Category Archives: Thoughts

21st Century Jiujitsu

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.

Fitness Is A Hedge Against Sickness

Fitness is not just about looking good. Fitness is not just about being a better grappler. Fitness is a hedge against sickness. What that means is that if you take all the measures of health such as blood pressure, body fat, resting heart rate, cholesterol, bone density, etc. as well as all the measures of fitness such as your 1RM deadlift, mile time, max reps pushups, etc. and plotted them for your cohort, you would see that they fall along a spectrum. The fittest people should have all their health and fitness markers toward one end of the curve and the sickest people will have their markers at the other end of the curve with the majority of the population somewhere in the middle. Genetic differences aside, people do not just magically end up on this curve. This curve, our fitness and health, is a direct result of lifestyle choices. The sickest tend to not only suffer from over consumption of refined and processed foods but also tend to be more sedentary. The fittest tend to eat better and move more and make other choices that positively affect their health and fitness.
It is only through a continued practice of making good choices consistently that we move ourselves toward the fit end of the spectrum. Likewise bad choices and neglect can lead us toward sickness. However, if you’ve spent years eating right and exercising and improving your fitness, it is like putting money away for a rainy day. When times like this occur and you cannot eat as well or workout as much, you have your fitness savings account to fall back on. However, if you’ve been living hand to mouth, you will be more susceptible to large events that negatively impact your health.
So put some time in every day to getting off the carbs and off the couch. Invest in your health and fitness as a lifelong pursuit. Build a strong buffer against sickness.

Shake Things Up

A good routine can help you get a lot of things done. Now many of us have the time to develop some new habits or pursue some passion projects. But routine can be the enemy.  I’m getting too comfortable in my daily routine. It’s starting to feel like Groundhog Day.  The workouts are changing, the meals are changing, but the days are blending together and looking alike.  
I do not know what exactly I have to do to shake things up, but I know it must be done.  Being comfortable is desirable as a long-term state.  Discomfort leads to growth. The thing is that discomfort does not have to insurmountable. Simply setting goals for yourself each day to hit no matter what can lead to that growth. Right now I have very few daily goals. I think I need to start putting together a list of things I need to do every day so no more days slip away from me going forward. 
Here’s a list of things I am pondering right now:

  • Write 500 words a day.  (This is probably just under 200 so far).
  • Study 30 minutes of jiujitsu videos a day. As opposed to just watching, I should take notes.
  • Play my guitar for 30 minutes.
  • Fix or clean or tidy one thing in my house every day. I need to get that Kondo lady in here to spark some joy. 
  • Shoot an instructional video every day. 
  • Read or listen to a chapter a day on self-improvement. 
  • Organize my digital files. 
  • Row 1,000,000 meters 

What could you do to shake things up? How could you be more uncomfortable?

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.   

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.


It’s Not Working

You have two gyms each running the exact same programming and after six months, you have two populations with wildly different results. Why? Because the programming comes second to the coaching, the community and the athletes. How the program is implemented is just as, if not more, important as the program itself. That’s not to say that the program is irrelevant. The program is important and a good program can help foster better coaching and community. More importantly a bad program can really hinder a coach and create road blocks to fostering a good community.

I often hear coaches and gym owners that deal with athletes and clients complaining about the programming. If your athletes are complaining about the program something is wrong but it may or may not be the program. The athletes are unhappy that’s the main problem. So let’s first deal with that problem and then dig deeper into how to implement a good program.

People want to have fun. Fun comes in many flavors but creating a fun atmosphere goes a long way toward keeping your athletes from complaining. Smile, play some music, tell some jokes, don’t take things too seriously and make sure people know that having fun is encouraged.

Training hard is its own kind of fun. Getting after a workout and suffering together with other people is a special kind of fun that people will eventually embrace. They understand that the hardwork comes with a payoff in the way they look, feel and perform. It’s okay to encourage them to enjoy the process as well as work for the outcome.

Make people feel cared for. People like to be acknowledged and cared for. Some people need far less of this and some people need far more. Some guys can get by on a fist bump and you bringing the bucket of chalk closer to them during the workout. Some people need a look in the eyes, a hug, you saying their name and telling them that everything is going to be okay. Regardless, everyone needs to know that their needs will be met for the next hour. They need to feel like this is a safe place to let their guard down and make ugly faces during the workout.

People need to be coached. Coaching is not just counting reps and cheer leading. You need to fix their movement and help them get PRs. That can be as easy as reminding them to keep their heels on the ground or as challenging as setting up a special station for them to do banded muscle ups in the workout. Even a high-level regionals athlete can benefit from a pair of eyes on them telling them to squat a little lower or pick up the bar a little sooner. Nobody is immune from coaching and everyone performs better when chasing or being chased.

Everyone likes to be acknowledged. Find ways to celebrate the victories for everyone. It’s not always a faster time. Sometimes it’s a new skill. Or just waking up early for the morning class. If you notice people’s effort, they will respond.

Scale and manage intensity. Assume more people should be scaling more often. Lighter weight does not mean less challenging. Create conditions for your athletes to experience intensity. They might be scaling the load, but they should be going faster or doing more reps unbroken. New athletes might need to just focus on mechanics and not speed. Challenge them to do 10 or 20 perfect reps in a row. The job of the coach is not merely to administer the workout, it is to train the athletes to perform. That means they within the workout there are many opportunities to improve their performance. Keep newer athletes from overdoing it and make sure the athletes that are ready and capable are pushing themselves appropriately.

