Are you practicing the most powerful skill in Jiu-Jitsu?
If I told you there was one thing you could do every time you trained that gave you the following benefits:
- Dramatically improves your reaction time
- Doubles or even triples your endurance almost immediately
- Improves your sensitivity so your training partners swear you can “read their mind”
- Instantly increases your speed
- Gives you razor sharp timing
- Makes every movement you make more efficient
- Allows you to be an absolute monster with weight distribution, making your opponent carry every last pound possible with every movement, to gas them out in record time
- Dramatically reduces the frequency or even possibility of injuries
- Makes Jiu-Jitsu training fun and enjoyable and not a stressful grind
What would you guess that one thing is?
Before we get to that, I have to tell you about a track coach named Bud Winter who worked at San Jose State University from 1940 - 1974.
While Bud Winter coached the sprinters at San Jose State University, they nicknamed the school “Speed City”, because at one time, Winter’s athletes held every sprint record in the world from the 50 meters through the 440 meters, including the relays.
All together, “Winter produced 37 world record holders, 3 NCAA championships, 49 NCAA records, and 27 Olympians.”
Not only that, but Winters also taught a seminar in Jamaica that taught his “secrets of the science of sprinting” that Glen Mills attended, who would later become Usian Bolt’s sprint coach.
Bud Winter’s techniques were so effective, he was assigned to a program to teach Naval Pilots in WWII how to perform under the pressure of combat, when they were sleep deprived and suffering from combat fatigue.
After just six weeks of training, his cadets were able to fall asleep within two minutes or less any time of day or night, even with cannon fire or machine gun fire blasting next to them.
This wasn’t just a novelty, it was the critical difference between getting quality rest and championship performance or being destroyed by combat fatigue and shooting down friendly pilots, with an operation tempo that was otherwise maddening.
It was a problem that needed to be solved because it was destroying the best and brightest young men and women our country had to offer for the war effort.
They had also improved their performance across a wide range of sports and physical training events, including running, swimming, boxing, football, basketball, etc.
They even improved their obstacle course time by 12 seconds more than a control group, and improved their reaction time by 2.5 seconds on average, at a time when people believed it was impossible to improve your reaction time!
So what was Bud Winter’s secret?
Bud Winter got these incredible results by teaching his athletes to relax.
Tension, Winter discovered, was the great poison that killed human performance.
When there is tension in the body or in the mind, we’re slower, less creative, less able to think, less efficient, less in touch with what’s going on, and much more likely to make mistakes no matter what we’re doing.
And if you can learn to relax while you train Jiu-Jitsu, you will get all of the benefits listed above and more.
Here they are again, with an explanation of how it works in Jiu-Jitsu.
Then, we’ll talk about how to incorporate relaxation into your training and how to handle the most common obstacles.
Benefits of relaxation in Jiu-Jitsu
- Dramatically improves your reaction time. When Bud Winter was training pilots to spot enemy planes, they used an intense reaction time test that involved flashing images of enemy planes on a screen for 1/50th of a second.
That was all the time the cadets were given to observe and identify the enemy planes.
The control group, the cadets that were not trained by Bud Winter with his relaxation techniques, mostly failed.
In fact, 88% of them threw down their pencils in frustration without even completing the test.
Winter’s cadets, however, had a 100% pass rate and completed the test with ease.
Not only that, but Bud Winter’s cadets improved their reaction time by 2.5 seconds on average.
Meaning not only could they quickly orient themselves to whatever environment they found themselves in, but they would be 2.5 seconds faster than their competition who hadn’t had relaxation training.
Can you imagine how much your Jiu-Jitsu would improve if you were 2.5 seconds faster at reacting to any given movement? 2.5 seconds is an eternity in a fight. Imagine the possibilities…
- Doubles or even triples your endurance almost immediately. When you gas in a fight, you’re basically useless.
Being exhausted is one of the most dangerous places you can find yourself, because your body is unable to do what you need it to do.
All the years you’ve put into sharpening your skills are washed away as your muscles turn to jelly, you’re breathing battery acid, and just hoping and praying you get an opportunity you can take advantage of before you’re finished.
When you learn to relax the muscles you’re not using, however, you are able to conserve massive amounts of energy you may not have even been aware you were burning.
Boxers often demonstrate this to newbies by showing them how to relax their antagonistic muscles when they throw a jab.
When you clench a fist and try to throw a hard punch, you’re not half as fast, efficient or powerful as when you relax your hand and throw your jab like a whip, tensing only the muscles you need to keep structure in your wrist and forearm.
For grapplers, muscular tension can come from 1000 sources.
Anxiety, fear, ambition, bad habits, etc.
But by practicing systematically relaxing your musculature as you train, you will become more and more skilled at using only the energy you need, and you’ll be amazed at how long you can roll at even significant intensities when you’re not leaking energy all over the place with excess tension in your movements.
- Improves your sensitivity so your training partners swear you can “read their mind”. When you’re too tense, there is so much kinesthetic noise in your body, it’s like listening to a radio with the squelch on. Very difficult to hear any noise through the signal.
When you’re relaxed, however, it’s like hearing a pin drop in a silent room when your opponent makes a movement. It’s so clear and so easy to identify, it takes no effort.
The more you’re able to do this, the better you will be able to orient, respond and adjust to what your opponent is doing.
This is where you get the “read your mind” effect, where they feel like there’s nothing they can do that you’re not at least a step ahead of.
Also, when there is tension in the body it's hard to recognize and feel subtle movements. When you are relaxed your body and mind pick up the slightest movements and because you're relaxed you can react much faster.
