Things have changed. I do not think we can go back to the way things were before COVID-19. I cannot begin to fathom the new world we will step into one day when the quarantine is lifted, but let me imagine what the new grappling world will look like.
The word on the street is that things cannot really approach normal until we have a vaccine. And the most aggressive timeline for a vaccine could be 18 months. That means the earliest we could expect to even expect to be in large gatherings might not be until Halloween 2021. Even if there is a vaccine, there will not be enough for everyone and rationing will have to occur to get the vaccine to some of us but not others. So 2021 is not looking better than 2020, we should gear up for 2022. I know people are buzzing about opening things again soon, but I have to think it’s overly optimistic since we have no contact tracking, minimal testing, and no vaccine.
As far as we know, COVID-19 is a respiratory virus that is spread by droplets in saliva that are discharged through breathing, talking, coughing, sneezing and can be passed from direct inhalation or from contact with the virus and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. So considering the amount of human contact and breathing on one another that occurs during grappling, it is a very dangerous proposition. Furthermore, we believe the incubation period to be about two weeks. So let’s say I have my one super friend and training partner and he or she comes into contact with an infected person and contracts the virus. They might not show symptoms for two weeks and we could be rolling that whole time and then they show symptoms and then I show symptoms and then we have to go back and consider every person that we had contact with in the two weeks prior to the symptoms. Forget about ringworm, COVID-19 is going to really screw up grappling around the world.
That being said, having a single partner that you train with will likely be the safest way to continue to train in the future. Roommates and relatives are the best bet because you live together, but those of us that do not have live-in training partners will have to create some bizarre monogamous grappling relationships to continue to train.
If that is what grappling looks like for the next few years, then what does the jiujitsu school look like, if anything? I know my professor is considering allowing pairs of people to come in and train together for an hour at a time. The single training partner model is going to be really challenging but it is better than nothing. Can we scale that up in to small classes? Potentially, yes. But here’s an interesting conundrum, what about the uke? Will the instructor only demo and train with his uke? If we follow the basic idea that it’s safest to have only one partner, then that’s what will likely happen.
If the schools are going to have limited one-on-one training and very small group classes, that means a lot of students are going to be displaced. So a lot of people are going to be training at home. I’m sure many people have already started training at home.
Let’s look at the home school scenario. The demand for video instruction during this quarantine will be much much higher and continue to grow if more people opt to just train from home. You and your buddy in the basement drilling moves from a video instructional will be the most cost effective (and safest) way to get your training in. For between $500 and $1500 you can buy mats, a big screen, a grappling dummy, and a library of instructional videos. You can split that cost with your training buddy and you will recoup the cost of your average dojo membership in a few months. If group classes are limited then home training will become the most attractive option.
How can a jiujitsu school compete with the home school if group classes are no longer a viable option? The thing that videos do not offer that is essential to someone’s development is instructor feedback. Live instruction is far superior to video instruction because the instructor can give feedback to the students either in response to what they see or in response to the student’s direct questions. A student watching a video might not even know they’re doing something wrong and since there is no instructor to give feedback it is easy to spin your wheels doing stuff poorly or incorrectly for years. The BJJ instructor that thrives in the new world, will have to be very good at coaching their students remotely. Giving precise feedback and instruction over the internet is challenging enough and will extremely difficult in large Zoom type classes where your view of the class is subdivided into many tiny screens on your device. Chances are that live online classes will have to be limited to a number that the instructor can effectively coach or the participants will get frustrated and not feel they are getting value beyond what they could get from an instructional video. Also remote instruction will be hindered by the technology on both ends. Coaching from your phone will not be as effective as coaching from your iPad will not be as effective as coaching from a 40” screen. Also students rolling in dark basements with their phones propped against a shoe might not as much coaching as those that have better lighting and equipment which will make the coach’s job easier.
Remote private lessons will fill a need for both the student and the teacher. Students can get the majority of their techniques from a video can check in with their teacher weekly or monthly for a tune up. Furthermore, they may be able to submit some live footage for feedback. In the new world, a BJJ instructor should position themselves less as the purveyors of techniques but as the editor that can clean things up in post production. I imagine a world where two buddies go in on some mats and a large screen tv and spend a couple of hours a night drilling from instructional videos and live rolling. After a couple of weeks they sit down and list all the moves that they are still struggling with and book a private with their live instructor. The instructor analyzes and gives feedback and helps them tighten up the techniques they struggled with. This is not ideal but it is likely how a lot of jiujitsu is going to go down for a while.
