find myself in an advantageous position and then it's my partner's turn to pause and reflect, to talk his way out of it, and for me, even, to suggest certain ideas: "What if you moved your hand here, and grabbed your own gi, could you get an arm bar that way? Hmm. Maybe not..."

Or maybe so, and I tap. "Yep, that will do it." Then we back up, or "rewind" if you will, to a few moments before the point of tapping and then we see what I could do from there. At that speed, I can definitely last a lot longer. When I get sucked into the primal "fight or flight" adrenaline dump, I may have 30 seconds at best. With slow trading, I could probably go for a half hour or more.

Some would suggest we probably learn and internalize a lot more doing it this way ("fast is slow, slow is fast" as the adage goes). But then, some folks just can't do it that way, period. Fast and hard is the only gear they have. In those instances, I'd love to be able to keep my cool and ride it out. I've heard some say that all you have to do is wait until the "fast and furious" players just run out of juice and then do your thing, but I swear, there are some guys who just do not run out of gas, who can go full speed all day long (these are usually the ones who love grappling, unfortunately).

So there you go. This is my love/hate relationship with grappling. I wish I loved it, I wish I were better at it (or at least able to keep my cool; I wouldn't mind getting "got" repeatedly if I could just keep my energy under control). I do it anyway because, for one thing, it's an element of self defense that I may need (if I ever got into an altercation "on the street" which, let's be honest, hasn't happened yet, and frankly not too likely to happen in the future; I don't really frequent the sorts of areas where that sort of thing is likely).

Mainly, I do it because it's a demon that I want to control a little better. Not to defeat or vanquish. I think that would be a delusion to imagine I can eradicate any and all tendencies for ugly, selfish, impetuous behavior. Just a modicum of self-mastery, is all. But then, I suppose that's always the real challenge, isn't it? At the risk of sounding hackneyed, the real enemy we face is ourselves.


  1. Yeah, I know what you mean. For me coming up through the ranks, I hated having to grapple with you! Technical & methodical, grapple me to death while giving a lesson. I just wanted to survive that 3 minutes until the bell rang so I could rotate to someone else that was more comfortable.

    I agree with you on the "slow is fast, fast is slow" idea. I thoroughly enjoy "chess game grappling", and have found it to be a wonderful tool for teaching newer guys, and typically learn something new myself. It makes it a low stress event.

    There is something about grappling with some people that has a sense of inevitability. For example, when grappling with Cameron or Derek you'd best bring your A game. These guys very seldom make mistakes. When they gain a superior position, your mindset takes an abrupt detour to defense land and self-preservation.

    The difference I think is the approach. Playing catch is fun, playing dodgeball really isn't. Chess game grappling is fun. Dealing with a monster climbing all over you, trying to crush the air out of you, working toward a choke or armbar... well, all of a sudden it doesn't seem like playing catch even though the guy isn't out to hurt us. It is mentally uncomfortable to us.

    The only solution I have is to do more of the uncomfortable thing. Do it until it becomes comfortable.

    I can try to draw a few analogies to our old training regime if you want.

  2. Well, for example....

    Training in the summer and winter were uncomfortable. 120 degrees in the summer, with two small fans moving hot air around was miserable. Now, I wouldn't trade those days for any amount of money you offer. They are priceless. We just did it and endured. Suck it up & play.

    Chest crawls & shrimps, dragging your partner, we pretty tough. But, we did it.

    The 3-minute line drill: throw the entire line with the same throw, as many times as possible, in three minutes. That seemed like sheer torture at the time, but we played right on through it.

    Just play through it. It's that simple. PLAY through it. Allow yourself to have fun. Allow yourself to teach. Allow things to happen.

    We all "get got", we all have a lower rank teach us something we didn't know. If you don't have both of these things happening you aren't training correctly in my book.

  3. You have to learn to lose. A man that's afraid to lose can't concentrate on victory. Stop worrying abut defense and just try to submit your partner for a few sessions. Once the shiny newness of getting submitted wears off, you'll shake the fear.
    And remember, when in doubt, tickle your opponent.

  4. Ha! Tickle Fu! There is no defense!

    I think you're right, though. Get got, and let go. Definitely will have to be my focus!

  5. Imagine trying to randori with nage waza, the same way that you are in Ne waza, you would never lear how to really throw. Ne waza has to be learned through fairly competitive randori. The best Grappling Gi grappling is in brazil, and they only rep Waza a few times, maybe show a postion then its on to rolling. Thats it. You could learn alot from that.
    Kodokan Judo. Aikikai Aikido. Matt.


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