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.
There’s an old expression in boxing: “Good fighters don’t need water. Bad fighters don’t deserve it.” There’s nothing wrong with hydration. You need to hydrate. The problem is that people use water breaks as an excuse to rest when they should be working. You simply do not need water during a 15 minute workout. You don’t. If you came to the gym hydrated and ready to work, you should be able to push yourself for 15 minutes without needing to drink water. There is no amount of working out in 15 minutes that is going to cause you to get dehydrated. The fact is, you want to take a break. You want to quit working.
My job is to push people out of their comfort zone. My job is to get people to push and work harder. Sometimes that means telling you to put down the water and get to work. Of course, some people push themselves really hard and it’s helpful to tell them to take a sip of water and take a break if they are red-lining. Don’t get me wrong, I encourage pregnant women and the old and infirm to take breaks during the workout. However, if you’re of a viable age with no injuries and in dire need of some fitness, I’m going to tell you to stop wasting time and keep working.
Hydrating should be done before you get to the gym and after your workout. Throughout the day, you should be drinking water. But during short high-intensity efforts, you should focus on pushing yourself. Then when you’re done, get yourself some water. If you are doing a longer workout, taking a moment for a sip of water, chalking your hands, writing down how many reps you’ve done are great ways to rest and pace yourself. That type of break should be earned. When I’m doing a longer workout, sometimes I tell myself that when I finish a certain amount of work, I’ll reward myself with a short break. Most people just need to embrace the discomfort and stop reaching for the water.
Self defense is important, but let’s be honest, does it work? Largely the failure of self defense techniques to work and adequately prepare people for altercations is the fact that the emphasis is entirely misplaced. The majority of self defense protocols place too much emphasis on techniques and for preparing for a very limited set of scenarios. Where the most emphasis should be placed is on pre-contact awareness, danger avoidance, and application of raw power.
Most victims of violent crimes had a warning. They often describe a “bad feeling’ that preceded the incident. It is imperative that we teach people to recognize and react to those “bad feelings.” Victims are quick to dismiss those feelings (“it’s just my imagination”) and then later regret it. It is better to suffer some embarrassment for creating “a scene” by shouting, looking for help, crossing the street, or running, than it is to realize too late that that uneasy feeling was legitimate.
It is hard to over emphasize how much more important it is to learn how to be aware of your surroundings, than it is to learn how to fight your way out of an otherwise avoidable situation. Learn how to avoid high risk areas. Keep an eye on your surroundings. Look at the people that are around you and notice their features. Avoid zoning out and looking at your phone when you’re alone and vulnerable.
The next problem is focusing in techniques. I have practiced and taught jiujitsu for a really long time. In fact I have taught many movement modalities such as yoga, kettlebells, gymnastics, weightlifting, and more. And one thing is true, movement is a skill. Everyone starts as a beginner. The more complex the movement, the longer it takes to learn it and master it. I have seen countless people come and learn a handful of basic techniques on one night and the next week or even the next night they come back and cannot recall any of the techniques. It is only through countless hours of practice and training that people are able to learn a technique well enough to use it on a larger opponent that is resisting and simultaneously trying to harm them.
It is very wishful thinking indeed to imagine that attending a single self defense seminar can adequately prepare someone for a dangerous confrontation. While such seminars are good and can really do a lot to help empower women (and men). They can also provide a dangerous level of false hope. Leaving a seminar thinking that you are adequately prepared to defend yourself against a larger attacker will no doubt have very bad repercussions. There is no doubt that being proficient in jiujitsu can save your life. However, dabbling can get you hurt. If you want to have skills that will serve you in a real life situation, these skills must be practiced and developed and in your repertoire. Not just something you learned one time. We do not rise to the occasion, rather we sink to the level of our training.
The bigger issue is one of fitness. Are you fit enough is the question you should be asking yourself. Can you outrun someone that is chasing you and bent on doing you harm? Running from danger is probably the single best thing you can do to stay alive. Do not for second think about being a hero. If you have the choice between fight or flight, choose flight every time. The only time for fighting is when the choice to run has been taken away from you. But jogging isn’t going to save your life. And don’t imagine that you are somehow going to develop magical cardio super powers in the face of danger. You have to run sprints often and be prepared to run, jump, cut right or left and stiff arm a tackler. The fitter you are with respect to running, the safer you will be in the long run. All you need to train to be a better runner is a new pair of shoes and a stopwatch. Go run some sprints. They will save your life one day.
