Under Pressure

The first lesson for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is the most valuable.  But it isn’t easy.  Doing anything under pressure causes stress.  Stress elicits our natural fight or flight response.   You cannot avoid this response, but you can train to maximize either (or both).   Training how you breath will lead to enhanced practice and performance.

Here is how to influence better performance breathing:

Relax your face.  Grimacing causes clenching of your teeth and can induce hyper ventilation or breath holding

Plaster your tongue on the roof of your mouth.  This will close your esophagus and direct air in and out of your nose.

Breath in and out of your nose as much as possible.

Exhale on movement

If you find that you are having a difficult time catching your breath, forcefully exhale.  Allow your inhale to come naturally.

Some exercises I have tried:

Cut a piece of towel and bite down on it and train.  This will forces inhalation and exhalation through the nose.  It will also make you take your time.

Train with your mouth duct taped.  Yes, it’s weird.  Yes, it will induce panic.  But, over time, you get used to it like anything else.

My favorite is what I refer to as ABC breathing.  Here, your partner obtains a knee on your belly or a tight side control.    Tense your core and out loud , recite the alphabet as slowly as possible.  Have your partner increase pressure or  roll back and forth changing the location of pressure on your diaphragm.  The longer you are able to have a conversation, and it must be out loud, while supporting the weight and pressure of your partner will exponentially raise your performance breathing.  This is also a great exercise when your partner has a body triangle from your back.

Give these a try and see the difference.  But, don’t do the following:

It is legend that Spartan Warriors had to run a marathon with their mouth filled with water.  At the finish line, they had to spit it out.  If they were unable to, they were killed.

Now that is pressure.

The First Lesson

Your first lesson in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is very important.  It is also one that you will forget over and over for a long time.

I imagine that a lot of academies and instructors will show you how you how to skip your hips, break fall, and stand up in base as your introduction into the gentle art.   Basic Guard passing, sweeping, some self defense, likely comes next as you start on your journey.

All extremely important and valuable techniques.  They will last a life time.

But, this lesson takes precedence over anyone of them:


It is impossible to understand this basic concept when you start.  When you start training with resistance, a flood of emotions will impact you, dramatically:  Confusion. Fear. Panic. Desperation.  These feelings will trick you into believing that you must exert yourself with every imaginable ounce of energy.  You will power through your technique to defend yourself (and also make you believe that this is the only way to win).  In this explosive movement, you will hold your breath in order to maximize your performance.  It is a natural, primal response.

But, holding your breath will drastically reduce your energy for the fight.  You cannot escape the irony that holding your breath will not allow you to save it for later.  It just doesn’t work that way.  Trying to recover from exertion where you lack efficient, consistent breathing patterns, is difficult, especially if you are engaged with an opponent who is breathing properly.   Remember: It does not matter how much technique you know or how well you can perform them.  If you have no energy (Breath) to execute them, you will fail.

So today, consciously breath when you are training.  I know you will forget and that is OK.  We all do.  But make the effort.  Don’t worry if it is through your nose or mouth.  That technique will come later.  But, by focusing today and everyday on breathing, you will develop the true base of performance that you need to succeed in this art.