What is the difference between instinct and consciousness in BJJ? Carlos Gracie Jr. explains

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Carlos Gracie Jr. with Roger at GB America, in California. Ivan Trindade

Carlos Gracie Jr. with Roger at GB America, in California. Ivan Trindade

BJJ was made for everybody — people of all ages and weights who dream of knowing how to defend themselves without getting themselves or anybody else hurt.

As we advance in our mastery of the art, however, two things develop: instinct and consciousness. Both important to a fighter’s progress, certainly, but also at odds with one another inside that fighter’s mind.

In a recent lecture, Master Carlos Gracie Jr. discussed the theme at length.

There are people who have a lot of BJJ knowledge and sometimes have little fighting instinct. In these cases, knowledge overpowers instinct. And there is the other side, the guy who has little knowledge and a lot of instinct. Instinct alone is enough to save him, as it enables him to get out of risky situations, avoid being caught in dumb submissions, and fight well.

Many times I’ve seen the guy know how to escape the position through instinct, but, when time comes to explain the position, he can’t, because he doesn’t have the consciousness of what he does. If one day he wants to become a teacher, he won’t be able to explain the position. At the gym I used to have many black-belts that I would summon to teach a position. They would ask me, “No, please — don’t make me teach it.” They’d get terrified.

Carlos Gracie Jr. Photo by Luca Atalla

Carlos Gracie Jr. Photo by Luca Atalla

That happens because currently at Gracie Barra there are many ranked fighters taking beginners’ classes in order to go over the basics and be able to teach better, as well as combat bad habits and pick up fundamentals neglected throughout the years.

The game of a well-trained athlete often only works when they are at full capacity. When fatigue kicks in, when he’s got five inches of tongue outside his mouth, or when he’s older, his BJJ falls hard. Technique, knowledge and consciousness make us serene in bad positions. Because it’s a position that demands expending a lot of energy. And you’ve got to come out unscathed; at the time you need for the guy to make a mistake.

I’ve always been a fan of the basics. After you acquire good basic BJJ, the rest develops on its own. You create, invent. The rest is easy. What’s hard is A, E, I, O, U.

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