Yup this is really a blog that was triggered by the randomness of my brain and what I actually think about whilst rolling! Well what actually triggered it was a conversation a while ago which made me realise nobody actually talks about what they think during rolling.
So this blog is a mixture of my own thoughts and little bit of crowd wisdom via Reddit r/bjj. I think that there are essentially five groups of thought.
1. Safety / Survival
This was very common at white belts but to be fair was common across all the grades. Nobody want to get injured or injury other people. Thoughts ranged through the basics of “protecting the neck” or “keeping your arms inside the ride” at all times through to more broader things such as checking mat space for collisions or avoiding pre-existing injuries.
2. Competition / Training Goals
This can be about the points system – and remembering to pause points. Trying to navigate the roll into what your A game is or trying to remember what technique you’re trying to refine and trying to set it up time and time again. These aren’t detailed thinking points and are often more general of higher level. Although as they tend to train with particular goals they also often fall into the next category too.
3. “This isn’t going to plan!”
I’ll be honest the common themes in this category was either when rolling with a higher belt or facing a bodily emergency e.g please don’t pass wind or words to that effect. It’s also the category of thoughts that had the most expletives in it! Generally think of those rolls when nothing worked, you felt you were in BJJ quicksand or everything you did made things worse and you get the idea!
4. The Random
These are some of my favourite responses. My favourite personal random moments involve either humming or occasionally a bit of singing. Comments I found on Reddit varied from the obscene to thoughts about cheese but my personal winner was this one from Reddit’s LarryB78 (please try not to think about it when rolling tonight!)
A lot of people said nothing but in my experience people who say nothing are usually either lying or are not very self aware. In the middle of a roll your brain is getting a host of stimuli as well as having to make a host of decisions. It is very difficult in that sort of situation to “switch off” and not think of anything. Generally like most of the day you are thinking about something. Also I’d argue if you’re not thinking then you’re probably losing the opportunity to focus on a training goal by not looking to do X, Y or Z.
The only exception to this is the concept of flow or flow state. Flow state is sometimes referred to as being in “the zone”. It described in many ways but basically you’re fully in the moment; everything feels great, your energised, focused on what you’re doing, you spot opportunities and your techniques just flow. It’s a really happy a great mental state to be in and your jits is often on fire! But like most great things it very hard to do it all the time which is why there is a host of psychological research on the topic including how to achieve it. Like all good topics it’s a potential blog in its own right but just so I don’t leave you hungry for more information you may want to check out this article that gives an overview from a sport psychology perspective. Or alternatively enjoy this TED Talk from one of the pioneers of Flow state Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.