I imagine many schools will continue to run online classes much like there traditional BJJ classes. Unfortunately those do not translate well to the online format. The typical BJJ class starts with a warmup which everyone would rather skip. You never do warmups on instructional videos, but that doesn’t mean a class shouldn’t do them. Working out or warming up together even online can be fun and helpful. Everybody practicing the same moves all at the same time can build some camaraderie. Leading the class through some exercises or stretches can be beneficial as well add some solo or partner drilling. After the warmup, there is the technique portion of class where the professor shows a technique and then you all practice on each other while the teacher presumably walks around and makes corrections. If you are teaching a purely online class, then the teacher will still need an uke to demonstrate on. It may make sense going forward that small group classes are simultaneous streamed online so students training from home can feel like they’re in a real class. This potentially cuts down labor and time and has a big upside if you can simultaneously have local people and remote people training with you at the same time. After the technique portion of class is randori, where people live spar with each other for several rounds. As we discussed this may only be rounds with a single person. The downside is that remotely it is hard to watch multiple matches at once and give any coaching or feedback. I think if classes continue to be held online, the randori will get set aside for more drilling.
What we have been focusing on initially on video platforms is group classes that focus on accessory elements that lend themselves to better performance on the mats. The initial offerings online have been breathing, meditation, flexibility, mobility, strength, conditioning, jiujitsu specific moves, and flows. These classes add a lot of value to the BJJ practitioner that always says, “I should work on _____, but I just don’t have the time.” Well now they have the time to work on that stuff and they should. So these offerings are filling a gap for many people.
Despite the online format being less desirable than live classes, they offer some benefits. They provide community and allow people to see each other and catch up. The classes provide a sense of normalcy in a time where many people feel like they are set adrift. Online classes are not restricted geographically. People that lived too far away from a school to be consistent can now easily click a link and join no matter the physical distance. This will potential allow greater access to more and better teachers as you can shop around the world for an online jiujitsu instructor.
The big names in jiujitsu that already have their online schools, have a leg up in this new world. However, that does not mean there’s no room for you and your online school. On the contrary, we know online jiujitsu schools can work and there is plenty of room on the internet for more. I think what we will start to see in the future is not so much the innovative techniques that separate school, but rather the innovative teaching. By and large, the vast majority of Brazilian Jiujitsu is all taught the same way. I think there is lot of room for improvement on how it’s taught and we will see more and more of that as teachers have to make their way in the post COVID-19 world.
Category Archives: Jiu-Jitsu
Things have changed. I do not think we can go back to the way things were before COVID-19. I cannot begin to fathom the new world we will step into one day when the quarantine is lifted, but let me imagine what the new grappling world will look like.
Nobody bothered to ask me, but if they did ask me, here’s what I would tell them: Get in really good shape if you want to compete. A jiujitsu competition is not just about who has the best jiujitsu skills, it’s about who is willing to work harder to win. The worst way to lose in my opinion is to gas out because you were not in fighting shape. There are lots of ways to train but if I was going to initially assess your readiness, I would look at these four workouts first and see how your performed. These are just three workouts that I have frequently used to train and assess athletes and there are many more that I could choose. Let’s start here. These workouts are relatively low skill and low weight but pack a punch and are useful to gauge how ready you are for the physical and mental challenges of competition. First learn to beat a barbell that isn’t fighting back before going against a live opponent.
When you enter a tournament you know based on your belt level how long your matches will last. A white belt match is 5 minutes and a black belt match is 10 minutes (different organizations will have different time limits). You will know your weight and your opponents should be within a certain weight range. You probably will not know how many matches you will have until the day of because brackets are often not set until they have all the participants registered and checked in. Ask around and get a sense if you are in a stacked division or a light division. Obviously it is better to be over-prepared for more matches. On average most people have about 4 matches at local tournaments. Be prepared. Also in terms of strength you should be able to back squat and deadlift a barbell that weighs the same or more than you for multiple reps. You should have multiple pull-ups and dips.
“Fight Gone Bad”
In the early days of CrossFit, Coach Glassman created a workout for BJ Penn to prepare him for the UFC. The workout was called “Fight Gone Bad” and it was as follows:
3 5-minute rounds of: (5 rounds if he was preparing for a championship fight).
- 1 minute of Wallballs, 20lbs 10ft target
- 1 minute of Sumo Deadlift High Pulls, 75 lbs
- 1 minute of Box Jumps, 20”
- 1 minute of Push Press, 75lbs
- 1 minute of Rowing for Calories
- 1 minute rest between rounds.
The score was the total number of reps (and calories on the rower) added up over all three rounds. What is great about this workout is that by doing the movements correctly you are forced to do a minimum amount of work for each rep and the more reps you get overall indicates your ability put out power for the duration of a fight.
“The Death Race”
5 rounds for time of:
- 15 Calories Bike
- 10 Burpees
This is a “gas pedal” workout: you step on the gas and go! There is no rest. You have to hit this hard and fast. Getting this workout done in under 7 minutes will require you to go to a dark place. If you want to be physically and mentally prepared for a competition, strive to do this workout as fast as possible.
“StrongFit Conditioning Benchmark”
Originally this workout was written as 8 minutes with a 140lb sandbag. I suggest you set the clock to match your rank level: 5 minutes for white, 6 for blue, etc. The weight should be 60-70% of your body weight. So a 200lb black belt should be carrying a 120-140lb sandbag for 10 minutes. This is just a simple and painful workout that will test your fortitude.
