If you train BJJ long enough, you’ll definitely encounter Mr. Resistance. He’s the guy that tenses his arms, puts up a struggle, and holds on way too tight. Oh, and we’re not talking about sparring. We’re talking about training techniques.
Like many BJJ characters that need a definition and a solution, Mr. Resistance is often a newbie. Over time, he will realize that when practicing techniques it’s often better to give in than to resist. Of course, none of this matters when you meet Mr. Resistance in his prime.
At worst, a simple kimura or choke technique becomes an exercise fraught with danger, one where you better have your tap hand at the ready. At best, you’ll have a frustrating time trying to practice a technique against an overly resistant partner. Either way, you’ll be watching the clock, counting the moments until class is over.
Mr. Resistance doesn’t mean to resist. In BJJ beginners, this is typically a normal response to having another human being putting you in a compromising position. From this standpoint, you can understand Mr. Resistance completely. At the heart of his constricted muscles and pinchy fingers is a lack of trust. Building trust takes time, especially when it comes to martial arts.
There are many ranges when it comes to Mr. Resistance. The mildest version is simply a guy who is ridiculously rigid, someone whose survival instinct kicks in automatically. He holds his breath and basically grabs on for dear life—and that’s whether he’s practicing the technique, or having it practiced on him. While training with this mild version will still feel like practicing on stiff training dummy, it’s manageable, and usually dissipates in this partner after he’s spent some quality time on the mat.
The other end of that range is the type of fellow who thinks he’s competing at the Mundials. This means you’re in for a long technique-practicing session, one where you’ll have to fight to practice the technique, and then brace yourself when it’s his turn for a try. The problem here is the threat of injury, be it from him doing a move too explosively or spazzing to the point where you catch a knee to the face or groin. Since in many ways you’re dealing with someone who has a serious ego in this scenario, the chances of this training partner figuring out how to relax quickly, so that you both can work effectively, are not as high. Luckily, encountering this version of Mr. Resistance is rare.
People—yes, even adults—learn from example. Simply being relaxed yourself will go a long way toward showing Mr. Resistance that he can let his guard down a little. Again, he probably has no idea he’s tense anyway. But by following through on your techniques with noodle arms, you’re setting the perfect example.
While training partners often grin and bear it rather than saying something to Mr. Resistance, that’s honestly not the right decision. All you’re doing is ensuring that Mr. Resistance lives on in ignorance, and that he will make tomorrow’s training session miserable for someone else. Simply saying, “Hey buddy, breathe” or “Take a second to relax” goes a long way, simply because it will make your partner cognizant of how tight he really is. This subtle approach works well for that Mr. Resistance that just needs to loosen up a bit.
However, for Mr. Resistance: Mundial Edition, you’ll probably have to be more direct, and offer a longer explanation. Again, as a newbie, it’s important for a practitioner to know that technique practice is first and foremost about creating muscle memory, and that grunting and straining through techniques with a death grip rarely serves a purpose. If the subtle cues mentioned earlier fall on deaf ears, you might have to be more persuasive. Explaining that sparring—not technique training—is the place for maximum exertion, is a start. Unfortunately, this may take multiple attempts.
Of course, there are occasions when specifically training techniques with resistance is absolutely imperative. But with most Mr. Resistances being white belts, this should again be left for sparring time. Higher belts that have mastered a technique will certainly want to work on escapes, or even variations that might work best for them. However, in the strictly technique-driven portion of class, most practitioners should focus on creating that invaluable muscle memory. For any belt rank, open mats present the perfect opportunity for experimentation with certain techniques.
Again, Mr. Resistance typically chills out with time. But how quickly that transformation takes place often relies on his training partners. Staying silent serves no purpose. Some simple coaching can go a long way, especially if all of his training partners are helping him relax. Over time, that will come with trust as he slowly discovers the bond built between training partners. Pretty soon, Mr. Resistance will be as loose as a goose—and a pleasure to train with.