Friday, March 1, 2013

BJJ Hypnosis

So much happens in a BJJ match. A lot of it is physical, a lot of it is technical, but how much of it is mental?

From BJJ athletes to athletes in other sports, they will say a high percentage is based on the mental aspect. Genetically Olympic caliber athletes are fundamentally the same as us, but mentally they are exponentially different from us. From self belief, drive, determination, commitment, vision, and most of all their ability to come to terms with discomfort and to never believe anything is an obstacle, it's all hurdles.

But beyond that there is something else I notice. I call it BJJ hypnosis because I don't know what else to call it. It doesn't happen all the time, it doesn't really even happen in competitions, but it does happen, normally at a school, most often at seminars. And even black belts are susceptible to this hypnosis. The tactics you've seen before by magicians, evangelists, and hypnotists. Use of suggestion, presence, and conditioning.

In small ways we have all dealt with this, there's a guy in school or a guy visiting your school, or you are competing against someone and they have so much hype behind them you are already defeated before you roll. But there's even a spookier version of this.

Basically you ever meet or see a guy with a BJJ aura? He's like a BJJ mystic, someone who's mere name carries such a force and presence it defeats the minds and the abilities of a lot of people. Why? Because they are admirers, they WANT to believe. You heard stories about this person, heard a guy who knew a guy who saw this guy beat up a world champion black belt like he was nothing when he was only a purple belt. You want to believe there is someone like that out there because you want to believe you can also become like that.

And their style requires no strength because they are so mystical. This isn't supposed to exist in BJJ but it does and it always will in every martial arts because its human nature. We WANT to believe in super heroes.

So what does this person do? Maybe he comes to your school to throw a seminar or you are taking a private lesson with this person. He explains to you a move, whatever you thought you knew about it, he puts doubt in your mind, what if you knew nothing? He already has aura and now he starts suggesting ideas to you. First one, maybe you don't know the real secret BJJ. No one has every implied this to you!

Second he tells you that with this move, there are limited options. Maybe it's a choke, or a mount, tells you you can either do this or that to get out. He gets you in this move and let's you out when you try one of these methods. Now he tells you if you make these corrections, you cannot get out. He tells you to get out, and you try again in the same methods he told you you had, but now it doesn't work, now you are stuck. And now you struggle more and you are more and more stuck and he puts more and more pressure on you.

They seem super mystical and you feel helpless and you doubt everything you've learned! But wait there's always more than the two ways he told you about to get out, why did you only try the escapes he told you about? Why weren't you bucking? Exploding? He was going slow, so you wanted to go slow out of respect. Actually you were conditioned to always comply in situations when someone is showing a move.

When you and a partner are practicing a move from sidemount, and you are on bottom, how often do you lift your own head for your partner when you feel him trying to reach underneath your head to secure the position? Every good partner will do it. And what about when you roll? I bet most people (and I've seen this in multiple schools and in competition) will automatically lift their own head when they feel someone reach underneath their head. Why? You've been conditioned.

And when said mystic did hold you in the move, he only held you for a few seconds. But you believed he could hold you forever even though he let you out before there was a chance for you to use your BJJ mind to squirm your way out. You also allowed him to set his position, grips, whatever. And he only told you to try to get out when he had the move locked in. Maybe its the opposite, maybe he's telling you to try a move on him, but you can't do it until he tells you to try it. And you comply because that's how you've been trained, he's a black belt who's been around, and you're kind of afraid of him.

He's also using the power of suggestion, tells you, you don't know the move, tells you your options are limited (when it's not), tells you you can't escape, then tells you to try to escape. And in the end you end up believing him. BJJ hypnosis. In hindsight maybe you will think, but what if I did this or tried that, or would it work in this other situation? Now you have to wait for the next seminar or private to ask respectfully.

If you do get to roll with him, which may not happen at all but if it does, now you are awestruck, everyone is. Since everyone else is, so should you. And you try to roll really slow, politely, respectfully, and he puts the pressure on you and smashes you and submits you and you think, this guy is BJJ guru!

I'm not talking about Marcelo Garcia or Cobrinha. They are the very best BJJ athletes out there, but you know why they are good, it's not a secret, they've proven it over and over. There's actual footage! And their moves are always based on this premise, not that what you knew was wrong, more like, against the best guys in the world, they will react in this way, so you have to do the move this way against them. And if you look at all the top schools, their moves are not so different, they pass similarly, guard is similar, submissions similar, because they all use the same high level moves, just at a very high proficiency. They don't use a completely different method that is secret and only known to them.