Don’t be fooled by what you see in movies. Chases in movies always look way faster and last a lot longer than what really happens. Go to the track one day and see how long it takes you go around one time (400m, a quarter mile). Notice how you probably got half way around the track and wanted to quit. Maintaining a fast sprint for a quarter mile is hard, but it will probably save your life. Go practice that instead of buying a can of pepper spray. Also it’s really good for you. You’ll be in better shape if you go to the track once a week and run some stairs once a week.
Get stronger. It doesn’t matter how many self defense classes you take and how much you practice your spinning back fist. If you cannot put some power behind your punches, they are just for show. Even if you know how to grapple and choke someone, you need to be strong enough to apply your moves to a larger and angrier opponent. Strength is one of the most important life saving attributes you can develop.
If someone bypasses your initial warning signals and gets close to you and if the option to run is taken away from you, it is then that you will have to fight. Real fights look like those on World Star not like what you see in the movies. Fancy techniques rarely work unless you have years of experience applying them and are in a “fair” one-on-one situation. Fear and anxiety will most likely impede your ability to do anything fancy and technical. You will most likely resort to basic animal instincts: hit hard to the vital organs.
At the end of the day, do you have the speed, strength, stamina, and will to persevere? These are elements of fitness that can be trained. When we do CrossFit, we work each of these attributes both independently and together. Get out there and train like your life depends on it.
We tend to over-complicate things. Occam’s razor is a principle that tells us we should look for the simplest and most direct solution to a problem. In the case of many, many of the chronic diseases afflicting people worldwide, the simplest solution is to eat better and exercise. It is not merely that the western diet and processed carbohydrates in particular are bad, but they lead to sedentarism, inflammation, depression, and a host of other problems that compound our poor health.
Merely eating better and exercising is the cure. Specifically a diet of meats and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar combined with constantly varied, functional movements executed at a high intensity is the prescription for lifelong health and fitness. So simple that it is elegant and so elegant that it may be optimal.
The poor health that we are experiencing is made worse by a complex web of corporations that profit from our combined ill-health and sickness. Shitty processed foods are a profit center for the corporations that produce them. Adding refined sugars to food makes them more palatable and also highly addictive. This leads to sickness. Unfortunately, the problem with the medical profession is that it is more profitable to treat the symptoms of disease than it is to cure them. Why cure diabetes by regulating carbohydrate consumption when you can sell someone a drug for the rest of their life that eliminates some of the symptoms of diabetes without curing it?
As a society we cannot continue to do this to ourselves. We are digging our graves with our mouths. Beyond just the health concerns we are creating a huge burden on our economy. Our healthcare system is overloaded with costs associated with treating people with diabetes. I challenge you to look up the stats on diabetes (https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318472.php). It is staggering. Then combine that with the costs associated with Obesity (https://stateofobesity.org/healthcare-costs-obesity/) and Coronary Heart Disease (http://newsroom.heart.org/news/cardiovascular-disease-costs-will-exceed-1-trillion-by-2035-warns-the-american-heart-association) and Cancer (https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-basics/economic-impact-of-cancer.html).
Do the math. We are snowballing downhill out of control. We cannot keep trying to put band-aids on this with drugs. We need to go to the root of the problem and get off the carbs and get off the couch. It’s not too late to turn the ship around.
The common refrain is that we should “listen to our bodies” as if our body held some higher wisdom that we were deaf to. I certainly have pitched that phrase a number of times when at a loss for anything more intelligent to say. However, more and more, I find myself uncomfortable with that advice. Certainly, our body may manifest some warning signs that we should heed. However, more often than not, our body just lies to get what it wants.
If I were to compile a list of the most frequent requests my body makes it would be along the lines of:
1) gratify your sexual urges;
2) eat all the carbs;
3) lie down on the couch and watch netflix instead of working out; and
4) stay up late at night and hit the snooze bar and stay in bed in the morning.
Perhaps your body is giving you better advice. However, if your body is selling the same bad advice as my body, I encourage you to stop listening to it and do the opposite. I am a happily married man and, while I do love the female form, there is no benefit to me ogling women on the internet or in real life. Certainly in today’s climate it is best to find other hobbies. And taking matters into my own hands (as the euphemism goes) is a procrastination device that leaves me hollow and unfulfilled and diverts valuable energy away from productive activities. The goal should be to cultivate a better and more gratifying relationship with my spouse as opposed to spending that energy on more productive actions.
