Music can have a powerful affect on human beings. We are all moved by music. Probably your favorite movies are your favorite movies, in part, because of the movie’s soundtrack. Think of how diminished your enjoyment of such movies would be without their accompanying music. The right music, at the right time, can make us weep, laugh, scared, energized, relaxed, etc.
But what has this to do with BJJ? Well, depending on where you train, there may or may not be music playing in the background, and whether you realize it or not, it does affect you as you train, and it’s affect can be either positive or negative.
There have been numerous scientific studies done on the influence of music on exercise, one of the most prominent being the research done by Costas Karageorghis, a Ph.D. from London’s Brunel University School of Sport and Education. According to Karageorghis, music can affect our exercise in the following ways: 1) disassociation, 2) arousal regulation, 3) synchronization, 4) acquisition of motor skills and 5) attainment of flow. (see Costas Karageorghis and David-Lee Priest, Music in Sport and Exercise : An Update on Research and Application)
As a practitioner of BJJ, number 5 really caught my eye. But let me break down each of these affects for you.
Can Music Enhance Your BJJ?
According to his research, during what he calls ‘sub-maximal exercise’, that is, when you are exercising at less than 100% of your capacity, when you are going, say, 50-75%, music can take your mind off of your body’s sensations of fatigue and effort, reducing tension, the sense of discomfort, and instead creating a positive mood, invigorating you, causing you to feel sensations of happiness while exerting yourself.
When going at moderate intensity, the right music can reduce your perceived exertion by up to %10, and while at high levels of intensity it does not reduce feelings of exertion, it can make the experience more enjoyable and pleasurable.
Now, most of us likely don’t need music to help us enjoy exerting ourselves when training most aspects of BJJ; probably the last thing we desire or need is to be disassociated from our workout. But there are some aspects of training where this might help (see below).
Karageorghis also argues that music can alter “emotional and physiological arousal and can therefore be used prior to competition or training as a stimulant, or as a sedative to calm ‘up’or anxious feelings. Music this provides arousal regulation fostering an optimal mindset.”
In layman’s terms, this means that music can amp you up or calm you down. Again, listening to the right music before training, music with a up-tempo, can help if you feel tired or drained from sitting in a cubicle, dealing with clients or customers, hammering nails, or otherwise going about the daily grind. Likewise, if you are about ready to compete at a tournament or roll with professor, and you are feeling very anxious, listening to calming music might be the ticket. It also helps to relax and settle you post-roll.
Some guys come to training way too amped, if you know what I mean. Perhaps a bit of classical music during rolls might sooth the beast a bit and prevent them from hurting themselves or others.
Studies on music and exercise have shown that “the synchronization of music with repetitive exercise is associated with increased levels of work output.”Better, longer, faster, like the bionic man.
It’s all about the beat. Think about the drills that we do in BJJ. Repetitive movements. Drill to win, you know. Listening to music with a steady beat, something up-tempo but not too up-tempo, can “regulate movement and thus prolong performance.”These studies show that “synchronizing movements with music also enables athletes to perform more efficiently, again resulting in greater endurance.”
Tie this in with ‘disassociation’and you have a powerful mix. Drills might be the least enjoyable aspect of our training, yet in many ways perhaps the most important in that they ‘drill’ the movements into our muscle memories. Listening to the right music can help us better enjoy the drill and enable us do them longer and, with the right beat, more efficiently.
Acquisition of Motor Skills
“Scientific studies have shown that the application of purposefully selected music can have a positive effect on stylistic movement in sport.”This ties in with what we said about drills above. Not only can music help you do the drills longer and more efficiently, it can also help in another way to drill the movements into you.
Imagine trying to learn dance steps without music. For those of us lacking in the area of rhythm, that would be quite a clumsy, pathetic sight. Music can add rhythm to the movement, and as rhythm gets into you, so also the dance steps. The beat of the music can support the repetitive movement of the body, helping you to develop movement patterns, the body acting in harmony with the rhythm. In other words, music can help both your mind and your body remember, really locking the movement in.
This, combined with disassociation and arousal regulation and produces a workout that is efficient and enjoyable. As we drill the dance steps of BJJ, the guard pass drills, shrimping, guard recovery drills, take-down drills, etc., why not give ourselves a rhythmic advantage?
Attainment of Flow
All BJJ practitioners, if they understand BJJ at all, aim at the ability to flow when rolling. Flow rolling is not just rolling light, at say, 50%, transitioning smoothly from one position to another; it is also the kind of roll where you attain a state of mind and body where you are moving with minimal conscious effort, where you are moving on auto-pilot as it were.
At such times we feel as though we were “in the zone,”not even thinking about about the next move, the next position. Action without thought, flowing like water. This is the optimal state to be in while rolling, and usually only the higher belts have experienced it. Flow rolling is where one becomes totally immersed in the moment, in the roll, and the one who attains it finds it to be the most enjoyable BJJ experience.
Scientists who have studied the effects of music on athletes and exercise have found that music may indeed help in the attainment of flow states. While I could not find any examples of the type of music used in the studies, I can only imagine that music with continued, steady beats, something like trance, would be ideal. But, then again, it is likely very subjective, depending upon the person listening. For me it might be Mozart’s Requiem, for you it might be Enter Sandman by Metallica.
Conclusion and Caution
Music is powerful. It can powerfully affect our training. Above we mentioned many of the positive effects it can have, but there are some negative ones as well.
As stated several times above, the right type of music at the right time makes all of the difference. Because music affects us so strongly, we need to take caution when listening to it while training. Since it can cause a degree of disassociation, we might not be as attuned to what our body is telling us. Our body is saying, “Stop! We’ve reached our limit.”but the music plays on, and so we train on, and that is the time when injuries can occur.
Or we might be listening to death metal, amping us up a bit too much, making us take unnecessary risks, use too much strength, or come at our training partner too aggressively.
We can also become dependent upon the music, like a drug, such that without it we cannot function as well. This is a danger. Music can serve as an aid, but if it threatens to overpower us, like an addiction, becoming a crutch without which we cannot function, it might be better to turn it off and just train.
Understanding its power, we need to use caution and discernment when choosing the music we will be listening to when training, and to know when not using music might be the best ticket. Sometimes, the best music of all might just be the sound of professor’s voice as he or she shouts helpful instructions from the sidelines.