In one of my Judo matches several years ago, I was in an intense struggle for grips, and I was losing the battle. I heard my coach yelling, “You’re not moving him, Josh. He’s moving you.”
My coach was right. I was letting my opponent lead the dance.
In the famed Japanese swordsman and martial artist Miyamoto Musashi’s The Book of Five Rings, he describes a principle that I would have done well to remember. He called it Pressing Down the Pillow.
The idea is to never let your opponent’s head up while you are in the fight. In one sense, it’s managing the pace and proximity of the fight.
“In the Way of Martial Arts combat, it is wrong to let your opponent lead you around or push you into a defensive position. Above all, you want to move him around freely.”
In boxing, it might be using your jab to keep your opponent from getting too close or controlling the center of the ring. Muay Thai kickboxers will often use the teep, essentially a jab with the leg, to manage distance.
In the grappling arts, Pressing Down the Pillow could mean keeping pressure on your opponent’s head, whether you are fighting for a takedown or struggling to get off the bottom.
For an MMA fighter, it could mean controlling the center of the ring or cage so your opponent can’t back you into a corner.
Another way of looking at the idea is to see it literally.
One of my former wrestling coaches used to say, “If you get on that head enough, that rear-end will follow.”
I like to teach my students the concept that where the head goes, the body follows.
The inverse of this is true as well. If my opponent is passing my guard and trying to get to side mount but I keep pushing his head (not the hip, that’s a different scenario), then he can’t get his chest to me to secure the side position.
The next time you are sparring, rolling, or find yourself in a fight, remember to “press down the pillow.”
Get on that head and move him instead of him moving you.
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