I’m borrowing this blog title from a Roger Gracie Brown Belt out of London who wrote an interesting entry to his blog last year about “Training with the Eyes Closed” to improve his own BjJ game. The blog appears to have been discontinued or I’d share his direct thoughts with you. In short, he finds it very helpful to train with his eyes closed, but runs into problems when some of his “rolling partners” feel a bit disrespected when they catch him closing his eyes while rolling with them.
A couple of weeks ago, Darren, our GjJ coach made us all “roll” while handicapping ourselves. This exercise was intended to force us to think about our respective Jiu Jitsu game, and how we might compensate in a specific situation. During a couple of the “rolls”, he made everyone train with their eyes closed. This invoked a fair amount of laughter aimed in my direction from my training partners, and, to be sure, I contributed a bit to the jesting. I think for one of the “rolls”, I didn’t use my right hand for grips, but for the other matches, I just basked in the reality that training without vision comes so naturally for me.
One of our training partners, Mike Martin (AKA “Black Mike” or Mikey) is one of my favorite guys to train with. He’s been training a little bit longer than “yours truly”; he’s about 5 foot 10 and is a fairly solid, athletic 200 lbs—a great size and skill level for me to train with. I’m probably a little bit stronger and a little more “cardio-minded” than Mike, while he has the edge on speed and experience. Lately, Mike and I have had some marathon “rolling” sessions where it has taken us up to 30-45 minutes to “tap” the other.
That night, “Mikey” trained with me with his eyes closed, and it was truly amazing for me to observe how much he relied on his vision when training GJJ. He did very well adjusting to the lack of vision, but I could tell that he was really struggling that night.
Since that time, “Mikey” and I have “rolled” a number of times, and he insists on closing his eyes when “rolling” with me. He says that it helps him really think about “being smooth” with his techniques, and relying on how things “feel” as he works his GJJ game. The other day, he moved so well, that I didn’t believe him at first when he said his eyes were closed, but I have no reason to doubt him.
This whole exercise really gave me a perspective on my own blindness and Jiu Jitsu. I stated early on in my blog that I didn’t view my blindness as a disability. That was a rather “off the cuff” statement which I still believe, but the reality is that anything can handicap a Jiu Jitsu player if he doesn’t use the principles of Jiu Jitsu to help him strategize as to how to solve a given problem. For instance, someone who is not very tall or who doesn’t have very long limbs isn’t going to just automatically develop a good triangle choke without making some necessary adjustments to accommodate his body’s dimensions. Someone who is lighter may prefer to minimize his use of a “stack pass” and focus on more affective ways of passing.
I’ve been thinking about my own game and identifying characteristics of my style that serve as a reflection of my visual impairment. I know that I HAVE TO stay super tight and connected to my opponent without relying on strength. I really like “stacking”, “knee driving”, or “thread passing” to pass the guard, and I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE a series that focuses on transitioning through a succession of arm-locks from side control, a series that Donald Park showed me last April. Last week, Andres, our 18 year old phenom, showed me a pretty sick “monoplata” from the mount that also plays into my game, and I'm going to try like hell to hit this submission during a "live roll".
So in conclusion, this whole business of “training with the eyes closed” has helped me to identify strengths in my GJJ style as well as some glaring weaknesses, not specific to my lack of sight. I’ve really appreciated being both a participant as well as an interested observer of others throughout this exercise, and have gained even more respect for “Mikey” who is still voluntarily continuing to train with his eyes closed when we train together. It demonstrates a level of humility and a true willingness to learn that many Jiu Jitsu players (including yours truly) would be best served to emulate.
Larry, The LTrain