Lessons from the mat: Risk aversion
It exists here just as everywhere else
The challenge this week was clear: train for the moment where I start to lose position. This is where I start to panic. Panic creates exhaustion. Being exhausted creates fear that I will lose position due to my exhaustion. This causes more panic. Vicious cycle.
Now, how do I conquer this? First, I need an understanding of the root cause of the panic. I don’t want to get pinned, smothered, dominated. But why not? Well the answer is because I don’t think I can get out. THAT is what causes the panic. Therefore, the obvious solution is to get comfortable being pinned and train at escapes. Such as this:
I’ve found that John Danaher’s coaching philosophy is perfect for someone like me. He starts building a foundation of escapes first. The reason for this is he believes that humans are too risk averse to win in combat.
Risk aversion. What an interesting thing to assess because of its prevalence in so many aspects of life! Readers of my blog are well versed on the risk aversion that has plagued the Covid response. Far too many people have overrated their risk from Covid. Way more than those that underrated it. That’s human nature.
Stock market investing - and I suppose investing and gambling in general - shows the human tendency to risk aversion clearly as well. So many people are more afraid of losing the money in their account than they are willing to take risks that can make huge returns.
And failure increases risk aversion. Since the odds of success in any endeavor are rarely 100%, humans are constantly failing. What we end up with is a society of risk averse people that grow more and more so with time. That’s why all of your neighborhood kids have those stupid bicycle helmets on.
In jiu jitsu, Danaher believes that solving the problem of risk aversion comes from being confident that you can escape any pin, any bad position, any submission attempt. Why? In jiu jitsu, in order to win against a difficult opponent you must be willing to take chances. But taking chances means the possibility of failure. Say you go for an arm bar and fail. What that failure means is that you are likely now in a bad position. If you lack the confidence that you can escape a bad position, are you more or less likely to try for that arm bar?
This really spoke to me because I instantly realized that I need to build my confidence that I can escape bad positions. Instead of fearing them and panicking, I need to embrace them. I need to find my edges on the mat and push through. That’s exactly what I intended to do when I arrived at the gym.
Of course, no plan survives first contact with the enemy.
When you train at a jiu jitsu gym you need to respect the wisdom of the instructor. For one, respect that this is his house and his rules. I just want to learn, so I don’t mind this at all. He has over three decades of martial arts and over two decades of jiu jitsu knowledge in his head. I have 3 months. I’ll happily do what I’m told.
So when it came time to roll, instead of getting to spend some time with the purple belts that would allow me to practice escapes and staying calm, I was paired with a young kid that was only on his second class. Now, I say “young kid” but he’s in his mid twenties and fit, though smaller than me. Due to my size (in the belly, mostly) advantage, the black belt tells me I have to fight only off my back. I can’t get up and try to pass his guard.
Still, it’s too easy. After three months of training, I have enough skill to consistently tap out this young man. He’s a nice kid and eager to learn so I like rolling with him. But it is not a fair fight. Jiu Jitsu is so powerful. With just a smidge of knowledge, it’s already enough to dominate someone who doesn’t know the game, even with “one hand tied behind my back.” I simply pulled him into my closed guard, broke his posture, and submitted him through chokes and arm bars over and over again.
But we kept rolling. Another 5 minute round. And then another. The black belt is encouraging newbie, “come on! Don’t go in his guard, whatever you do!” Then as time went on, “he’s [me] getting gassed! Keep the pressure on!” And it’s true, I was getting gassed. I may be old, but I’m also fat…
And here is when the story gets interesting for me. As I got gassed, I felt the panic. I focused on staying calm, but I really didn’t want to lose position. And that was the wrong approach!!! It went against everything I had been studying leading up to this training. I could have slowed down, let him get better position and then practiced working out of it. But due to my exhaustion I panicked and chose to follow his hips until I was completely spent. The only reason I was able to keep him from passing my guard is that he didn’t know what he was doing and he wasn’t strong enough to keep me from pulling him back into closed guard.
What a waste!
After the class, I got some props. A couple of the higher belt guys that are old geezers like me loved seeing me wear out the young buck. They were proud of me for representing old age haha. What a backhanded compliment! And the black belt was impressed I can so easily submit a newbie already.
But I wasn’t really happy about it. I didn’t train the way I wanted to, even when the opportunity arose. I guess I’ll just have to try again next time.