What is the Flow state and how does it relate to Jiu-Jitsu and Martial Arts?
Flow is a term that people who train Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Martial Arts use quite often. To most people it probably doesn’t mean anything. To those who have achieved flow it’s pretty life changing. Jiu-Jitsu and Martial arts is not the only place you’ll find this term used. Surfing, snowboarding, DJ’ing, rapping, and various other activities create the flow state. Whatever activity or hobby you have I’m positive you can reach a flow state in doing so. You will also find that the activity becomes easier and more enriching.
History of the Flow State.
The state of flow has been around forever. But, it wasn't until the 1970’s when the term was coined by Hungarian Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He wrote several books on the state. Which, gives advice on how to achieve it and a long explanation on what Flow is. His books are really good but definitely more advanced reading. I recommend Steven Kotler’s book The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance. This book is much more understandable and entertaining to read. Kotler also gives his first hand experience finding the flow state and how it helped cure his long battle with Lymes disease.
Flow is somewhat hard to describe. The flow state aka “the zone” is “an optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.” Most of us have been in this state at one time or another. We may not have even recognized the state at the time but looking back you can probably think of a time where you were in Flow. My personal definition of flow is a little more simple. Flow is when you are so engaged in an activity you are free from thought. That’s the advantage of being in flow. Your activity is not interrupted by thoughts. Thoughts often slow us down and impede our movement.
How does flow relate to Jiu-Jitsu and Martial Arts?
One of Bruce lee’s most famous quotes is “Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless like water.” That quote is explaining a flow state. When you are engaged in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu there should be little to no thought. Only fluid unhinged movement. If you are pondering the next step, your opponent has probably already beaten you to that step. In Kickboxing, Boxing, MMA, and Jiu-Jitsu you can not afford to spend time thinking. There are dire consequences in being frozen by thought. A sparring session, match, or fight becomes much easier when you get into a flow state. You will be much more effective and expend less energy.
Getting into a flow state
So how does one achieve a flow state? This is even more difficult than defining a flow state. Activities such as Yoga, Jiu-Jitsu, boxing, surfing, and snowboarding will help guide you to that state. To access a flow state quickly is difficult. There are lots of resources online to give you steps to a flow state. Unfortunately, some of the information is contradicting and confusing. My basic steps that help me attain the state of flow are the following
Challenging - Make sure the activity is challenging.
Concentration - You need to be fully engaged and concentrated on your activity.
Movement - I find activities with movement really help me get into a flow state.
Clear goals - Set clear goals for your activity.
Immediate feedback - The activity should give you immediate feedback on whether you are succeeding or not.
Element of danger - if the activity is somewhat dangerous it will help push you into flow.
So, the great thing about Jiu-Jitsu and Martial Arts is that they include all of these things. There are very few more challenging things in life than sparring with another human being. You must be fully concentrated when practicing or competing in Jiu-Jitsu. Otherwise you risk being choked or submitted with other techniques. Movement is obviously very key to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. It doesn’t even have to be large movements. Small movements also are important to Flow. If you are aimlessly training you will have no direction and are wasting your time. Set goals no matter how large or small each time you compete, roll, or practice. Martial Arts gives you immediate feedback. If you are doing a technique wrong it wont work. If you make a mistake you will pay for it. Which brings along the last bullet point. The element of danger. For some an element of danger helps you get into flow. Everything seems to fade away as soon as you are being threatened with punches, kicks, and submissions. The element of danger can also be in activities such as surfing, snowboarding, and skating. Danger comes in different forms with different activities.
Find your Flow state
Find your flow state in whatever activity or hobby you may choose. This will make your hobby or activity more fulfilling and increase your results. Try different hobbies and different approaches to old hobbies. Use your own set of steps to achieve flow. Everyone is different so use trial and error to find the best results. Also, thinking back to when you were in a flow state will help guide you in the right direction. There are very few things more fulfilling and enjoyable then when you reach a peak flow state.