If you’ve read any of my prior pieces, it’s no secret I’m a big fan of analogies, similes, and parables. Before ever signing up for jiu-jitsu, I remember my friend had a Bruce Lee poster with his famous “Be water, my friend,” quote on it. It didn’t make a lot of sense and I loved making fun of him for it. Obviously there isn’t a whole lot to it. Just keep an open-mind and don’t take a myopic approach to martial arts. Such an obvious idea, why does everyone love it so much?

A few years later I started to roll. I felt like the only thing really separating more advanced students than me was that they obviously knew more than I did. If an opponent took their arm, they know how to get their arm back. If their opponent goes to choke them, they know how to get out of harm’s way. In my mind, all I needed was more experience and more knowledge and more YouTube tutorials and I could start closing the gap.

Oh, Bruce Lee Knows What He’s Talking About

When I got injured, all I could do was watch. Jiu-jitsu was by far the most fun I’ve ever had and to sit and watch for three months was brutal. However, the more I watched the advanced students, the more I realized how stupid I was. It wasn’t that the more advanced students knew more than me (I mean it was) but it’s also that they flowed better.

I know, a few paragraphs ago I said it was kind of a dumb concept, but I get it now. Go figure the guy who many consider the greatest martial artist of all time knew what he was talking about, eh?

When I roll, and an opponent grabs a hold of my arm, my initial thought is “f*ck you, I’m going to get my arm back,” it’s all I focus on. When someone is, as Bruce Lee said, “being water” they take notice when an opponent takes their arm, but it isn’t all they focus on. A more proper mindset for me to have when an opponent grabs my arm is “Ok, so they have my arm, what are they leaving open that I can exploit?”
You’re rarely going to always know what to do when you’re just starting out and often when an opponent grabs hold of your arm or puts you in a choke there won’t be much you can do. However, forcing your brain to stop focusing on the thing you just lost and instead focus on what your opponent is giving you is a great first step. If you’re interested in what a more experienced grappler has to say on this topic, Jon has some great posts about Effective defense and weathering the storm.