Collaboration means making an effort to say yes instead of no.
Let’s talk about something a bit unexpected: a lesson we can take from the art of improv that helps your Jiu-Jitsu. And all of life, really.
For those not familiar with improv, it’s that spontaneous form of comedy that’s made up on the fly. Improv requires comedians, often as a group, to walk on stage without a script and invent comedy spontaneously. Ever watched the show, Whose Line Is It Anyway? That’s improv.
To mere mortals like myself, improv looks like borderline magic. I’m not a comedian, but I imagine improv must be tremendously stressful. Luckily, there are a few principles that improv comedians use to help think on their feet. And what’s the cardinal rule of improv, you might ask?
Never say no.
When you say no, you kill ideas. You halt the conversation. Sometimes, you make it awkward. Imagine what it must be like for one improv comedian to set up an elaborate bit, only to have their fellow performer respond with, “nah, that didn’t happen. Let’s do this instead.” It would kill the momentum and make the entire thing incredibly awkward. That’s why improv comedians always say yes.
This improv principle is often known as “Yes, and…” thinking, and it has implications across any collaborative endeavor, including Jiu-Jitsu drilling.
Ever had a drilling experience where your partner is uncooperative, resistant, and doesn’t let you work? It’s tremendously frustrating when you’re trying to get some reps in, but your opponent is intentionally making it difficult for you to succeed. In Jiu-Jitsu, that’s the equivalent of saying “no” during drilling: you’re shutting down your training partner’s attempts to get better.
Intuitively, it might seem like cooperation is a bad thing in a combat art like Jiu-Jitsu. But remember that the goals of training are different from the goals of competition. When you’re training, your focus shouldn’t be to win; it should be to learn. And learning requires a training partner who won’t shut you down and won’t prevent you from getting the reps needed to get better.
So being a good drilling partner requires “Yes, and…” thinking: you want to let your partner get their reps in, and you want to spontaneously riff off what they do so they get experience with the predictable responses.
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