Eating all the carbs gives me a dopamine rush. That hit of dopamine (and insulin) is what helps me stay addicted to carbs. The problem is that more I eat, the more I want. Listening to my body in this regard just makes me fatter and more sluggish. Then I feel worse about myself and my ever-growing gut. When my blood sugar gets low, I get depressed and want more sugar. Then the sugar high makes me feel good for about 15 minutes before it starts to fade and my blood sugar begins to drop again. It’s a vicious cycle that needs to be stopped. Getting off the carbs is the right thing to do despite what my body keeps asking for.
My body seldom tells me to workout. It’s usually so full of carbs and tired from masturbating that it just wants to lie on the couch and binge watch some shows on Netflix. Also I am often sore from the few times that I do workout and my body convinces me that I need to rest. Certainly rest and recovery are important, but I rarely need as much rest as my body requests. A good way to tell is that when I finish working out I often feel better, less sore, and more energized. That is a sign that my body was wrong. On the occasions when I feel worse after working out, I realize that those are the times that I really do need some more rest. People often say that you should not go grocery shopping when you are hungry because you will make bad choices. That seems smart. Similarly, I would not make decisions about working out when you are on the couch. I recommend moving around and warming up before making a decision on whether to work out. It’s the law of inertia: a body at rest wants to stay at rest and a body in motion wants to stay in motion. Do not listen to your body when it tells you to stay on the couch.
When my children are tired it is really obvious to me, but they insist that they are not tired and fight hard to stay up. Sadly, I am no better at going to bed early and judging when I should pack it in for the day. Certainly as adults we have a lot of stuff that we need to get done, but also recognize that sometimes you just waste time at night vegging out in front of the tv or surfing online. Get your work done and then go to bed sooner. On the flip side, try to wake up earlier. Since having kids, I strive to wake up early and get shit done because the only time that I can get stuff done is before the kids wake up. If you want to be productive do not listen to your body and hit the snooze. Set the alarm a half-hour earlier and get up and get to work. Front load as much productivity into the first half of your day and then try to get your evening cleared up so you can get to bed.
The next time your body tries to tell you some bullshit and sabotage your best efforts to be great, ignore it and go be awesome!
If you’re looking to get stronger, healthier, fitter, lose weight and be more dominant on the mat, then you need to squat. Squats are an essential human movement. We sit and stand every day when we get up off the couch or off the toilet. It’s essential to our lives as human beings. Essential in the sense that if we lose the ability to squat, we lose the ability to live independently and our quality of life is greatly diminished. People that claim that they cannot squat for a variety of reasons have accepted decrepitude. They have resigned themselves to the inevitable decline that ends with them in a scooter cruising around the grocery store and living with an aide that cleans your creases. Learning and practicing basic squat mechanics and reclaiming this movement that came easy in our youth is a refusal to submit to aging and physical decline.
As an exercise, squats have the ability to strengthen not only the legs, but the back, the core and the lungs. Squatting also helps maintain flexibility by moving the ankles, knees, and hips through a normal, healthy range of motion. There are many varieties of squats, however only a few mechanical considerations which are universally accepted.
– The feet must remain flat on the floor. Weight shifting to the toes or the inside edges of the feet is to be avoided by shifting the weight back into the heels and actively trying to push the knees away from each other.
– The knees should point in the same direction as the toes. This not only helps keep the feet flat, but it puts the knee in the safest position: where the kneecaps point in the same direction as the middle toe. STarting with the toes turned out about 30 degrees is a good place to start.
– Athletes must learn to squat until the hip crease passes below the top of the knee. This below parallel position is extremely challenging because it is right at this point where the squat wants to fall apart, but maintaining proper mechanics throughout this range of motion builds the strongest squats and strengthens your muscles at the end range where they are most likely to fail.
– The squat is initiated by sitting back as if into a chair. This mimics our everyday movement pattern of sitting our butts down onto an object. Also by sitting back we learn to balance by bringing our head forward. Balance is a perishable skill that also needs to be practiced often lest we lose it (pun intended). Sitting back also helps maintain even weight on the feet and helps get the knees to line up with the toes.
– Maintaining a neutral spine. The Chinese say, “you are as old as your spine.” Thus a healthy spine is the key to longevity. The squat, done correctly, is a functional and safe way to progressively load the spine and keep it healthy. Start standing up straight and brace your spine by contracting all the muscles of the core and back so that the spine cannot bend while you are squatting. Movement should be limited to the ankles, knees, and hips.
By adhering to those five basic points of performance, squats can be done safely in all populations. Insist that all five points of performance are adhered to the best extent possible for the given athlete. If range of motion cannot be achieved, the athlete can still squat but the long-term goal would be to increase their range of motion so that they can get on and off the toilet by themselves.
