The founder of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Helio Gracie once told Playboy magazine during an interview that intelligent students were the most difficult to teach. Their analytical abilities can sometimes cause them to pause and think when they should instead simply react, relying on their hours of practice to cue the body to do what is right.
"The intelligent student tends to get lost if thought [comes] before executing the technique," Gracie said.
"With this preoccupation, he ends up lost in thought and can't function. I want to give the student good reflexes. The method that the crafty person wants to know is that which hinders his reflexes.
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"Learning jiu-jitsu is something for the subconscious, not for the consciousness. I don't teach so that the student can know jiu-jitsu, I teach so that he can execute jiu-jitsu. There is a difference. If I teach something to an intelligent person, she will learn quickly because she puts it in memory. But the good student can execute his jiu-jitsu without thinking.
"If he stops to look for what I knows in his memory, he is lost. It doesn't deal with decorative movements, but rather with exact reflexes when an aggression occurs. And aggression always occurs by surprise."
There are a lot of smart fighters in MMA but few would argue that they have more problem-solving ability than Alex "Astro Girl" Chambers, who has a background in multidisciplinary engineering. The Australian strawweight definitely agrees with Gracie though, about excessive thinking being a problem in the moment.
"I definitely agree with those quotes," she chuckles.
"I am my own worst enemy. I definitely overthink things at times. It makes things hard, sometimes, because you become hard on yourself."
Chambers sometimes struggles this way in training and sparring. During actual fights, however, tells us that she's able to shut off her noisy brain and simply let her body do what she's trained it to do.
"When it goes down in a fight, I really feel different than in training," she explained.
"I definitely overthink things in training more than I should but in a fight, that muscle memory that you've built from all the reps and all the drilling in the gym kicks in. That's the idea behind martial arts -- that by training yourself your body can takeover instead of your mind when you need it to. The philosophy of martial arts is that you are really fighting yourself, that you are your own worst enemy. Come fight time, you want to be reacting."
Chambers next gets a chance to test her training and martial arts reflexes at UFC 191 on Sep. 5 in Las Vegas against Paige VanZant. Check back in with us next week for more on Chambers and the rest of the action-packed card!