Sunday, March 27, 2011

Using reading to improve BJJ

How Reading Can Be Used to Increase Cognitive function for Jiu Jitsu.

The next stage involved in directing the fighter’s brain towards strengthening cognitive ability and improving overall jiu jistu is through reading. There are unlimited choices as to what type of reading selection one could make but certain criteria need to be well thought about and the selection should be made based on the personal situation and goals of the individual. One needs to read material related to what they are trying to get out of their routine and desired motivational effects from this practice. It shouldn’t be a “breaking news flash” that reading makes you smarter, but the fact is, it will help us to understand the psychological and cognitive reasons as to WHY this happens.
Also it should be noted that reading alone will not make one proficient at jiu Jitsu but it will increase performance levels of a practitioner of the art who does supplement their training with studying through reading. Through the understanding of these processes, we can take advantage of this knowledge and it will make us more successful in all aspects of our lives and in this case in specific, our jiu jistu through the specific reading of material related to our training.
 Studies have shown that reading will increase the neural activity in the left hemisphere of the brain, specifically in the occipital and temporal lobes. By reading, you will strengthen the neural connections between what is read, written language, spoken language and allow your brain to consume more oxygen and even grow. By grow, I mean that white matter levels in the brain can increase in some individuals. The actual size of your head will not expand so there is no need to worry! This discovery was made by researches from Carnegie Mellon University who conducted an experiment where they had subjects read daily for a 6 month period. The study revealed that after 100 hours of remedial reading training, the subjects had new white matter form. White matter is the circuitry that connects areas of the brain to send signals. In theory, the more connections between “stored information” that we have in our brains, the greater the ability to recall facts and knowledge.
 In terms of jiu-jitsu, a person who has more white matter “filled” with stored information, (memory), and technical knowledge of jiu jitsu techniques and theory can respond to a situation faster without having to sit and think of a potential escape or attack. It’s like when you are taking a long trip by car and you have a road map with multiple routes to the same destination programmed into a GPS telling you where to go as opposed to one set of hand written directions with no alternative route information that you need to stop and read every few minutes in order to not get lost! Who do you think will arrive to where they are going first?  The more connections, the more options and the faster we can recognize these options when we need them.
By stimulating and thus “waking up” the areas involved in memory recall and the white matter in our brain where we store our technical and applicable jiu jitsu knowledge before we go into training, we actually allow our brains the ability to learn faster and more efficiently by making multiple cognitive connections within our neural infrastructure. In essence, Jiu Jitsu is like a physical language and the more techniques we learn, the greater the ability to manifest our physical "vocabulary" within the sport.
 The overall tone of what should be read may help direct the conscious mind to a certain mood and emotion as well. There are passages to help one relax. This may not be a great idea before a training session but may perhaps be beneficial to an individual who is nervous before an event. Calming the nerves before a tournament and harnessing the adrenaline experienced can focus a fighter on their body and mind without the unnecessary expenditure of energy due to the increase in the autonomic nervous system functioning (heart rate, respiration, salivary production, sweating etc…)
Some people are not big on reading and they will begin to pass out and fall asleep after only a few pages. These people need to choose the correct time to read and certainly the correct material. Base your selection wisely and read towards your goals. As it usually ends up, a person will begin to get excited when they are able to read about a subject they are passionate about. When that material can speak to them on a personal level, such as when a BJJ fighter reads about a method to improve their training, and they are both interested in and benefitting from it, they will usually go through a period of aroused levels of excitement directed towards the sport itself and be able to function at a higher level as a result.
Some people may need to focus less on the technical aspects of BJJ and theory based instructional and instead try to regulate their emotional states as that is a huge determining factor in overall success and improvement in our sport. For some people reading their favorite biblical passages may be beneficial. Others may want to read an article based on leisure activity not related to jiu jitsu in an attempt to calm their anxiety levels and clear their minds when too many ideas and techniques begin to overlap and add a level of confusion to their game. Often a serious BJJ student will go to bed with a weeks worth of new knowledge and techniques swirling around inside their minds and it begins to be counterproductive. Taking a step back and “wiping the page clean” so to speak may do wonders.

Next post...Part 2 of reading for improved BJJ

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