There are many ways to squat and you should try them all. Air squats, back squats, front squats, overhead squats, zercher squats, goblet and many more. The style of squat mostly depends on the equipment you use and where you hold it. First start with a basic air squat (unloaded) and work on the basic mechanics. As you practice work on increasing your reps. Starting with sets of 5 to 10 is easy enough to maintain the basic points of performance. Then gradually increase the reps to 20, 30, and beyond. As fatigue starts to increase your form will decrease and you must do your best to maintain proper mechanics as the intensity increases.
Next step is to add some weight. I recommend a goblet squat. Grab a dumbbell, kettlebell, medicine ball, or some similarly heavy object between 15 and 50lbs. Hold the weight like a goblet under your chin with your elbows down and hands up as if you are about to take a sip from the challis. Squat down just like you did in the air squat. Usually with a light load, you will immediately notice some improvements in form: better balance, lower depth, more upright posture, and greater ability to have the knees track the toes. Again start at about 5 to 10 repetitions. You will most likely be limited by fatigue in the arms and shoulders from holding the weight. That’s fine. You will gain some strength and stamina by doing more of these. As with the air squat, slowly increase your repetitions until you can do sets of 50 or more with a light weight.
When you get to the point that you can do 100 air squats in a row or 50 goblet squats in a row, you will notice not only that your legs are stronger, but that your cardio is vastly improved. The benefits to your health and fitness are obvious and you will notice that your jiu-jitsu improves as well, especially regarding your passing game. Having strong legs as well as the conditioning to squat many many times will allow you to push the pace hard inside someones guard and not slow down due to fatigue. That’s only the start though. Continued progress will come from finding many different ways to make your stronger and better. The goal now is to gradually pick up heavier objects and put them on shoulders while you squat. What about reps? Jiu-jitsu doesn’t happen in sets of 5 or 10. Your training should be varied between light weight for high reps, moderate weight for moderate reps, and heavy weight for low reps. Also change the stimulus between front squats, back squats, overhead squats and zercher squats, and change the equipment from barbells, to dumbbells, to kettlebells, and to sandbags. Spend less time worrying about what to squat or how much to squat and just squat!
Injuries suck. However, the sad truth is that we all get injured eventually. Whether it’s something you could have seen coming like an overuse injury or something totally unpredictable like a slip and fall, you have to understand that injuries will happen eventually. The best thing is to have a plan B and try your best to make the most of a bad situation.
I slipped and fell down the stairs last night and twisted my knee up pretty bad. There’s no telling how long my knee will be out of commission. However, I know in the gym I can work a lot on my upper body strength while my knee recovers. With respect to jiu-jitsu, it is obviously a lot harder to roll with a bad knee but certain drills and moves are still available to me.
The point is that it would be easy to be disheartened by this setback, but I see it as an opportunity for growth and development. The goal is to not lose too much ground or even to improve on some areas while the knee is off-line. When the knee comes back online, I should be as good or better than I am right now.
If you googled this subject, you would find numerous good articles and videos by notable BJJ blackbelts. I certainly encourage you to read and view as many of those as you care to. Even though I am not a blackbelt of note, I have coached thousands of athletes of all levels and know a thing or two about improving at various physical tasks. Ironically, though this article isn’t about physical training; it’s about mental training.
It turns out there are a lot of moves in BJJ and you would be well-advised to start making a list of them. I am currently preparing to take my brown belt test and I was handed a two-page checklist of things that I will be tested on. At first glance I was a little overwhelmed at having to come up with 20 submissions from the guard, 3 escapes from the north-south position, 6 guard passes, and much, much more. I imagine most people can’t rattle off those moves if cold-called. However, if you sat down and thought about it or perhaps actually got on the mat and started drilling you could easily start to remember various submissions, sweeps, escapes, etc. What I found as I went through this list is that I have some strengths and some weaknesses. I feel very confident in certain submissions and escapes and feel really uneasy about certain sweeps and passes.
The first thing I did was write the list into a document on my computer and then started listing the various techniques I could remember under each category, e.g. Takedowns: double leg, double leg with outside trip, single leg, ogoshi, osoto gari, etc. Some categories I was easily able to populate with techniques off the top of my head, some I was stumped. The next thing I did was go to YouTube and start searching for techniques. Once I found one that I liked and thought I could perform, I would copy the link under the appropriate technique and put a short description in there.
