Slow Principles That Lead To Success in Your Martial Arts Game (& Life)

Over the past few years, I have been emphasising to my students to slow down. Slowing down isn’t something most of us find easy. Everyone is rushing, from rushing to work, rushing to meet deadlines, to rushing to pick the kids up on time, and getting them to their next activity. All of us know how to rush, but most of us have forgotten how to ‘slow’.

In our overly competitive society, slow is frowned upon. Slow is lazy. Slow is irritating. Slow in others makes us feel frustrated. Crucially, we are constantly told: slow’s not how you win.

It is that final point of going fast to win, that comes up mostly on the mat. I teach both jiu-jitsu and stand-up, and I see it everywhere on the mat. It’s difficult for the modern mind to grasp why going slow would even be useful and healthy.

Here are a few important reasons why:

Slow Means Less Injuries & More Time On The Mat

Just watch the warm up in most academies, and you will see people rushing to get through it. The warm up is supposed to be designed to help students lessen the chance of injuries once the lesson begins, not cause injuries. When its time to learn a new technique, you can see people rushing to get things right. When its time to roll, or to spar, students are seen to rush to make things happen. In all this rush, it isn’t uncommon for injuries to be rife.

Slowing down makes you more aware of your body, how it moves, and where it is moving too. Being more aware of how you are moving, allows you to be more in-tune with how you should move, and in doing so, lessens the chances of physical injury. Slowing down shows you were to push harder, where to pull back and where to simply go with the flow. The outcome, slowing down means you will be more consistent in training, less prone to injuries, and have more training time on the mat.

Slowing Down Means Less Ego Defense & More Flow

Ego is the biggest obstacle to learning. It is also the biggest obstacle to improving performance and in general allowing the mat to be a space built upon challenge and fun. Ego Defense comes in may guises, from believing that every experience should always be about winning, to not wanting to look bad in front of others, or worse, a deep seated insecurity outwardly expressed as ‘confidence’.  Ego Defense is also one of the major culprits of injuries, on both ends of the divide, the person doing the Ego Smashing, and the training partners that have to endure it.

I have found getting people to let go of their ego, their need to constantly win at any cost the most challenging.

However, once Ego Defense is successfully put on the back burner, magic happens. Suddenly rolling slow and smooth, or sparring slow and smooth is playful. It’s a lot of fun.  It’s for this reason my tagline for my Jiu-Jitsu program is, “Flow as the Way”. 

Flow is more than slowing down. It shows the beautiful truth in the game of jits, or stand up, that as Heraclitus of Ephesus said, “Panta ch¯orei, ouden menei” (Everything flows and nothing stays). It is in fighting with how you want things to be, instead of how they are, that leads most people to never recognise their full potential. Slowing things down bares this truth out.

It is only when you slow things down, that you get to notice how your Ego Defense reacts to situations you find yourself in. In that moment, in that recognition, and not moving from a place of reaction, you can decide to change how the next moment is experienced. Change your experiences from how you typically always react to something of more value – and you can literally change your life for the better.

Slowing Down Improves Learning & Retention

The ideal of Flow, to slow things down, to surf the edge of chaos rather than resist it, is more than a nice idea. It has real practical value to learning and retention. In my classes I describe the ideal of Flow as allowing you to feel, to learn, to orient , and find your own way (F.L.O.W).

There is a saying that many martial arts instructors use, “What the mind can conceive, the body can achieve.” This shows how little they actually know not only about the body in performance, but martial arts in general. The ‘mind’ here isn’t referring to mind as mindbody as an integrated system, but rather ‘mind’ as in cognition, thinking. This saying couldn’t be further from the truth.

In fact, Jiu-Jitsu, stand-up, indeed all the martial arts are visceral. Immerse yourself long enough on the mat, and you should begin to realise that getting better has more to do with how you feel your way into success, rather than forcing your brain to make your body work for you. Paradoxically, your best game only emerges when you get out of your own way. In other words, drop the thinking mind.

When you feel what must be done, you are more open to learning. This orients you to a much broader experience of the body as the seat of all that is possible. It is only when a student learns this, that they can begin to discover their own way.

“Being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

Slowing Down Means More Creativity

Non of what I described thus far could ever happen if all you want to do is go fast, go hard, go all out. In fact, this way of being is the quickest way to shut down creativity. It is only in being creative, that you begin to learn, to realize all the possibilities open to you.

You cant learn to be creative, to be adaptable in any other environment than one that is grounded in taking risk (I have written at length about this idea). If I can challenge myself by trying all avenues open to me, and it fails, I want to be able to come right back and try again. If all you want to do is hurt me, or their is the potential for me being hurt, why would I even try do anything other than simply survive?

Slowing Down Means....

Slowing down then, means playing more. Its about opening oneself up to possibilities. It creates a space for you to figure things out, to challenge how you show up, and choose alternative responses. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast. Dialling the action of your game up isn’t that hard, but doing it with finesse, with precision, with clarity, won’t come from going fast as a way to achieve such an outcome.

You have to, in other words, start in the most unlikely place to get to where you really want to be. Paradoxically, it requires a counter culture embodiment.

When society say go fast, you slow down.

When society says compete, win at all costs, you yield.  

When society tells you to overcome those in front of you with ruthlessness and cunning, cooperate instead.

Only then will you truly have the freedom to play the game you want to on the mat, and be the person you want to play in the world.

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