Pick up the bag and bear hug it or Zercher it and do 5, below-parallel squats, walk 50ft and turn around and do 5 more squats and walk back. Repeat this as many times as you can during the time. The less you drop the bag the better. The more rounds you do the better. An average of a round per minute is pretty good. You want to exceed that by as much as possible. Hugging a heavy sandbag is a good facsimile for grappling with another human of similar size.
CrossFit Open Workout 12.1
This is by far the simplest workout you can do to determine your readiness. The original workout is simple: perform as many burpees as you can in 7 minutes. In its original form the burpees were done to a target six inches above the athlete’s max reach. This dramatically impacts your score. I suggest you modify this to a time that corresponds to your belt level: 5 minutes for white belt, 6 for blue, etc. I also recommend you try it with and without the target. An average of about 12 burpees per minute with a target (and 15 without a target) is excellent. If you can move at that pace it will be hard for someone to out work your during your match.
There are lots of ways to train and there is no guaranty that being stronger or faster or doing more burpees will get you a medal. But being in good shape gives you confidence it gives you a leg up on your opponent. It’s one less thing you have to worry about when you’re on the mat. Go work fucking harder.
Much of learning jiujitsu is learning how to react in specific scenarios. If he does this, I do this. If he does that, then I do this. After all it is a fighting sport and our actions depend on our opponent’s reactions and vice versa. As a teacher of the gentle art, I have to remember to teach both sides of the coin. I often see my students fail to perform a move successfully due to their training partner not creating the proper scenario. That is a failure on my part to adequately teach each player how to be a super friend. This means I have to teach people that they are BOTH drilling all the time. Often students think that drilling means one person is doing the move and the other person is totally passive and resting. That’s never the case. In jiujitsu both participants are always participating all the time. One must be a superfriend for his or her training partners and actively create the scenario for the moves to work. If you do not take the shot, I cannot adequately learn to sprawl. I do not sprawl, then you cannot learn how to transition to the defense to the sprawl. Everyone must play their part all the time. That is what being a superfriend is about.
One of the keys to mastering something is deliberate practice. One of the hallmarks of deliberate practice is instant feedback and error correction. If I’m coaching you on back squats and I cheer you on for the session and then while you are cooling down and stretching, I mention that you weren’t squatting deep enough and that your weight was too far forward in your toes, that information is of little value to you. It’s feedback but it is delivered far too late for you to act on it. You will have to wait until the next session and will likely forget. Immediate feedback is what I need to give you as a coach. I need to tell you during your set of squats to go deeper and to shift your weight back into your heels. Somewhere during our session you should be making these corrections if you want to eventually improve at the squat.
If I’m learning a new piece of music, what I do not do is start at the beginning and just try to play the piece of music from start to finish over and over again trying to get it right. Waiting until I get all the way to the end before going back and fixing mistakes is ineffective. I need to break the piece into chunks–I learn a phrase or measure at a time. By chunking it into small pieces, it is manageable and I can repeat each phrase over and over until I get it right before moving on to the next phrase. The time between recognizing errors, also known as feedback, and correcting errors is crucial to efficient, quick progress.
In jiujitsu, like music, there is instantaneous feedback when you make a mistake. However, most of us do not practice rapid and immediate error correction. We make a mistake and suddenly our partner has a good position on us and is on the attack. We have a constant stream of problems coming at us that we have to solve for better or worse. And by the time we get to the end of a match, we can hardly remember all the mistakes that we made. If we do roll again, the nature of live training is that we might not ever end up in the same situation again for an extended period of time so there is no guaranty of being able to correct any of the errors from past matches.
What we should be striving for is more drilling that allows for rapid error correction through chunking. One way that we do this already is positional drilling. If you start in the juji-gatami or spider web position, you are effectively chunking your training into one small aspect of the game and you can work on that repeatedly and make corrections each time. I suspect we could even do better than relying just on positional drilling for our chunking. We work cooperatively to develop the discipline to train with our partners and agree to have the discipline to stop and redo parts of the roll. Imagine if you could replay the moment right before you got swept and you could practice the defense. You want to create a Groundhogs Day situation like the movie where Bill Murray relives the same day over and over again for the whole movie until he finally gets it right.
You should find a Super Friend and roll with them for a while with an understanding that at some point during the roll you can call a “do-over.” When that happens you rewind and start over from before the mistake and you try to fix it. You might go over it for a couple of minutes until you feel you have a handle on it and then you continue rolling live until one of you calls “do-over” again. Make up the rules you want but come to an agreement with your Super Friend that you will help each other get better and clean up your mistakes.
Some of you are saying, “I don’t want to have to stop in the middle of every roll.” You do not have to do this every roll. I recommend trying to do this once in a while in order to clean up some of your common errors.
Combat sports differ from many other sports in that proper training and development is based on working with live, resisting training partners. Thus it is important to learn how to be a good training partner and how to help teach others to be good training partners. A great training partner is a Super Friend and your ultimate success and the success of your team is based on creating a league of Super Friends that help and support each other.
