Poker Face

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Poker Face

Ok, I know you're probably wondering what a Lady Gaga song title has to do with your Jiu-jitsu....hear me out.

I was having a discussion with a student the other day about this issue, so I thought it would be a good topic for a blog post.  In Jiu-jitsu, we need to develop a "poker face".  What I mean by that is, your facial expression and your demeanor should be pretty much the same whether you're attacking or defending, whether you are in the best position or the worst position, and even when you're about to tap! This is very important, as I'll discuss later.  But, like everything else in Jiu-jitsu, it doesn't come naturally.  It is a skill that must be practiced.

Oftentimes, I see students who are stuck in a tough position or attempting to defend a submission attempt making all kind of pained faces, grunting, hyperventilating, etc.  None of this accomplishes anything, and can actually be detrimental.  Jiu-jitsu is about efficiency.  That means not using anymore strength or force than actually needed to get the job done.  Even though it doesn't seem like much, constantly contracting all of those small facial muscles over & over again actually burns a lot of unnecessary energy.  And it doesn't really do anything other than give your opponent more confidence in their own position.  So, defend if you need to defend, tap if you need to tap.  But up until that point, your general demeanor & facial expression should be one of calm focus.  Sometimes, while defending a choke for example, you may need to tighten the muscles in the neck to reduce the effect of the choke & buy yourself some more time to defend.  That is perfectly ok & not what I'm talking about.  But in general, holding extra tension anywhere in your body that is not necessary, and especially in your face, is just burning your gas tank.

From another point of view, if your opponent sees you with a pained expression on your face or hears you audibly struggling, it is only going to serve to invigorate their efforts.  If they feel that you are about to tap, they will hold on a little longer, knowing that the submission is right around the corner.  But if you are calm & composed, they may feel like the submission is not having its intended effect (even if, in reality, it is very close), and they may lose confidence in their position, causing them to adjust or even let go of a potentially fight ending submission hold.  I can think of several instances where my opponent had me caught dead to rights in a tight submission and I knew in my head that I was caught & my chances to escape were not looking good.  But rather than panic & strain, I just maintained my composure & looked right at my opponent with an almost "bored" look on my face....and they just let go!  They didn't have confidence in their position & my appearance of confidence in my defense was enough to change their strategy.  On the other hand, if you are the one applying a submission & your opponent sees you visibly straining, they may continue to defend even when they are caught, because they believe that you have almost expended all your energy and your grips are beginning to fail.

All of this goes along with the concept from our Jiu-jitsu philosophy of Fudoshin, or emotional balance.  While there is certainly more to it than this, having the ability to stay calm under pressure, not get too excited when you feel you are close to finishing your opponent, and not panicking when you are caught, goes a long way.  Everyone has heard about learning to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations.  It's amazing how much having a good poker face and maintaining your composure can not only change your opponent's thinking, but also change your own state of mind & help you to better manage a tough situation, whether on or off the mat.

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