After a few hours I was able to create a small library of techniques that I need to practice for my test. The great thing is that this isn’t just for my test but it has immediately helped my game by making me focus on some of the weak parts of my technique that I don’t spend time on. Furthermore, as I keep searching on YouTube, I keep finding more and more cool techniques that I want to try that may or may not be relevant to my test so I merely expanded the document to include more techniques and drills that I want to start using.
What usually happens is that I happen to watch a cool video and think “I should try that some time” and then I forget about it. Having this document means that now when I see a video, I immediately cut and paste the link into the document under the correct category so I can find it later. Then the next time I want to work on submissions from side control, I pull up the document and review a couple of links and find several techniques to work on.
Another thing that happens is that I often write notes about a class in a notebook but I don’t always go back into the notebook. When I do go looking for a move in my notebook, I can’t find it because I don’t remember when we did it. By putting my notes in this document I can always find them. If we worked on a knee slice guard pass, I can just write my notes from class under the correct heading: Guard_passes/Open/Knee_slice and write an entry for things we covered in class.
This library of moves cannot replace time on the mat, but by making this document, you can easily keep track of things you are good at and things you need to improve. The best advice I can give you is to worry more about the things you suck at. There is more benefit to your BJJ in finding and filling those holes in your game before your opponent finds them and takes advantage of them. This experiment has opened my eyes to what I need to improve. Now go train!
One of the reasons I write this blog is because sometimes I need to say things that I can’t say on regular social media. You know what I’m talking about. I post something about the world being round and some yahoo comments about how the Earth is flat. Then your Facebook wall explodes into a circus of people going back and forth. It’s ridiculous. I write my opinions here, right or wrong, so I can avoid the back and forth. I’m not trying to live in a bubble. I appreciate many different view points. However, sometimes I need a place to vent without comment.
Specifically, the types of comments I seek to avoid come from those people with invincible ignorance. Invincible ignorance, like Coach Greg Glassman, says in this video is the type of ignorance that comes from people unwilling to consider an alternate opinion. If you asked me, I would tell you the Earth is round. However, if you asked me what proof I would need to change my mind, I could come up with a short list of things that would convince me otherwise. I am not unwilling to concede the point when faced with sufficient proof. However, there are many people that would be unwilling to proffer a list of things that would convince them that their position is wrong.
Think about that. Some people when asked what could convince them to change their opinion cannot come up with an answer. That is a signal that they are more entrenched in their position than they are rational. If you hold your opinions so dear that you cannot be convinced otherwise, you have an invincible ignorance.
I love Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) and Yoga. However, I think people need to understand a difference between exercise and sport. Exercise has a regressive and progressive quality that distinguishes it from sport. When you exercise the goal is to find a move that you can do easily enough to repeat but challenging enough that after several repetitions it becomes a stimulus for change or adaptation. For example ,there is a weight that you can squat 10 times but no more and if you squat that weight for a few sets of 10, you will stimulate your body to adapt and get stronger. At that point you need to progress to more load or more reps in order to keep getting stronger. Thus the goal is never to master the 10 rep squat at 95lbs. The goal is to keep getting stronger, faster, better, etc. and do with 195lbs what was once only possible with 95lbs.
When we do a sport like BJJ or Yoga (I know yoga is not a sport, but more of a practice, however, people mistakenly treat it as exercise), we initially find it very physically demanding. Thus it does creates a stimulus that drives adaptation exactly where we need to adapt with respect to the sport. We get stronger and more flexible and our stamina increases and we can train longer and better. Initially people think that all they need is that one thing, BJJ or Yoga, for all their fitness needs. They mistakenly believe that they will keep getting stronger and fitter just by doing BJJ or Yoga. However, the difference with BJJ and Yoga and similar sports is that as we improve at them we actually learn to be more efficient and can perform better without spending the same energy that we did when we first started. As we get better we cease to adapt physically.
Watch a novice and an expert perform the same moves and you are not struck by the physicality of the the expert but rather the ease and fluidity of their movement. Your first few months on the mat, you use a lot of energy to attack and defend against your opponent. Your body adapts quickly to the stress of BJJ and then you are able to train with less difficulty. After a short time you learn to relax as you train and exert energy when you need to and conserve energy when you can. When you reach that stage, it is rare that your BJJ training becomes a physical stimulus. What you start to develop is neurological aspects of technique such as timing and coordination by repeated repetitions and focusing on details and positions. As you advance, Yoga or BJJ training becomes skill practice and at that point in order to stay physically sharp, you need to supplement your BJJ practice with outside training exercises, so that you continue to gain in strength, stamina, speed, power and flexibility.