If grappling dummies were the best way to practice and drill, the elite BJJ academies would have 20 or 30 grappling dummies and classes would be taught on dummies and everyone would drill with their own grappling dummy. There is a reason why that doesn’t happen. It’s because BJJ is based on real sparring with a live opponent that is trying to negate what you are doing while simultaneously imposing their own will on you. Thus an inanimate grappling dummy is limited in what it can offer with respect to real time feedback and live, human partners continue be the best choice for training.
Have you ever noticed that a lot of higher belts will only want to train with certain people? There could be many reasons for this but I often find that myself and other higher belts have a short list of Super Friends: training partners that know how to drill and roll and can help them improve. When left to our own devices, we seek out our Super Friends to train with and try to find nice ways to avoid training with partners that do not act like Super Friends. Our long-term success and enjoyment in the sport of jiujitsu is going to depend heavily on our ability to find people to roll with that will challenge us and help us learn, grow, and improve. The job of the instructor is not only to teach how to perform techniques, but also to teach people how to be good partners and, ultimately, to create a culture of Super Friends. Imagine if we could create a culture where everyone was a good and conscientious Super Friend? Then we could have many more good training partners and create more opportunities to roll with different people. A league of Super Friends is a team committed to helping each other improve.
What is the point of drilling and training and sparring? The goal is always improvement. Biologically and physiologically we improve via adaptation to stimulus. A stimulus has to be sufficient to drive adaptation; it has to be hard enough to cause organism to begin the adaptation process. When training with a barbell the load is the stimulus. We adapt in proportion to the load on the bar. If I never add load to the bar, I will never get stronger. If I add too much to the bar and cannot lift it, then I will never get stronger. The way barbell training generally works is that I perform a number of reps and sets at a challenging load. That’s the stimulus. I go home and recover and adapt–get stronger. The next time I go to the gym, I have to increase the stimulus. I add more weight or do more sets and reps. I continue in this manner over time and I get stronger. Our BJJ training should also follow a similar process of gradually increasing the stimulus.
The problem is that people are not like barbells. It is natural to throttle up our intensity when our ego is threatened. It is natural to be too polite and not give enough constructive feedback. It is easy to forget our job as Super Friend and just do what makes us look good or to just roll without focus on helping myself and others really improve. The problem that faces most jiujiteiros is that during class, you spend half the class drilling with minimal resistance and the other half of class rolling with maximal resistance. Essentially you go from no weight on the bar to more weight than you can lift. Neither of those scenarios is a an appropriate stimulus. Thus, unfortunately, it takes a lot longer to improve than it should.
Most seasoned practitioners solve this problem in one way, they seek out partners that are at different levels. A purple belt might warm up with a white belt and then have progressively more difficult rolls with blue belts of various levels and finish with some rolls with other purple (or higher) belts. The problem there is that the seasoned purple belt is getting a lot of out of this process but the white and blue belts are not. This is creates a system that rewards those that stay in the system long enough to rise to a certain level, but slows the process of the white and blue belts that are used as grappling dummies for the higher belts. What we should strive for is a system where everyone learns and progresses quickly from the white belt level all the way through black belt.
The answer is learning how to drill progressively. It is becoming more and more clear to me as an instructor, that I have to take responsibility for creating the culture of Super Friends. I have to teach people how to drill and be better partners for each other. It’s not something that comes naturally. Before I can do that, I need to at least define what the characteristics of a Super Friend are.
In the dojo, your partner’s job is to provide the stimulus. If your partner does not provide enough stimulus, you will not improve. If your partner provides too much stimulus you will not improve. A true Super Friend provides enough stimulus to challenge you but allows you to succeed.
The job of the Super Friend:
- Provide the appropriate stimulus
- Allow you to be successful
- Give important and timely feedback
- Keep you safe
The appropriate stimulus is a moving target but let’s look at our barbell analogy again. If your training session requires squatting 3 sets of 5 reps at 225lbs. You would need to warm up before putting 225lbs on your back. You do a couple of sets with the empty bar. Then you would probably do 3 or 4 warm up sets progressively going up in weight from the empty bar. Your warmup sets might be at 95lbs, 135lbs, and 185lbs before loading up 225 and starting your work sets.
If I was to draw a parallel to drilling in BJJ, let’s take the example of move like the step-around armbar from side control where I underhook the far-side arm and walk around my partner and sit down into juji-gatami on the other side from where I started. It’s a fairly basic move, but let’s say that’s the move of the day in class. If I really wanted to train it and improve it to jgj, I would need enough repetitions to get a stimulus and I would also need enough resistance to force me to adapt and get better. In an ideal world, me and my Super Friend would take turns drilling the move. Let’s use the same rep scheme as our barbell example. Maybe my Super Friend and I do two sets of five reps of the walk around armbar with minimal resistance. We basically just go through the movement without any resistance just to get our bodies familiar with it and to warm up. Then we perform three more sets of five reps each with increasing resistance. Now being a Super Friend I gradually increase how hard I resist. I also take these reps to point out where my partner is maybe missing some details or feels loose or off balance. This gives each of a chance to make some adjustments while gradually increasing the resistance. Finally, we might finish with three more sets of five reps but these sets and reps are performed at closer to full speed and resistance, but not so much that my partner can’t be successful. Think back to the barbell example, if I loaded 315lbs on the barbell instead of 225, I might only get 1 rep or maybe no reps, or get injured. That’s not a good training session. When drilling I have to learn how to give enough resistance to make it hard for my partner but not impossible. I have to learn to fight hard, but not too hard. To move faster, but not too fast.
