Blind Faith: How To Improve Your Grappling Game Through Closing Your Eyes

3 min read
Discover the Author’s experience of how rolling with your eyes shut can improve your Jiu-Jitsu prowess and how you can do the same

Andy rolling in Jiu-Jitsu with his eyes closed

Blind Faith: How To Improve Your Grappling Game Through Closing Your Eyes

Discover the author’s experience of how rolling with your eyes shut can improve your Jiu-Jitsu prowess and how you can do the same

Location: New Zealand

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Photo by: Andy Hoyle

I remember my early days of BJJ so well when I had no clue what I was doing. I Spent entire rounds on the bottom, being smashed, drowning, and all the while trying to work escapes I had learned in class. The sheer exhaustion of those rounds never really leaves your memory. My coach back then, the late great Karl Tanswell of SBG Manchester, put a heavy emphasis on shutting your eyes while rolling and drilling.

Fine-tuning your BJJ game

At first, it felt weird and didn’t seem to make a difference. Then, over time, this self-imposed handicap tuned my senses to the energy of the roll. It made me rely on my body to feel where the pressure was coming from; it helped me understand where the pressure wasn’t and where I could move. As I tested techniques and moved to counter pressure with frames, hip escapes, etc.; I felt how my adjustments changed the dynamic of the roll.  

Calming your mental state

I found that when I shut my eyes, it calmed my mind and tuned me into the roll. This was so important because it helped me become more comfortable with the suffocating pressure on the bottom (side control, mount, north-south, etc.). It allowed me to develop the ability to disconnect from the claustrophobia of being smashed, to enter a calm mental state. Now I could focus on other critical things like controlling my breathing, listening to my opponent’s breathing, and the kik-kak-kik-kak of their heart rate to assess how hard they are working.

Spar with our eyes shut @CoastBJJ

Recently professor Noel Thompson of Coast Academy, New Zealand (@CoastBJJ) made us spar with our eyes shut from different positions. Seeing my teammates try it for the first time reminded me of my early days and is the inspiration for this article. I enjoyed that class a lot, and it made me reflect on this simple piece of advice.

I think a lot of the awareness and timing I have developed over the years is thanks to this critical piece of Jiu-Jitsu advice. Feeling the roll and the connection I have to my opponent is so important; I believe it is this awareness that hones timing and technical efficiency in BJJ. 


Heightened awareness 

What I mean by this is that when I temporarily take away my sight, my other senses kick up a gear. I have a heightened awareness of their balance, my balance, where pressure is coming from, how I am using frames to counter that pressure, and where there is space. When I move to counter them, whether I am passing, escaping, sweeping, etc.; I gain awareness of how efficient my technique is and how much I use physical attributes to succeed (by physical attributes, I mean strength, speed, flexibility, etc.)? This internal dialog allows me to refine my Jiu-Jitsu while I roll.

How to get started

So, how can you get the most out of rolling with your eyes closed? Try the following 5 ideas:

  1. Just do it! You may get smashed the first few times because you have no idea where your rolling partner is attacking next, but you will develop this awareness with time.
  2. Stay connected with at least one point of contact, so you always have a reference to where your partner is and the direction, pressure, and speed he or she is rolling with.
  3. Close your eyes AFTER the takedown… don’t try to land a takedown with your eyes closed; not safe for anyone. It’s often best to do situation rolling at this point where you start on bottom or in guard or have your back taken, etc.
  4. Ask for tips from people in your gym that already train with their eyes closed.
  5. Train with your eyes closed every other roll so you ease into it and can compare the two different methods in the same class.  

Fight IQ

I often hear MMA commentators (usually Joe Rogan) talk about ‘fight IQ,’ and I think this phrase helps sum up the benefit of rolling with your eyes shut. It is a catalyst that develops your Jiu-Jitsu fight IQ. Another Jiu-Jitsu fight IQ catalyst is understanding why a technique works, but that is an entirely different rabbit hole. So, if you want to get better at Jiu-Jitsu faster, shut your eyes when you drill and spar – feel the flow and feel your game improve roll after roll.



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