Category Archives: Jiu-Jitsu

Chunking And Do-Overs

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.   

A League of Super Friends

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:

  1. Provide the appropriate stimulus 
  2. Allow you to be successful
  3. Give important and timely feedback
  4. 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.  

There’s Only One Correct Technique and Other Lies Your Sensei Told You

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.

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I Want To Start Lifting But I Don’t Know Where To Begin.

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.
Day 1
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.
Rest 2:00
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.
Rest 2:00
Do as many burpees as you can in 5 minutes.

Day 2
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.
Rest 2:00
15:00-23:00 8 sets of 8 dumbbell bench press with a 3-second negative and a 1-second pause at the bottom.
Rest 2:00
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.

Lifting and Rolling

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.

Athlete vs. Warrior

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.

All Other Things Being Equal

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.

Your Cardio Sucks

Here’s a phrase I want you to ponder, “cardio-respiratory endurance is modal specific.” What does it mean? Let me give you an example. Lance Armstrong won seven Tour de France victories and was considered the best cyclist of all time. Prior to becoming the greatest cyclist, he was a reknowned triathlete as a teenager. After retiring in 2005, he decided to run the 2006 New York Marathon. Yet the best cyclist in the world, who had triathlon experience, who was coached by elite marathoners, and who was likely taking the best performance enhancing drugs available at the time, was only able to perform above average at the marathon. Many people speculated that since he had the best cardio endurance of any athlete alive at the time, he would be able to dominate in an endurance event like the marathon. Yet human physiology proved them wrong.

You take the best cyclist in the world and put her in a boat, in running shoes, on cross-country skis, in a gi, or in any other event other than cycling, and she will cease to be dominant. How many times have you heard people new to jiu-jitsu remark that “grappling is a different type of cardio” or some version of that statement. At the most basic level, cardio-respiratory endurance is the exchange of oxygen for carbon dioxide. As you train, the body will get more efficient at intaking oxygen and expelling carbon dioxide. That’s a good thing. However, efficiency at running does not translate perfectly to efficiency at jiu-jitsu. Jiu-jitsu uses many more muscles than running, it requires changes of tempo and direction, it requires both isometric holding of positions and dynamic, explosive movements. Jiu-jitsu utilizes the anaerobic as well as the aerobic energy pathways. It should not come as a surprise that 20 minutes of cardio on a treadmill doesn’t have much carry over to a 7-minute grappling session. This is why you see people come in to jiu-jitsu for the first time and they seem fit from the gym, but they gas quickly when on the mat.

This is not an excuse for you to stop doing cardio!

If you want to improve your cardio-respiratory endurance on the mat (and you should!), then you need to train in such a way that has carryover to BJJ. You need to do short fast intervals. You need to do longer workouts with high rep full-body movements, You need to train with multiple modalities in a single workout. You need to change your workouts often to avoid plateaus.

Strength vs. Technique

Being stronger is better. Period. Anybody that tells you otherwise, doesn’t know anything about being strong or about being better. Strength is not just how hard you contract your muscles nor is it how big your muscles are. Strength is the productive application of force. Strength is force applied at the right place and at the right time to complete a task. If you cannot complete the task, then you are not strong enough. No amount of stepping on the pedal or turning the wheel will make your car go forward if there is no engine under the hood. The bigger the engine the faster the car goes. There is no real world situation where strength is a disadvantage. It’s not the only important thing but you should never pass up an opportunity to get stronger and avoid people that encourage you to do so as they are not to be trusted.

Jiujitsu guys love to give lip service to technique. And you see guys complain when they get tapped that the other guy was using too much strength and their technique was bad. A tap is a tap. In the real world we don’t tap just because someone used good technique. We tap because the move worked. Technique is merely the movements or positions used to accomplish a task. There are many many different techniques that can be used to accomplish the same task. When we rate a technique as good or bad what we are really looking at is the amount of energy expended to accomplish the same task. One technique is “better” than the other if it accomplishes the same task with less energy. Both good and bad techniques can be effective and accomplish the task, but the more efficient technique will lead to better results in the long run.

