You Absolutely Can Teach Heart

Published on by Samantha Faulhaber

There is a type of therapy for stroke patients called constraint-induced therapy. Strokes often leave one side of the body disabled compared to the other side. The therapy involves restrictions placed on the good side of the body, commonly the arm. See, there is a thing called “learned disuse” wherein the body tries to execute a movement and fails. Fail enough times, and the brain learns to stop trying, even though the possibility for movement is still there. By constricting the good side, the motivation to use the afflicted side is now much greater. We try harder, and results begin to show. As long as we have an easier route to take to accomplish our goals, the brain has insufficient motivation to make new things work.

This happens on some level in all physical activity. Motivation to do hard things is, well, HARD. Strengthening an already existing range of motion is not so bad, but building up new connections to new areas requires some extra motivation and a lot of overcoming “I just can’t do that”. Often it requires someone nearby (a trainer, coach, or friend) to yell at you not to cheat. Learned disuse is as much a psychological issue as it is a physical. It’s all neurology! It’s all the brain.

Taking this back to the realm of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I think the hardest thing to learn and maintain is to keep trying all the time.  The most cherished quality I see in new students is a don’t-quit attitude. Couple that with growing technical ability and you have a world-beater.

It’s easy to learn to stop trying. On some occasions this is desirable, to snatch moments of rest in technically advisable areas. Rafael Mendes has lauded this as one of his strengths. But when you feel like you’re banging your head against trying to bridge and hip escape enough to work, eventually a part of you can learn not to bother and just wait til the other person moves. You stop going for certain submissions because they never work. You work around your weaknesses.

A better strategy would be to use weaknesses as directions for exactly where you need to go. Check with your instructor to make sure your technique is correct, then keep plugging away, trying harder and harder to make moves work in training. Contrary to a commonly spread slogan, I believe You (absolutely) Can Teach Heart. Encourage students to push through and eventually the pieces that seemed like they would never work will start to work. They definitely won’t work if you stop trying them.

It’s very tough to dredge up motivation to learn something after you’ve accepted that it’s not going to happen. Much tougher than it is to keep moving forward in the belief you just have to keep trying. Both are uphill climbs, but to give up rolls you all the way back down to the bottom to begin again. Maybe even farther down than you started from. Optimism is a powerful tool. Since (hopefully) we are not under real physical threat in the Jiu-Jitsu gym our motivation must come from a desire to learn and win the game. The effort put in this controlled, predictable environment will determine how well we perform in an uncontrolled, unpredictable environment like an actual street attack.

So please, put every effort into cultivating a positive mindset into yourself and your training partners. “If I keep trying, I will get better. If I don’t try, I will definitely not get better.” Apply your own forms of restrictive therapy to attack your weaknesses lest you learn not to try at all. Identify a weakness, figure out what you do instead, restrict what it is you currently do, and convince yourself to move forward (motivation).

One negative (taking away action) example: currently I’m trying to develop a different style of passing (weakness) by “taking away” (restriction) my favorite kinds. I still want to pass the guard (sufficient motivation), but I have to use a style of movement that is not what my brain wants to do.

One positive (creating action) example: My brain and muscles don’t bother trying to escape side control sometimes because they think I can’t do it anyway. I’ll fight tooth and nail not to get there and if it happens lie there waiting for the next thing to happen. Instead, I have to start allowing myself to get there (confronting the weakness), caring about escaping (motivation – maybe imagining I have thirty seconds left to escape in a competition match), not allow myself to lie there (active restriction taking away the passive option), and fight over and over again until I see progress. This is an example of the ball has rolled down the hill into a ditch and I have to motivate myself to pull it out of the mud. I find this much harder to convince myself to do.

If you see someone start to give up, push them forward!

Think of other ways you can develop yourself by taking away options!