How Rock Climbing and Jiu Jitsu Go Hand-In-Hand

James Sisti

Stay relaxed, connect with the environment, and go with the flow.

How can two seemingly disconnected disciplines compliment each other? Aside from being physically demanding, climbing and jiu jitsu both require a large measure of mental confidence and relaxation, in order to truly thrive on the wall or on the mat. A connection occurs around a singular philosophy, which the most successful athletes in either field express in both what they practice and what they pass on to their students.

  • Staying relaxed
  • Connecting and flowing with the environment
  • Keeping an open mind 

These are the main tenants which lay a solid foundation and ultimately, tether the disciplines of climbing and jiu jitsu. Staying relaxed in a stressful environment is something that can only be achieved after gaining the necessary confidence and mental fortitude from hours and hours of training, studying, and first-hand experience. Not only is this one of the most valuable skills in an athlete's arsenal, its one of the hardest to cultivate and master. 

"Relaxation, acceptance, and keeping open mind are key. First of all, peak performance isn’t possible if one is not relaxed, and if one is going to stay relaxed they must simply accept problems when they arise and decide to solve them. If I can’t do a move, I merely accept that I haven’t discovered the right sequence. Instead of trying the same sequence over and over, or just quitting, I will try to do it 20 or 30 different ways, making subtle changes in body position and foot placement, until I find something that does work. That’s what I mean by keeping an open mind." 
Lynn Hill, World Record Alpinist - Free Climbing Legend

Sometimes, variables can change without a moment's notice, leaving only enough time to react instinctively. When it comes to climbing or self defense, this type of instinct can be lifesaving. This reactionary skill doesn't always have to apply to a life threatening scenarios. In fact, the more time that one spends "in the zone", flowing with the surrounding environment, rather than resisting it, the more fun the overall experience becomes. This is a testament to the value of a training routine, in which the same moves, or actions, can be practiced over and over again, allowing muscle-memory to take over, so that the body simply "does" what it needs to, when it needs to. 

“The most interesting aspect of jiu-jitsu is… the sensibility of the opponent, sense of touch, the weight, the momentum, the transition from one movement to another. ...You must allow yourself to go as (if) on auto pilot. You don’t know exactly where you’re going until the movement happen(s) because you can not anticipate what is going to happen. You must allow yourself to be in a zero point; a neutral point. Be relaxed and connected with the variations. Go with the flow.”
Rickson Gracie, BJJ Champion - MMA Legend

Sometimes, even when an athlete is on their best game, this doesn't work out for whatever reason, and a bit of creativity is needed to problem solve in order to get back on track. It is common for climbers or jiu jitsu practitioners to "invent" a way that works best for them. Techniques are not always "absolutes". They can be modified and re-worked; used in multiple ways, in multiple conditions. Avoid frustration by keeping an open mind. Treat failure as a learning experience that adds to your ever-growing toolbox. Be creative and see how many ways even the simplest challenges can be conquered, so that when the stakes are higher, the better prepared you are to succeed. 

A serious advantage is gained, particularly at the beginner level, by those who practice both climbing and jiu jitsu. This advantage only grows stronger as the skill sets develop tangentially, and the benefits of each start to overlap into everyday life. Whether at the summit of beautiful route or at the conclusion of a competitive tournament, the feeling of accomplishment, coupled with the validation of having trained so hard for so long, is immensely gratifying. It becomes a part of who you are and opens the doors to greater opportunities, challenges, and friendships. 

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Cover photo: Moe Lauchert

Published: August 12, 2016

James Sisti

Artist Gone Wild. Athlete. Storyteller. » Available for Commissions. » Contact: james@exploring-elsewhere.com

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