I want you to have strength and technique because both of these vectors point in the same direction. We have all faced the person who has limited technical ability but they make up for it with a lot of strength and they are tough opponents and can overcome very advanced practitioners just based on their size and strength. We have also faced some tiny black belt that seems very frail yet they are able to gradually break down our defenses and submit us. However, the most formidable opponents are the ones that are strong and technical.

To separate strength from technique is actually a fallacy and cannot be done. Strength and technique both point toward task accomplishment, i.e. getting the job done. An athlete that has good technique will appear stronger because the techniques they use will maximize the force they can apply to an opponent. Conversely, a stronger athlete can overcome technical deficiencies with their strength and pull off moves that a weaker athlete would not be able to.

Choose strength and use that strength to bolster your techniques.

Simple Jiujitsu Workout

A common problem in jiujitsu is that people fatigue and give up position or their grip gives out when they are going for a submission and eventually have to let go before the opponent taps. These are failures of stamina and cardio-respiratory endurance. Stamina can be thought of as localized muscular endurance. Muscle fatigue is usually due to 1) the inability to supply them with enough ATP and/or 2) the inability get rid of the waste that is the byproduct of vigorous muscular activity. “Gassing” or failure of the cardio-respiratory system is due to 1) the inability to uptake enough oxygen and/or 2) the inability expel carbon dioxide expediently. Regardless of the deficiency, you need both stamina and cardio. It is of little use to have strong grip but get gassed before you can apply a choke or, in the alternative, can run circles around your opponent but cannot hold on to them. While these are different physiological and biological functions, in truth, there is lots of overlap.

Training your grip and lungs simultaneously might not optimize either function but will more accurately replicate the demands of a jiujitsu match where you need to be able to grip while your heart rate is high. With a little imagination you can create a vast amount of great workouts that will address both issues. Here is my suggestion for a very jiujitsu specific workout that will immediately start to improve your game. This is also the simplest workout I could think of that requires a minimum of space, time and equipment, thus it is nearly impervious to all your shitty excuses.

Equipment: 1) A pull-up bar or something to hang from. If you do not have a pullup bar, exposed beam, door frame, scaffolding, or staircase to hang from, then open a door and simply hang off the top of the door or throw a towel over the door and grab the towel. You will also need enough space to jump and lay on the floor.

Workout: Hang from the pull-up bar for as long as you can. When you finally come off the bar, immediately do 20 burpees and then jump up and hang from the bar again. Continue for as long as your typical match would be according to your rank.

White belt -5min; Blue belt – 6min; Purple belt – 7min; Brown belt – 8min; Black belt – 10min.   

If you are an adult blue belt, your matches typically last 6 minutes. Start the clock and jump up and hang from your pullup bar. Let’s say you can hang for 45 seconds, when you drop down you immediately start doing 20 burpees. As soon as you finish, you jump up and grab the pullup bar. Let’s say the burpees took 1 minute, you should be back up on the pullup bar at 1:46 and trying to hang again. Most likely you will come off much sooner the second time and each time after. If you find that you cannot consistently do 20 burpees consecutively and quickly (90 seconds or less), then drop the burpees down to around 10-15 reps. Any resting time should be done while hanging from the bar and any time on the ground should be spent doing burpees. Work to the point where you can hang for one minute or more each time you get on the bar. Then work on increasing the speed of the burpees until 20 can be done in less than a minute.

Once your hang times are consistently over a minute and your burpees are consistently less than a minute, then extend the time to the next belt level. Once you can do this for 10 hard minutes, you start to alternate hands while hanging so you are only hanging by one arm at a time or put on a weightvest.

If you want to make it more challenge, hang from one arm at a time and/or wear a weightvest.