The terrible partner archetype. There are a couple of classic examples of terrible training partners. Do your best to not fall into either of these categories and then see if you can gradually become a Super Friend. The Ragdoll. This is the partner that just lays there limp and doesn’t resist at all and doesn’t even try to hold their body in position. These partners are extremely frustrating because they offer no resistance and you cannot even perform the most basic move on them.
The Ragdoll is most often seen in very young kids and young women as they may have no prior experience wrestling with people and, thus, have no idea how to behave or hold themselves in positions. It is more frustrating when adult males can’t seem to sit up straight in your guard, regardless, the Ragdoll results from an extreme lack of physical confidence, strength, and experience. Thus very rudimentary prerequisite strength and confidence must be build so that they can just hold themselves in basic positions. No amount of yelling is going to get people there. Extreme patience is required to develop that strength, confidence, and experience and get these Ragdolls to be effective training partners. These people will often undergo extreme changes off the mat as they acquire physical strength and capacity that they have never known before.
The Immovable Object. The Yang to the Ragdoll’s Yin is the Immovable Object. This is the guy that no matter what you tell him, will not let you drill on him. Every thing you try is countered with brute force. This person has no concept of how drilling is supposed to work. They come in and are all ego and refuse to let anything happen to them. The immovable object must be educated on the job of a training partner and you must explain to them that in order to fully learn the techniques they need to experience them from both sides. Some of these Immovable Objects respond well to a good ass-kicking, especially by someone smaller and weaker than them. It quickly opens their eyes to the effectiveness of jiujitsu. However, often that usually just drives them and their big egos out the door. Creating a team culture where people understand that although this is an individual sport, we train as a team and we need the team in order to be our best. Once they realize where they fit into the team, they can start to let go of the ego and start being an asset to the team.
Actions are better than words. Most people in BJJ understand the team dynamic and understand the need for Super Friends. What they do not understand is the most effective way to be a Super Friend is through your actions not through your words. Here’s the classic example, a lot of guys in BJJ will gladly show you a move, or show you a defense to a move, or stop and tell you what you’re doing wrong after you roll. That is almost always done with the best of intentions. It’s a sign of gratitude and friendship when, after we roll, I leave you with some good tips on how to train better next time. If we took that same intention and applied it to our drilling and rolling and being a Super Friend we could make even faster progress as a team. The best Super Friends are the ones that meet you where you are and push you just past your comfort zone.
How to be a Super Friend:
- Be conscious and aware when you are applying the moves and, especially, when they are being applied to you. Pay attention to the details.
- Work cooperatively to learn how to do the moves correctly. Try to figure out where you are struggling and ask questions. If you feel where your partner is struggling help them.
- Meet your partner where they are. If they are new, do not resist too much. Let them learn. If they make a mistake, point it out and let them repeat the move until they stop making the mistake.
- Try not to spaz out. Be mindful of what you are doing and what your goal is when rolling. Do not try to kill your partner. Try to implement moves that you know without trying to muscle everything.
- Perform the correct reactions. For example, post when your partner tries to sweep you or react by lifting your head after they try to snap your head down.
- Coach your partner as you are performing the drill and let her know what she is doing right and wrong. When they are making mistakes help them fix it. Slow down and do more reps. When they seem to have it, that’s when you gradually increase your resistance.
- Learn to modulate resistance and speed gradually. Most people only have two gears: no resistance and all the resistance. Super Friends play at different speeds to meet their partner’s needs. It’s so hard to go from easy drilling to full-out rolling. Learn to roll at a moderate intensity to allow both of you to improve.
- Learn how to stop in the middle of a roll and rewind and do it over. Super Friends will tap you and then show you the mistake you made and rewind the roll back to before the tap and let you practice the escape. That way common mistakes do not become permanent habits.
Start to view training as a cooperative process, as a learning process more than just a competition. One of the keys to effective training and improving lies in finding the appropriate stimulus. Find ways to improve those around you and they will improve you as well. Create a league of Super Friends to train with and become the best you can be.
For years I was guilty of saying things like “that technique sucks” and “this technique is the right way to do this.” I still catch myself doing that from time to time. What I want to impart to you is that you should try to limit that thinking. Thinking of techniques as merely “good or bad” or “right or wrong” is limiting your understanding of techniques. Techniques are merely the moves or positions used to accomplish a task. They should first be evaluated on whether they are getting the job done. Ask: “does it work?”
