We’ve all heard that “jiu jitsu is like chess”, but have you ever considered that it’s a lot like poker as well? I spent some time thinking about these two activities today and I see at least five lessons one can learn from playing poker that can be easily applied to jiu jitsu.
You gotta play the hand you’re dealt.
Yes, you can discard and draw cards, but you can’t make requests…you have to
make the best of the cards in your hand. In jiu jitsu this is true on the macro
and micro levels. On the macro level i.e. looking at the journey as a whole –
we don’t all have the same physical attributes, we don’t all have the same
amount of time to invest, we don’t all have the same training opportunities
etc. So, your journey may be a little more difficult and take a little longer,
you just have to press forward and play the hand your dealt. On the
micro level – every time you go into a competitive roll whether it’s with
one of your favorite training partners or whether it’s in a tournament, you
each bring different skills to the mats. At that point it’s probably too late
to try and revamp your game, you have to use the tools you currently have in
your toolbox (or the cards in your hand) in such a manner that will produce the
You have to know the rules and
understand the objectives. I have a vague memory of a scene on tv of a guy
laying down his cards saying “read ‘em and weep” thinking he had a flush, but his
cards were a mix of spades and clubs…. yes, they’re all the same color, but
that’s not really the goal. While this point has application for those who are
training jiu jitsu as a hobby but don’t compete the real value of this point is
for the competitor. Don’t lose matches because you didn’t know the rules or
intricacies of how points are scored.
Bluffing is a necessary skill to win.
When you are bluffing at the poker table you are simply trying to create the
illusion that something is true (like you have a great hand) when it may or may
not be. Likewise, from guard you may mess with your opponent’s lapel to get him
worried about a technique he may not have seen when you have no intention of
playing any form of lapel guard. It doesn’t matter so much if you have a decent
lapel guard, but it does matter that your opponent believes you do.
You gotta know when to hold em, know
when to fold em, know when to walk away, and know when to run. In poker there
are times when you say “I’m good with these cards, I’m going to play them”
there are other times you just lay em down and fold. There other times when you
have to say, “this table is too rich for me” and just walk away. Then there are
other times you realize you’re playing with sharks and you better run. The
lesson here is you have to learn to read situations on the mat quickly. If you
have been doing jiu jitsu for any length of time you should be able to visit a
new school for an open mat and almost immediately be able to read each training
partner, you roll with. No matter what position you are in – their stance,
posture, grips, frames, etc. are all clues that should help you understand what
they are bringing to the mat.
You never count your money when
you’re sitting at the table. In the old west, gambling was a cutthroat business
and sometimes men bet all they had on a game. Making a show of counting your
money was a sure way to get shot in the alley behind the tavern. You won’t get
your ass shot but making a show of every victory you have in jiu jitsu is not
the best approach to making friends and earning respect in the community.
Having friends and respect in the community go a long way towards helping you
get better at jiu jitsu. The goal is to have a healthy ego and be humble at all
In conclusion: If you’re going to play
the game, you gotta learn to play it right. There may not necessarily be a
“right” and “wrong” way to do jiu jitsu, but there are definitely some ways
that are better than others to get good at jiu jitsu and win matches. The
sooner you figure this out, the better off you’ll be.
This week we have grappling legend Gokor Chivichyan. Gokor has achieved gold at the international level at BJJ, Judo, MMA, and Sambo. He has coached Ronda Rousey, Karo Parisyan, Neil Melanson, and many more
We talk about:
Growing up as a tough kid in Armenia
Starting Wrestling in 1968
Starting Sambo in 1971
Eventually adding Judo to his grappling mix
He also did boxing for four years
Bringing leg locks to the United States 35 years ago
Quote of the week: “Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, ‘Make me feel important.’ Not only will you succeed in sales, you will succeed in life.” -Mary Kay Ash
I’d like to take a minute to share with you an awesome training experience I recently had in the gym. The experience was very enlightening. I saw a fellow student, an accomplished brown belt, spend the entire time during the learning new technique portion of class assisting a brand-new student without ever once telling him he had done something wrong. Here’s the story….
I showed up a little late which is common when I’m at work and the students were already drilling the first set of instructions the coach had given. I stood with the coach observing and B.S.ing with him until it came time for him to show the next set of details in the technique. After that I needed to pick a pair of students to work in with – I had noticed my friend Josh working with this brand new guy (a guy about 15 whose parents were on the sidelines) so I joined them thinking Josh could do the technique on me and that would give him a chance to explain all the details as he executed the move. Here’s how that went….
It started with me on my back with
my feet on Josh’s hips. Of course, in a real fight there would be grips to
break and other things to deal with but for now we were just working the
mechanics of the pass. The new guy had already repped this on Josh….so Josh
stuffed one of my feet and then crouched over it effectively eliminating that
foot from the equation. Josh said “just like you stuffed my foot and took a low
stance, I’m going to do the same thing. I like to really crowd my opponent
because it takes away any power or leverage he can generate” ….”then just like
you put your right hand on my left hip…I’m going to do the same thing, I like
to connect my knee and elbow because it prevents Joe from getting a knee shield
and starting to develop a half guard”…..”then I grab his sleeve, the same way
you did and pull up so he can’t get on a shoulder or worse for me on his
elbow”…. “I sidestep a little and then with my right leg I pin his right leg to
the deck just like you did, I like to be closer to his knee because….” The
whole night was like this. At every step Josh was providing the new guy with
some direction and guidance while at the same time telling how many things he
was actually doing right.
I’m not saying this is the only (or
even the best) but in this instance I think there were two main positive
outcomes. The first is that people are more likely to listen to your
instruction when it is delivered with compliments in a positive manner. The
second, and I think this is huge, is that I believe the kid left class very
optimistic about his chances at succeeding in jiu jitsu. I can imagine him
getting in his car and telling his parents “I think I could be pretty good at
this”. Isn’t that the way we would like all new students to leave class?