Grapping With (Not Against) Our Opponent

If we want to experience the joy and flow of a mutually beneficial relationship, it is imperative that we allow others to be themselves, but not to the point where it shuts down our ability to also be ourselves.

There are many benefits, both physical and psychological, that come from sportive grappling, especially in a healthy training environment wherein everyone is training with the goal of helping everyone else get better. One of the greatest gifts from grappling is the ability to actually feel another person out, to determine who they are and how they are going to behave simply by coming to grips with them. This skill takes a lot of time to develop, however.

At first, because we are nervous, unskilled, and full of fear and ego, we are in a heightened fight or flight emotional state. We cannot think clearly and we try anything we can to win or, at least, not to lose, missing many or most of the signals and cues we receive from our partner. As time goes on, however, as we get better, we become more and more sensitive to the subtleties and nuances of our partner’s movements and even his or her intentions, learning how to anticipate one, two, even three moves ahead.

The more time we spend on the mats, the more effort we put into developing and improving, the more we learn to work with, not against, our training partner such that we are leading, not forcing, him or her in a given direction. We begin to see that, as long as we are safe from harm, it is more desirable to allow our opponent to be him or herself than to attempt to stop him or her from moving a certain way. So long as we maintain our own integrity and our own forward progress, we can actually use our opponent’s movement, force, and will in a direction that is advantageous to us and, through this, he or she ceases to be an opponent at all.


Holistic Budo: As it is in budo, so too it is in life. As it is in life, so too it is in budo.

Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Taikyoku Mind & Body and Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, as well as a founding member of the Severna Park and Baltimore Holistic Chamber of Commerce.

Wabi-sabi street art photo by Robert Van Valkenburgh (artist unknown)

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