If you watch people applying the same move at different levels of competition, you’ll see great variance with respect to the how the move is done successfully. Thus given two techniques that both accomplish the same task, the one that does so with less output of energy is the more efficient and therefore “better” technique.
“Methods are many and principles are few. Methods always change, but principles never do.”
Because you are going against a live opponent, within a single jiujitsu technique are a multitude of problems that must be solved along the way to the final outcome. To say something like the armbar from the guard is a single technique belies the truth that a single technique is in reality a multitude of solutions to problems that arise when you undergo a desired task. That means that even a technique that begins and ends the same may look drastically different in the middle as the opponent has provided a different response to the same attack.
As you advance, start to dig deeper into the concepts and context under the techniques and seek to understand how parts of the techniques are solutions to various problems. See problems and solutions in the details. Ask yourself: “why should I put my hand here?”; “what if the opponent does this?”; and “how can I prevent him from doing that?” Open your eyes to the deeper level and try to understand what underlies the techniques.
Read more about methods and principles here.
You want to start lifting but don’t know where to begin.
Do you want to be stronger? Do you want to have healthier bones, joints and muscles? Do you want to increase your metabolism and improve your body composition? Do you want to dominate people on the mat? Then you want to start strength training and lifting them weights. #gainz
Maybe you are a jiujitiero or maybe not. Maybe you have lifted weights before or maybe you haven’t. Maybe you have taken a long hiatus from the gym or maybe you’ve never been in a gym before. Whatever the case, you are looking to get stronger but don’t know where to begin. Here’s a simple, quick, and effective program for you to get you back on the #gainztrain.
The general rule to getting stronger is that you have to lift heavy three to five days per week at loads at or above 80% of your one rep max (1RM). However, rules were made to be broken! I have found that most jiujitsu players find it challenging to do a linear progression program like 5/3/1 or Starting Strength on top of their regular jiujitsu training.
They complain that they are simply too tired and sore to roll after a long lifting session. That makes sense because those lifting programs are for people that are only lifting and not doing a second sport.
So I want to dodge that whole problem with a program that will allow you to start lifting and getting results without derailing your jiujitsu training.
What I recommend is a few sets of 8×8. If you google “German volume training” or go to Thundrbro.com you will find lots of cool articles and lots of variations of this program. But most of the articles on it will prescribe this as a high volume training for intermediate to advanced athletes. Recently I rediscovered this through my friends at Thundrbro.com and started modifying it for myself and a few of my athletes and love the way it works.
I like this method of training because: 1) it builds strength; 2) it builds muscle; 3) it strengthens connective tissues; 4) it is fast and efficient; and 5) it uses lighter weights. The reason you are using lighter weights is that you are doing longer sets, you are under tension the entire time, and you are doing a lot of eccentric work. This creates a huge training stimulus. I additionally like starting newer lifters with lighter weights and having them move slower because they can focus on the quality of their movement more. Beginners love to rush, this program does not allow rushing. The lighter weights means you do not have to do a lot of warm up sets to get to your work weights. A quick general warm up and a couple of sets of the exercise as you work toward your weight for the day is plenty and you can get right to work.
Here is all you have to do. You will take an exercise and perform 8 sets of 8 repetitions. Each repetition is performed with a 3 second negative and a slight pause. Take approximately 30 seconds of rest between sets. If you do this correctly, each set should take between 30 and 40 seconds. Sets can start every minute or every 70 seconds. The total time for the 8 sets (64 reps) is under 9 minutes which makes for an intense session. If you do two exercises per lifting day, you will be able to finish in 30 minutes with a warm up and cool down. That’s efficient. I recommend 2 or 3 sessions per week. That is plenty on top of a normal jiujitsu training schedule.
You have to work 3 different movement functions: squatting, pushing, and pulling. These are the three biggest movement functions that use the most muscle and have the most general carry over to all athletics. Every session should include a lower body squat or lunge and at least one upper body pull or push. You can always add more, but try to carve out enough time for two 8-minute sets. Start with the legs first and then do the upper body second. But it’s not the end of the world if you switch the order because you’re waiting for someone to finish doing curls in the squat rack.
I try to rotate through different exercises each time I do a session: front squat with kettlebells, front squat with barbell, back squat, sandbag bearhug squat, weighted step ups, rear foot elevated lunges, etc. It’s more important that you do the exercise well than you just keep trying new exercises. So get familiar with an exercise and how much load you can handle for 8×8 before you switch to a new exercise. It is extremely common to start the workout with weight that seems manageable only to find out about half way through that you can’t finish all 8 sets. You can either rest and reset, or you can chalk it up to a learning experience and come back the next day and choose a lighter weight. Better to start too light and build some confidence than grind through the hardest workout your first day in the gym and get too sore to return the next day.
