Friday, August 19, 2011

Self Awareness: Are you a spaz?

I took a couple of our new kids to their first tournament a few months ago, 5 year old and 8 year old brothers. There was a lot that I saw in the tournament but in the 8 year olds last match I was very proud of how hard he fought against a kid 2 years older with over twice as much experience. Except for one thing. He didn’t use an ounce of jiu-jitsu. It was all sheer aggression.

After the match, I went up to him and first praised him for his efforts. Then I asked him what happened, why didn’t he use his jiu-jitsu techniques the way we practiced? He was still gasping for air and just looked straight in my eyes and in between breaths, said simply, “I don't know, I just forgot”.

Why is it that an 8 year old is capable of this self realization and honesty but most adults are not? He didn't argue with me or make an excuse. He knew that he had allowed the pressure to overtake his mind.

The other day after class the topic of spazzes came up. One of our blue belts asked Seph (our brown belt instructor), “how do you know if you are a spaz?” Seph’s response was that first because people tell you that you are one. They tell you all the time with phrases like, “calm down”, “use less strength”, “relax a little more”, etc. He said that coaches told him he was a spaz all the time during his progression. (Aside: Are we being too nice? Are we not being direct enough with the students who are spazzy?)

My answer to the question was a little different. I said, if you notice that the coaches rarely ask you to roll (even in small group settings) or when they do they don’t exchange positions with you, they just tap you over and over and over or they just sit on you and put lots of pressure down and never let you get to any positions, it’s a sign you are a spaz. Another blue belt piped up, “Wait, Ryan doesn’t roll like that with everyone?” My blunt answer, “nope”.

Light Bulb!

This second student then asked me directly if he was a spaz, as you may imagine, the answer was yes. It wasn’t what he wanted to hear but he had the appropriate reaction asking how to fix it. I wonder how many years he's been training and no one ever told him this before (he's fairly new to our academy).

But how to fix it is the difficult question to answer. Once you come to terms with your spazziness, how do you stop? How do you attain the ease of movement that high-level black belts have? Many of us struggle daily trying to discover the appropriate balance between aggression and smoothness.

Actually, I’m not exactly sure how to do it as I’m still working on it myself.

But here are a few quick tips that have helped me a lot: If you are ever doing a pushing movement that isn’t designed to get a return push for a redirect, but rather is strictly for the purpose of pushing your opponent away, than you are being spazzy. If you are ever pushing your opponent back away from you from the bottom of guard, instead of using your guard, hooks or points of contact to pull, than you are probably being a spaz. If you find yourself exhausted after 2-3 rolls, you are probably being a spaz. And of course, both mine and Seph’s original responses to the question apply as well. Pay attention to how your instructor rolls with you and with various other individuals. Is it different?


  1. Best definition of a spaz that I've ever heard:

    Spazzing is moving with lots of energy but very little purpose.

    If you don't know what you are doing, but you are doing it as hard and as fast as you can, then you're spazzing.

    Credit goes to Kintanon, who trains at one of the Alliance schools in GA.

  2. Lol, love the 2nd guy's response. Oopsies...

    I do think most coaches aren't direct enough about spazzing, especially once someone has been training for a while or has rank. Maybe they're waiting for the student to just grow out of it or figure it out on their own?

    We have a guy who, when he was a high blue belt, was normal until he rolled with a higher belt (and particularly with our instructor). Then he spazzed hard. Our coach did Ryan's stuff with him until one day the blue got mad and demanded to know why the coach rolled with him that way. Coach told him he was being a spazz. The guy had a fit and stormed out, and stayed out a few days. But once he calmed down and talked to our coach, he acknowledged what he was doing and set about fixing it.

  3. Really good way of explaining it. A lot of spazzy guys I have seen who are getting an instructor beat-down because they are so spazzy have no idea that a message is trying to be sent. They think, "We're fighting and that's why he is beating the crap out of me." It isn't until they hear a conversation about the instructor going hard on someone else to show them they need to calm down that they realize that's what has been happening to them. It makes me wonder like you said about whether or not it would be beneficial to be more direct. I've asked my instructor about it before and he said that usually just telling someone to stop using muscle doesn't work. A lot of times, they just think that what they are doing is aggravating you because it is difficult to deal with. They have pride. But if they are using all their strength and getting no where, eventually it will dawn on them that strength isn't working and then they will really start learning how to use jiu-jitsu.

    The other thing my instructor said that has really stuck with me about spazzing is that if you can't breathe and speak normally while you are doing a technique, chances are that you are using too much strength.

  4. Great post, Jen. I especially appreciate your "aside" thought, coming from someone who runs a school. I recently reflected on my communication with teammates as an individual.

    Allie also raises excellent points that I sort of addressed in my post, ie. about talking not working. In a similar vein, I suspect that people might think I feel that way about how they roll because I'm a "wimpy girl", when I know for a fact guys don't like it either, but they don't say anything.

    Overall, I think some people are ready to listen, like the blue belt in your post, so maybe it's still worthwhile to be honest.

  5. Love this post.

    You are also a spaz if you find that people you roll with get hurt more often than with others.

    I think it is hard to recognize in the moment when one is spazzing.


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