Coach your athletes to be successful in the short term and the long term. If the workout involves fast barbell movements, then you should be coaching them on how to successfully cycle a barbell quickly so they can do their best on the workout. I often see coaches teach the same clean & jerk progression whether the workout is a 1 rep max or 30 reps for time. While it is essentially the same exercise, the specifics of how these two movements are done in each workout differ tremendously. That’s short term coaching: coaching them to win the workout. Long term success is giving them opportunities to practice skills that they need to work on more frequently. It’s useless to only do muscle up progressions once or twice a month when they show up in the workout. They should be incorporated much more often if you want your athletes to start getting muscle ups.

Keep your programming simple. You only have an hour to warmup, workout and cooldown. If you try to cram too much into that hour, you take away time from coaching and teaching. You also rob people of time to interact and have fun with each other. A warmup takes 5 to 10 minutes. If you want to actually teach and coach people you need to spend 10 to 15 minutes per movement going over progressions and drills and coaching. If you are going to lift above 80% of your max, then you will need to warm up and do 3 to 5 sets to gradually build to the weights you are going to lift. That takes a lot of time and requires a lot of attention from the coach to try to coach people while the weights are still light enough that they can make some changes.

Lastly you need to educate your athletes. There is no reason why your athletes would understand how CrossFit programming works. Many coaches, gym owners, and high-level athletes do not understand it fully. Find a way to explain that they need to be strong. Find a way to explain that variance allows them to train for whatever life throws at them so that they can be generally physically prepared for life outside the gym. You need to educate your athletes on why cheering for each other is more important than just putting away your weights and mixing a protein shake before everyone else is done. You need to educate your athletes on why doing things you suck at is important and will make them better at the things they’re already good at. You need to educate your athletes on nutrition and why eating like a grown is important and the answer is not another bag of protein powder. You need to educate your athletes on why it’s important to keep a log book of their workouts and when they say that the program isn’t working, open it up and go over the data and see what is and isn’t working instead of just listening to them complain because they don’t want to run a 5k.

When your athletes complain use that as an opportunity to evaluate whether you are doing everything you can to help them be better and keep them happy. See how much you can fix on your end. Then if they still want to complain just turn up the music and say “3, 2, 1, go!”

The Sugar Problem

Sugar is possibly the perfect drug. It’s perfectly legal, it’s cheap, it’s highly addictive. Sugar is ubiquitous and quotidian. There is absolutely no barrier to acquiring it. To the contrary, it is so omnipresent that you have to go to surprisingly great lengths to avoid it. I believe that sugar is the most insidious drug facing our society today. I’m sure we can all point to lots of things that sound far worse at first blush. What about opioids? Unlike opioids, sugar doesn’t require a prescription or any illicit transactions to acquire and at least when you take an opioid, you are aware that you are taking a drug. We ingest sugar without a single concern that it may be harmful and addictive. Furthermore, our society is so accepting of it that we do not even bat an eye when purveyors of sugars begin to get our children hooked on it from birth. It is considered so harmless that I sound like a crazy person for even suggesting that it is the cause of a worldwide health crisis.

The Perfect Drug

On average, Americans consume between 150 and 170 pounds of added sugar per year. That degree of sugar consumption leads directly to a condition called hyperinsulinemia, too much insulin in the blood. Hypersinsulinemia is the catalyst for metabolic derangement and chronic disease. Chronic diseases are conditions that last for more than 3 months and are largely self-inflicted and include such killers as coronary heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer. Eighty percent of our health care expenditures goes to dealing with these conditions that are largely preventable. There is a mountain of evidence that shows sugar is horrible for you. There is another mountain of evidence that shows that removing added sugar from your diet will have almost magical effects on your health.

This situation of people flagrantly disregarding the overwhelming amount of evidence is not unlike the situation with smoking a few decades ago. For years people thought smoking was great, even healthy, then finally people realized that smoking caused lung cancer and then we got so outraged that the tobacco companies had lied and concealed this fact for years that we sued the tobacco companies and put warning labels on cigarettes. Can you imagine? Tobacco companies knowingly sold harmful, deadly cigarettes for years and all we did was put warning labels on them. People still smoke despite knowing how bad cigarettes are. It hasn’t changed much. But at least we don’t have as many ads targeting children.

The same situation is happening with sugar except the sugar people are marketing to everyone, kids and parents especially. Maybe one day we can bring a class action suit against the sugar companies. Maybe we can get warning labels placed on every product that contains added sugar. But the problem would be that would require us to put a warning label on almost every processed food. At that point nobody would really notice because everything they touched in the store would have a label. If everything has a warning label, then nothing has a warning label.

Maybe the best thing is to just get everyone to give up sugar. Sadly, I’m sure that will not happen. The companies that make all those sugar-laden foods, have too much at stake to let us just give up sugar. A company like RJR Nabisco, Coca Cola, and Pepsi have billions of dollars tied up in sugar-laden foods and beverages. They have lobbyists in Washington, DC. They have scientists putting out studies that say their processed foods are “healthy.” They have billions of money in marketing putting out propaganda that says sugar is perfectly fine and “exercise is medicine.” They put the burden on the consumer to try to out exercise their crappy diet.

As a recovering sugar addict, I know how hard it is to give up sugar. Hyper-palatable foods laden in sugar call my name every day. I can’t go anywhere without carbs staring me in the face and challenging my resolve. That’s just the way the world is. However, I know if I can resist them them, then so can you.

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.

Good Fighters Don’t Need Water.

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.

The Best Defense Is Good Fitness

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.