We are sitting in a circle, with 2 of my students grappling in the center. “Watch closely. We’ll talk about what happened when they’re done.” As the two grapple, the students watch intently. After about a minute of hard work, there is a furious scramble through a twisting maze of positions, and one student suddenly taps. “Good match! Ok, what happened? What did you see?” I ask the group.
After a brief pause, one of the more eager students proclaims, “armbar.”
“Ok, start at the beginning. Take us through the match.”
“Umm. They started standing. Then there was a takedown. Then he passed the guard, I think.”
“Slow down. What about the details? What did they do when they were standing? How did the takedown get set up?”
This line of questioning continues until there is a clear timeline. With students around the edge of the mats, we have a good set of “camera angles” to replay the events, but their recollections are only as helpful as their perception. We work thorough the details and each transition is covered. We figure out where mistakes were made, how advantage was won and lost, and picked apart the match to my satisfaction. We dissect each moment of the match where an advantage is won or lost.
After several more matches, the students are getting the hang of it. They are doing much more than watching. They are seeing. “Great work! Now, everyone find a partner.” People pair up, eager to use their newfound optics and awareness. In every match, there are turning points: moments where a subtle mistake is made, an opportunity taken, and the tide turns in favor of the victor.
Your memory is a good coach, but only if you have a good memory. Win or lose, remember the successes and failures that caused the outcome. The details of these memories can provide you with clues to success next time. Watch and feel the details of your matches. Talk about them with your partners and coaches afterwards. Get a camcorder on a tripod and record your matches. If someone gets a great move on you, ask them to take you through it again so you can burn it into your memory. I record every class at my gym. If there is a particularly interesting match, I’ll load it up and watch it.
Seeing the big moves is easy. An understanding of subtleties, details and nuances separates the good from the great. Open your eyes.