Are You a BJJ Control Freak or a Fatalist?

By: Joe Hannan

At its core, jiu jitsu is about imposing your will on another human. Your goal is to gain an advantageous position and put them in some type of submission hold. This can have some interesting psychological implications.

A work project has me thinking a lot about the psychological concept of locus of control. Generally speaking, humans either have an internal or an external locus of control. People with an internal locus of control believe that their actions primarily influence outcomes. You work hard or carefully research a scenario, and the payoff is a desirable outcome. People with external loci of control believe that outcomes are the product of fate. Work all you want, if the gods aren’t in your favor, you’re going to crash and burn.

Begin your roll with a plan, but accept that you might abandon it. – Matheus Diniz

My white belt understanding of the concept leads me to believe that locus of a control isn’t fixed for most people. However, we tend to favor one loci over the other, which has interesting ramifications on the BJJ mats.

Based on my observations, grapplers with more of an internal locus of control tend to be of the smash-and-pass variety. They take the initiative and run with it. Those with an external locus of control tend to be guard players, attempting to respond to whatever their training partner is doing.Students at PBJJ engage in the Pass Protect Sweep exercise

This is, of course, somewhat oversimplified. There are exceptions. There are guard players who use guard to break down their opponent, then impose their will. And there are smash-and-passers who accept an opponent’s tactical superiority, and attempt to counter it with an overwhelming blitz.

I tend to have an internal locus of control, which for a while crimped my growth as a grappler. I would get an idea of what I wanted to do to my opponent and wouldn’t relinquish that idea, even as sign after sign that it wasn’t going to work bashed me in the face. My locus of control was too fixed.

That was until I had an hour training one-on-one with José, one of our world-destroying brown belts. We spent about thirty minutes rolling, during which he picked up on my locus of control problem. I was constantly trying to advance my position, even when there was a brick wall between me and the desired outcome.

“When you watch some of the best grapplers compete,” he said, “you’ll notice that it isn’t constant action. They wait for their opponent to respond, and then they explode.”

In hindsight, I see that what José was saying was that you have to allow the sliding scale of locus of control to slide. Even in a sport that’s grounded on imposing your will on another person, you need to leave gaps for their will and their action. By doing so, we create windows of opportunity, moments we can capitalize on.

It ties into something Matheus Diniz said at a recent seminar at PBJJ: Begin your roll with a plan, but accept that you might abandon it.

Joe Hannan is a journalist, writer and consultant. You can find more of his work here.

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