- Instantly increases your speed. Just like the boxing jab example above, when you’re no longer fighting yourself with excess tension, everything you do will be faster.
Speed isn’t necessary in Jiu-Jitsu, because what you really need is timing.
Doing the right thing at the right time. However, being able to leverage speed when you need it, to be able to go from zero to where you need to be in the shortest time possible, is always an asset. Relaxation will help you do this.
- Gives you razor sharp timing. When you combine the improved awareness and kinesthetic sensitivity, and the speed that comes from efficient movement, your timing will improve dramatically.
- Make every movement you make more efficient. Efficiency in Jiu-Jitsu means using the least amount of energy to be effective. This goes hand in hand with increasing your endurance, because this is where you start reducing your wasted energy closer and closer to 0%. Because Jiu-Jitsu was created for smaller individuals to be able to overcome bigger stronger individuals, being efficient with your energy is a huge key to this success.
- Allows you to be an absolute monster with weight distribution, making your opponent carry every last pound possible with every movement, to gas them out in record time.
Have you ever tried to lift someone when they’re sleeping, or just let their body totally relax and are “dead weight”? It’s incredible how much more difficult it is to lift someone when they just go limp and relax.
If you want to master weight distribution to the highest level, you must learn to relax your body, either specific parts of your body or your entire body, at will. Rigidity in the body provides structure and the structure reduces the weight you're able to apply on your opponent because your muscles support your weight instead of forcing them to support it.
- Dramatically reduces the frequency or even possibility of injuries. One of the biggest reasons people get injured is because they are tense in their training. In Jiu-Jitsu oftentimes emphasis is put on flexibility but very few people realize that as soon as you tense up your muscles, you've completely lost the benefit and value of being flexible.
When you tense up your body, your muscles engage and are trying to keep your limbs in a certain position, so any quick or explosive movement to move the limbs from the locked position has the potential to create injury. Most injuries in training actually occur within our natural range of motion. That natural range is completely lost when we are tense. Weight lifters tear ligaments and muscles all the time from just straining to lift things within their natural range of motion.
- Makes Jiu-Jitsu training fun and enjoyable and not a stressful grind. Building mental toughness is one of the greatest assets anyone can have in life.
And Jiu-Jitsu is an incredible source of challenges we can always count on and learn from.
And yet… if Jiu-Jitsu practice becomes a place you know you’re going to have to push your body past its limits or push your mind too hard and it becomes a chore… it’s only a matter of time before you get injured or burnt out.
If you’re not enjoying the process, it’s only a matter of time before you quit.
Goals and ambition can only carry us so far. Eventually, as we become wiser martial artists, we have to find a way to make the path itself the reward. We have to find a way to love the journey itself.
And relaxing while you train, really getting in touch with the process itself and how to make it something you enjoy, is the most sure path there is to make Jiu-Jitsu a lifelong source of learning and fulfillment.
The most common obstacles to relaxing while you train.
At this point, you’re probably sold on the benefits of relaxing while you train. So it’s a great time to give you a warning about the most common things that get in the way.
- Fear. If you are afraid of something, you will carry tension the closer you get to it.
Or the closer you think you’re getting to it. If you’re afraid of being submitted a certain way, if you’re afraid of pain or discomfort in a certain position (like being stuck under a heavyweight from cross side, or maybe you have a nagging injury that’s healing and you’re apprehensive about it being aggravated), then it’s worth removing whatever element is causing the fear.
One of the things I always encourage people to try is flow rolling, and doing a sort of catch and release style of live training where the goal is not to submit your training partner, but to explore the different positions smoothly and let a submission go when you’ve set it up, instead of finishing it.
This can help reduce the fear usually present in live training tremendously. This is a huge benefit because when we’re afraid, our ability to think through problems or find creative solutions is reduced significantly.
- Ambitious goals. If you are the goal-oriented type, this might be hard for you to hear.
But becoming obsessed with goals is a surefire way to ignore the signals your body and mind are sending you in the moment, and everyone pays the price for this over time.
Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But eventually, we pay the price for ignoring the signals we’re getting for the sake of gratifying our ego with achievements.
I've seen so many people get injured from being unwilling to tap or waiting too long to tap. Many times we see tapping as failure when it's really a huge opportunity to learn and improve. It identifies a weakness or mistake in your game. So ask yourself this question before you train, is your goal to learn and improve or not to tap because many times the goal is not one and the same.
3. Distractions, preoccupations and worry. One of the things people love most about Jiu-Jitsu is it brings you into the present moment.
For me when I'm training, it's like a moving meditation. If I'm not present and in the moment I'm not able to react in time to my opponent's movements. I'm late on my defenses and I lose the timing to take advantage of the opportunities that sometimes only present themselves for a moment.
So when you're training are you thinking about things that happened in the past or what to do in the future?
Did you leave your problems at the door?
Is there something bothering you that’s taking you out of the present moment?
This is another sneaky cause of tension in the body. If there is something you’re worried about that’s eating at you, you can give it a real fight by learning to relax.
Remember why you started training Jiu-Jitsu in the first place. Reinvigorate your purpose and get your mind back here, and now.
You can meet all those other problems again when you leave but for now, you’re focused on just the present moment.
Learning to relax systematically is one of the most important skills you can have for championship performance in whatever it is you want to do.
And in Jiu-Jitsu, it will give you superpowers.
P.S. If you want to learn Bud Winter’s system, which I highly recommend, check out his book “Relax and Win: Championship Performance in Whatever You Do”.