There are many stepping stones in martial arts that show progression in our comfort and dedication to the sport. First, you have to actually show up! Continuously attending classes turns into your first roll; rolling in class on a regular basis with your peers will soon turn into rolling with upper belts and people you were uncomfortable or scared to partner with at first. One of the most intimidating steps for a lot of people, besides competition, is going to open mat.
Open mat is a completely different atmosphere, which often makes people hesitant to go for the first time. With no official instruction beforehand it’s a bit overwhelming at first to just walk in, maybe do a few warmups and then start rolling. The experience is scary, but so beneficial to everyone in the martial arts world. Whether you practice for competition reasons or for self-defense it’s important to be okay with having a match without an hour of drilling. If you’re on the fence about heading out to your first open mat soon, here are a few things to help sway your decision!
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1) Learn! You’ve spent many hours in class going over drills and techniques, so why would going to open mat make a difference? Since you are rolling with so many different people, some from different gyms, you will have the opportunity to practice over and over. This gives you the chance to see what methods work best for you, what seems to work on different body types, and what doesn’t. If there’s a skill you’re having trouble with, but don’t get the chance to address in class due to time constraints, open mat will be your best friend.
You can spend the entire time starting from one position, perfecting one submission, or gathering different approaches from a variety of people. One open mat session will no doubt leave you feeling more comfortable with your technique, not to mention more confident in rolling with strangers.
2) Mingle! Making friends with teammates at your gym is great, but meeting those from other gyms is something that can make a huge difference. The Jiu Jitsu community is incredibly supportive and welcoming, so isolating yourself to one gym is a disservice to yourself. It’s not uncommon for gyms to welcome people from nearby schools for open mat, or for an occasional class.
Friends compete against friends with no issues and rivalries tend to stay on the mat. Making friends with people from other local gyms, or even when you travel, can help you improve tremendously! Different professors have various teaching methods, and each of them prefer certain moves (just like you!), so participating in another class can help lessen your nerves and widen your skill set.
3) Play! Don’t forget that this sport doesn’t have to solely be to prepare for looming competitions or to be ready to defend yourself in a dangerous situation; It can be fun! Open mat is the perfect time to meet up with your friends and bond over your love for the game. Since there is not a structured class to plan around it is often a much more casual environment and a great time to learn more about your teammates.
Discover what their other hobbies are (maybe you share some of them!), what kind of work they do, who they are as a person off the mat. Feeling a bond and forming friendships with your training partners is a key factor in motivating you to get to the gym during slumps or stressful times. If you have a built in support system, then you are more likely to push through and stick it out.
Keep these three things in mind and take the step to go to your first open mat soon! You’ll be glad you did!
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