If you are an experienced lifter, you should be targeting 40-60% of your 1RM on your 8×8. If you are new you should start light, work on your form and increase weights gradually every time you cycle back to a lift you have done before. On this program you add weight to your lifts once every cycle. The lower body lifts cycle every 4 weeks and you add 5 to 10 pounds per lift. The upper body lifts cycle every 3 weeks but only increase by 2 to 5 pounds. If you are an experienced lifter, cycle through program for 8 weeks and then go back to lifting heavier again. If you are a novice, try to find your one rep max on each lift after 8 weeks.
Obviously, it would be better to have access to a gym and some weights but if you are at home and only have a kettlebell or pair of dumbbells you can make it work. If the dumbbell you have is too light to challenge your legs in the squat, then do lunges or step ups so you have to lift the weight with only one leg. That will make the weight seem twice as heavy. Likewise, if you have to press or pull with one arm at a time to challenge yourself, then do that. Stop procrastinating and go get swole.
Here are two example days.
0:00-5:00 Warmup with some squats and pushups and a quick run or bike.
5:00-13:00 8 sets of 8 Goblet Squats with a 3-second negative and 1-second pause at the bottom. Start every set on the minute.
15:00-23:00 8 sets of 8 Bent Over Barbell Rows with a 3-second negative and a 1-second pause at the top. Start every set on the minute.
Do as many burpees as you can in 5 minutes.
0:00-5:00 warmup with some squats, pushups and a quick run or bike.
5:00-13:00 8 sets of 8 sandbag bearhug squats with a 3-second negative and a 1-second pause at the bottom.
15:00-23:00 8 sets of 8 dumbbell bench press with a 3-second negative and a 1-second pause at the bottom.
25:00-30:00 Grab the heaviest dumbbell or kettlebell you have and do a 1-arm farmer walk until you have to put it down, then switch hands and walk until you have to put it down. Continue for 5 minutes.
What is with the 5 minute piece at the end? Well it’s a good habit to start getting in some conditioning while you are tired. At first it will be exhausting but eventually you will condition your body to be able to keep pushing when you’re fatigued. After a few weeks of this program you will notice the difference on the mat. You will be stronger and faster and able to roll longer without getting as tired.
Those of us that lift and roll, i.e. strength train in addition to jiu-jitsu, don’t see what the big deal is. Those that don’t lift and roll, find the concept baffling and the actual practice of it, confounding. The basic complaint is that after a lifting session, the athlete complains that they are too tired to roll or feel weak when they do this is in addition to complaining about the general soreness. The other thing to note is that people that lift and roll also feel sore and tired and weaker when they roll, but they do it anyway.
So why do it? Lifting, done correctly, makes you stronger. Being stronger helps your jiu-jitsu. Period. Training against a larger opponent requires more strength than training against a smaller opponent regardless of the technique. Every move you do you need to apply more force to in order to move that opponent. So being stronger will help. Additionally, strength training will increase the size of the muscles but also help build the tendons that attach the muscles to the bones. Stronger tendons and other connective tissues make your joints more resistant to injury. Strength training also increases your bone density which decreases the risk of fractures. In other words, strength training is protective. It makes your body more resilient and allows you to have greater longevity in the sport.
Here is the common problem. It’s similar to the New Year’s Resolution problem. You get all excited to go back to the gym for the first time in forever and you jump on every machine and do every exercise that you can think of. Then a day or two later you are so sore you can hardly walk much less train. Then you avoid the gym for another week or two and repeat the process and then you quit going to the gym. We see this play out every January when the gyms are packed with people and then in February it’s empty.
What you should do, especially if you are looking to train jiujitsu, is under train. What is under training? It’s going in to the gym and doing much less than you think you need to get any results. When you start training after a long lay off, the excitement to go back and hit it hard is great. But you should be thinking about consistency. Make a commitment to go to the gym two or three days a week and try to spend minimal time and effort there for the first two to four weeks. Just make going to the gym a habit before you try to cram in a bunch of exercise. Over time you can increase the volume and intensity of your workouts, but don’t even worry about that until just showing up is a habit.
For example, let’s say I used to be able to squat over 300lbs when I was training hard. If I go into the gym with the idea that I can still squat over 300lbs even though I haven’t trained in 6 months, I’m going to hurt myself or the very least set myself up for disappointment. Instead, I would start very humbly and load the bar up to 95lbs and do several sets of 5 to 10 reps and call it a day. The next time maybe I would stay at 95lbs or maybe go up to 105lbs. Even if the weight felt ridiculously light I would make it a point to hold myself back. The same goes with upper body exercises. I would make it a point to do far less than what I was capable of. To leave the gym with the desire to come back and do more is far stronger than leaving because you simply couldn’t do any more. When leave the gym and you go to jiujitsu you will walk in full of that energy to continue training. Essentially, using your strength training as a physical and mental warmup to prime the pump for rolling. Gradually from there you can increase the volume and intensity of your gym sessions.
