Sylvie from, my favorite non-BJJ blogger, wrote a great article called Brain Science: Why Sparring Gets Out of Control – Neurology and Muay Thai.

The article is about mis-perception of contact strength. The idea is that we underestimate how much force and strength we are actually using, and when we attempt to match the force we are given, we end up one-upping the person. Then they attempt to match, but in fact they’ve also added +1. You end up with this ever-escalating force.

Sylvie posted a link to a scientific article showing this, but what I thought was very interesting was how she linked this to women:

Sparring too Light – If you are someone who somewhere in their lives resists escalation instinctively – I think women can be like this, in particular if they experienced violence on a personal level, but also just because, culturally, we are taught to be more passive – how does the mis-perception of contact strength affect you? It may mean that even when you are sparring at equal force, you are experiencing it as your sparring partner going harder than you are. You may find yourself reducing the force of your strikes over and over, trying to “turn the heat down”, when in fact it already had begun at equilibrium. This, unfortunately is to some degree the opposite instinct one wants in a fight. You can find yourself training non-escalation, or even de-escelation of force, while experiencing dis-equal striking.  In a fight, you want to end up on top, or as the final word, on every escalation. – Sylvie, Brain Science: Why Sparring Gets Out of Control

She mentions that when Thai men are sparring, they often engage more in play fighting. For me, that harkens back to Ryron Gracie’s motto: Keep it playful.

Reading this article made me think about a few things.

1. How people on forums will often say things like “My partner did XYZ to me – should I teach him a lesson?” or “My partner injured me – should I get revenge?” Okay, they may not put it that bluntly, but that’s their meaning. My personal reaction to that is – NO. Unless your sparring partner is a dickbag, he probably had NO IDEA he was going hard, and he DEFINITELY didn’t mean to injure you. Shit happens! People mess up! Did my sparring partner intend to give me a black eye? Hell no! Did he feel like crap about it whenever he saw me? I’m absolutely certain of it. How wonderful do YOU feel when you have accidentally injured someone? This article speaks to that:

the efference copy of our motor actions – the body imaging we use to predict and gauge our effect on the world –  is inherently sensorally dulled, while when things happen to us they feel amplified.  Simply put, you might feel like you’re taking up very little space on the bus the guy next to you is taking up the exact same amount but it feels to you like he might as well be lying down with his feet up.  It is built-in that we experience the world impacting us more forcefully than how we are impacting the world, at a very basic touch level.

2. It takes a long time to control your body. I feel for the big guys going with the little folks. They’re AWARE that they’re likely exerting more force than they intend. So they overcompensate, but don’t do it perfectly. Hooray big guys for giving a crap about your partner! It’s up to the little person to help communicate how much you can actually deal with. Today I couldn’t complete a move to its submission because I over empathised with my partner and it freaked me out how much she could almost do the splits. Can I eventually overcome this? Sure! But sometimes we are also our own obstacle.

3. The new folks. You know them – the ones who come at you with a kill or be killed attitude! The ones who grab at you super quick and fast or practically leap at you. I’ve responded to this only a few times, and I remember thinking “Okay dude – you want to go hard? I’ll show you hard.” Not my finest moments, but it is what it is. Sometimes we have mental baggage we’ve got to deal with. Thankfully that’s not usually the case. Usually I will just recognize this person has NO FREAKING CLUE how to control their body or how much force they are exerting in this new sport of grappling. Other times, I get mad and then cry in the locker room after class and console myself by reminding myself that that guy was a doodyhead and a stupidface and something something his mother.

4. Why communication is so very important. Wondering if you went to hard? Ask your partner. Wondering if you were being douchey? Ask your partner. Wondering if your partner wants you to go harder or lighter? Ask them. Surprisingly, humans have not quite developed mind-reading skills, so one has the choice of a) playing detective, looking for clues, body language, and reading words carefully to find out. b) asking random Internet folks for advice. c) using direct communication to find out the answer from the person. I try to use C whenever possible.

5. This meme:


So – go read Sylvie’s awesome article – again, the link is: Brain Science: Why Sparring Gets Out of Control – Neurology and Muay Thai. If you drop by her blog, let her know you found the article by way of here!

Then, leave your thoughts here: What are your reactions to this article and this phenomenon? Have you found your sparring matches to escalate or deescalate? Are their certain folks you react to more? What circumstances? How do you think this might affect you in the near future?