Most people don’t think of BJJ as a time for relaxation. Even though it isn’t quite the same as yoga or meditation, the ability to relax and focus on your breath plays a surprisingly large role in:

  1. Becoming less predictable
  2. Surviving hard rounds with upper belts
  3. Lasting through an entire open mat without taking rounds off
  4. Learning and retaining jiu jitsu techniques
  5. Being a fun and safe training partner

This is a really big topic, and we have a lot of ground to cover here, so let’s dive in.


After starting BJJ, it doesn’t take long to see the difference between fresh white belts and those with more experience on the mats. The newer you are, the more likely you are to tense up, panic, and fight like your life depends on it, expending all your energy in the first round or two. Those with more experience, however, don’t do this. They can smash lower belts while seemingly not trying, and roll through the entire open mat without needing to sit out rounds or panting like crazy.

Part of this is experience, conditioning, and being used to the feeling of fighting on the ground. But a really big factor in their ability to do this is that they know how and when to relax during sparring. They aren’t forcing moves or positions, they’re flowing with you and catching you in the areas where your defenses are lacking or your knowledge ends. When they’re in bad positions, they aren’t flailing or exploding violently, but calmly working their way out while focusing on their breathing, and finding themselves on the attack immediately afterwards. You might even see them tap to a submission early 🤯

The Benefits of Staying Loose in BJJ

If you’re new to the sport or haven’t experienced many people that know how to flow, you might be under the impression that being a good grappler is all about grit and being tough, and while those qualities will help you, learning how to relax will unlock new levels to your BJJ…

Stop Telegraphing Your Moves

One of the most common issues I see with beginners, and even those with years of experience, is that their body tenses up right before they perform their favorite pass, sweep, or pin escape. This might work on other people who are also tensed up and not paying attention to what their opponent is doing – but against a good upper belt, they will always be a step ahead as your tension gives away your intent. If you find your go-to moves getting countered easily by certain people, this is probably why.

In order to be consistently successful in a high-level grappling match, we cannot telegraph to our opponent what we intend to do and when we’re about to do it. Being relaxed with your grips and breathing will help to keep you more unpredictable and keep your opponent questioning your next move.

Gain Sensitivity to Your Opponent’s Moves

On the flip-side, when rolling with someone using a lot of tension, we can gain a better read on what they’re next move is going to be by being relaxed ourselves. By removing the tension from your hands, you can better feel what your opponent is doing and when they tense their body. Think of trying to feel someone’s heart-beat through their wrist. If you’re holding their wrist with lots of tension, it becomes impossible to distinguish their heart-beat from your own.

Likewise, in jiu-jitsu, we can become stuck becoming too focused on what we want to do, rather than the our opponent is allowing for us to do. Simply being more relaxed in your gripping and overall approach will yield heaps of benefits as far as your ability to feel what is going on in the roll.

Roll for Longer – Without Taking Breaks!

An obvious benefit of relaxing is being able to complete an entire open mat without taking rest rounds. While this blog is about improving more rapidly, and using your time more wisely on the mats, at the end of the day, mat-time counts. If “Student A” spends an hour sparring after class, and “Student B” only does a couple 5 minute rounds at 100%, Student A will see much more technical improvement than Student B – even if Student A is not really trying to win, but just work on figuring things out for the full hour.

Rolling like every match is a competition and trying to win with all your might is a recipe for injuries and slow progress. It’s like the person who goes into the gym and tries to max out every machine versus the person who learns the proper form first with light weights. The guy maxing out at the gym goes home and is too sore to work out again for the rest of the week, whereas the other person can come back in a day or two and incrementally increase the weight. If you’re constantly pushing your limits, you will surely get injured, or be too sore to train as frequently as the person taking it slowly.

Be Experimental – Roll with Intention

Being intentional in your jiu-jitsu practice is crucial! One way to facilitate this is by learning how to relax and approach your rolls like a scientist. What we mean by this is to not be afraid to try new things, even if means failing and getting submitted. This is, by far, the fastest way to learn and retain information.

If you’re always rolling tense, in fight or flight mode, that mindset will prevent you from opening up your game and trying new things. Read more about rolling with intention here!


JIu-Jitsu, like most martial arts, is about finding a balance. We can’t be completely relaxed, and we can’t be completely tense. We have to find that middle-ground that allows us to be cerebral and problem-solve, but not to the point where we over-think during our rolls.

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