I’m sure someone will read this and say that you will never get anywhere if you keep under training. That’s true. Ultimately, if you want to get stronger and faster, then you have to train harder and lift more. However, what I am advocating is prioritizing your primary goal, getting better at jiujitsu, over your secondary goal, getting stronger. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get stronger, it means that you shouldn’t be trying to do that to the point of it interfering with your primary goal. If your deadlift goes up from 250 to 275lbs you’ve gotten stronger. If I train you just on weightlifting, I could get your deadlift to go up in 6 to 8 weeks. That would be optimal. But that would require making the weightlifting the primary goal for the 8 weeks and your jiujitsu would probably suffer. If I focus on increasing your deadlift over 3 to 4 months, it is less optimal with respect to weightlifting, but still very doable while keeping your jiujitsu game strong. Slow gains are still gains. Consistency is key.
What does it mean to be an athlete? Athletes tend to prize certain characteristics such as drive, determination, competitiveness, commitment, and adaptability. Athletes also comport to a code of conduct referred to as sportsmanship. Good sportsmanship means to play fair, be a team player, lose gracefully, win with class and dignity, respect the officials, and respect the other team.
What does it mean to be a warrior? To be a warrior one must possess strength, courage and honor. Warriors follow a code of Bushido which espouses honor, obedience, duty, and self-sacrifice. On a philosophical level these two groups are not at odds, in fact, they overlap nearly perfectly. Thus it is not surprising that many athletes look to the great warrior texts such as The Art of War and The Book of Five Rings for inspiration and guidance.
What is surprising is that martial artists do not look more closely at the best practices of athletes to help them physically prepare. I work with a lot of athletes and the best ones all do similar things. They eat right. While each athlete might have a different plan for how they eat, they all have a plan. Good athletes are in control of the quality of their food as well as the quantity of their food. They keep track of there macro and micro nutrients. Good athletes understand that proper nutrition is essential to your performance and health.
The best athletes work hard in the gym to keep their bodies functioning at a high level. Varsity and professional weight rooms are filled with athletes getting after it. There are coaches helping them not only get stronger but also fixing imbalances and preparing their bodies to be injury resistant.
The best athletes warm up. They show up early and prepare their bodies and minds for the training session or the competition at hand. They know that a good warm up not only helps them avoid injury but also helps them get mentally prepared to work hard.
The best athletes take their recovery seriously. The best athletes are nerds and go to bed early. They stretch and roll and get massages and take care of small aches and pains before they become bigger problems.
The best athletes use their practice time to fix their mistakes. I see a lot of athletes that are not that impressive in practice. They seem a little slow and sometimes look like they have two left feet, but when it’s game day they are MVPs. What I have come to realize is that good athletes will use their training sessions to fix mistakes and work on new skills. They are not concerned with how they look in practice because they are consciously working on new skills which naturally makes them slightly slower and more awkward. That’s how the best athletes continue to improve.
In addition to spending time with high level athletes, I spend a lot of time with enthusiasts and hobbyists. It is okay to merely come to the gym or dojo to look better for the summer. And, honestly, sometimes it’s more fun to hang out with people that are not seriously competitive athletes. However, we could all adopt a few better practices that would help us improve.
You do not need to revamp your whole diet, but you could make sure you eat more protein especially after you work out. You could consider removing some processed foods from your diet. You don’t have to hire a professional coach, but you could do some more burpees and swing a kettlebell every other day. You do not need to hire a professional masseuse, but you could make sure you show up in time to warmup for class and stay 10 minutes later and do some stretching before you leave.
Taking a few small steps will add up to better performance and longevity. Think like a warrior and act like an athlete.
There is a common argument that is put forth so much that we do not think about how stupid it is. The argument goes like this, “All other things being equal, the person with more X will prevail.” The argument is always used by someone that is trying to sell you more X. The fallacy of the argument is that the way it is set up, no matter what X is it will confer an advantage over people that are otherwise equally endowed. So no matter what X is, the statement always holds true for X as well as Y or Z.
For example, you hear this in competitive sports all the time, “All other things being equal, the athlete that is _________ will win.” You could fill the blank with “stronger,” “faster,” “heavier,” “better conditioned,” etc. The point is anybody that has an advantage of any kind and can capitalize on that advantage will be victorious. The argument that one advantage is more advantageous than another is specious.
Yes being stronger than your opponent is helpful if you can capitalize on that. The same is true of having better endurance or a better strategy. But all other things are not equal. They are never equal. Ever. You and your opponent both have strengths and weaknesses. The best path to victory is not trying to merely outdo everyone with strength, speed, or endurance. Because what will you do when you encounter someone stronger than you? Remember, there is always someone stronger than you. Always.
“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”
-Robert A. Heinlein
You need to be strong when your opponent is weak. You need to be fast when your opponent is slow. You need endurance when your opponent is gassed. You need strategy when your opponent is confused. You need to be centered when your opponent is scattered. Your fitness is not one thing, it is many things. Your success should be built on many things not one thing. Specialization is for insects.
Your training off the mat should make you formidable on many levels. Train to have no weaknesses that your opponent can exploit. Train so hard off the mat, that rolling is always easy in comparison.