I look at old Gracie footage and see this in action. A BJJ guy, even black belts have been submitted by Rickson and Rorion and Royce and the like in mere seconds. But there are videos where they fought other martial artists, and even though they defeated them, sometimes it took a lot more effort and the opponent put up a way better fight than some trained BJJ students do against them. Why? Because those other martial artists didn't know who the Gracies were, didn't know enough BJJ to know there was a secret family BJJ to fear, and hadn't been around a BJJ school long enough to learn not to spaz.

I once heard a story about a good competition BJJ guy rolling with a legend of BJJ, and the legend destroyed him. The BJJ competitor was in such awe of the legend. The legend believing in his hype, told him to go hard, to not hold back. The competitor did as asked and submitted the legend over and over easily.

When asked what the difference was, the competitor said I stopped rolling like I respected him.

Or maybe they don't even train BJJ, maybe they do catch wrestling, or sambo, or are a student of Gene Lebell and you heard Lebell was the best ever with a million holds, so you don't know much but you've heard and it's the unknown and you fear and are awestruck by the unknown. That there is a possibility that you could get beat by shit you don't even know about! It doesn't matter it exists in every martial arts.

Not everyone is susceptible to this just like not everyone is susceptible to hypnosis but there are a lot of people who are susceptible. And there's been times in our lives when we did want to believe and did get hypnotized as well, maybe by our first teacher or the teacher of our teacher, or maybe by Rickson himself.

When I did TKD I thought there had to be a Kung Fu monk somewhere who could kick everyone's ass. I still get asked by non-martial artists friends who say, yeah MMA is cool, but don't you think there is some guy in a mountain in China somewhere who's been training since he was born who could kick everyone's ass? Like I said we want to believe. Look at Bruce Lee. He was a movie actor, had 0 professional fights. I've seen some of his fighting footage from China, it looked like slap fighting. But we've all heard stories, our parents told us stories, we want to believe. Even the most skeptical site like the Underground has one post a week about how Bruce Lee was the best fighter ever even though there is no credible proof to say he was ever a good fighter. He just said a lot of things that were cool, and we want to believe. All the pro fighters who did train with Bruce like Joe Louis and Gene Lebell said he was a great martial artist. They never said fighter. Best fighter was always said by celebrities or his students or guys who knew of him like Dana White or Gina Carano.

He created Jeet Kune Do and did an armbar in a movie. He's a mixed martial artist! He said boxing, fencing, and grappling was good and needed to be added. Where did he learn all this from? From watching footage, videos, reading books on boxing, fencing, (and he took a handful of private lessons of Gene Lebell on grappling, but you need 10,000 hours to become a master!). If he was a boxer, who did he learn boxing from? Fencing from? Thai boxing from? No one. He and his students even brag about him learning from books and footage to show how much of a genius he was.

He was a wing chun guy who trained wing chun from 1954 to 1959 under Yip Man. After that he taught himself from books and footage. And he has 0 professional fights, but did a TON of seminars and demonstrations (BJJ hypnotist style) but he is widely accepted as one of the best fighters of all time.

We want to believe. And they want you to believe. Their brand is based on it, their livelihood is based on it. From evangelist who make people pass out, spiritual gurus, to magicians, to martial artists, to yogis, to healers.

And in the dog eat dog world of Jiu Jitsu this mindset and mental weakness will make us lose or not be able to compete or roll at our full potential.

Update: After reading some things about TLI and seeing how people who used to always brag about him or defend him are finally turning against him, this article seems even more relevant. I'm sure they are hearing a lot of "I told you so" from their skeptic friends. We always needs skeptics because we WANT to believe.

I went to TLI years ago for a visit, and heard he could tap all his best students handily. I never witnessed it but heard from a guy who heard while I was there. It only works if we are willing and a lot of us come to them ready to believe anything they say.


  1. Nice insightful post. Have wondered the same about Bruce Lee myself. I give him due credit regarding his influence in the evolution of martial arts, but yes, I feel that people want to believe in the stories more than makes logical sense.

    1. Hey Ray thanks for reading. Wanting to believe I guess is the cousin of wanting to be inspired.

  2. Great post Sam! I fall into this trap a lot. There's something about the martial arts that makes me suspend disbelief sometimes. It's good to read stuff like this sometimes, as a reality check. Thanks!

    1. Hey thanks Josh and thanks for reading.



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