Pretty much everyone that has done jiujitsu has heard their sensei or some higher belt say, “technique beats strength.” However, everyone that has trained jiujitsu has been beaten at some point by someone bigger and stronger than them. I’ve seen plenty of high level wrestlers with no jiujitsu experience give high level jiujiteiros a really hard time. Jiujitsu is a physical practice. Martial artists, including jiujiteiros, love to talk about martial arts as having magical or mystical powers, but all physical practices are still governed by physics and physiology, not magic. So when you want to discuss things like strength, leverage, force, technique and mass (size) you cannot separate those things from the laws of physics and physiology.
“The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.” Socrates
The first thing we need to do is define some of these terms. Technique is the movements or positions used to accomplish a task. Read more here. Whether the task is a sweep or an armbar, there many techniques that will get the job done. The better technique will accomplish the same task while expending less energy. We understand that when we see newbies using 100% effort to perform the simplest move on someone compared to a blackbelt performing the same move with their eyes closed and talking to someone else seemingly expending next to no energy.
We often view strength as mere contractile potential and a factor that is separate and at odds with technique. That is wholly wrong. Strength is not merely the size and force of your muscles. In reality, strength is the productive application of force: applying the right amount of force at the right time and right direction. True strength is inseparable from technique. If strength were merely about size, you would determine the winner of strength competition by the size of their muscles. If strength were purely about how hard you could contract your muscles, you might see the leg press as a contested event. Strength is directly correlated to the task you are trying to complete. Thus the squat, deadlift, bench, clean & jerk are all separately tested events and the winner of one lift does not necessarily win the others.
Here’s another example: when performing a classic juji gatame armbar, you point your opponent’s thumb to the sky as you pull back on the wrist and bridge up with your hips. The same amount of force (contractile potential) applied with the thumb facing sideways will be ineffective at breaking the arm. Similarly the right technique applied with too little force will also be ineffective. For example, a 5-foot tall, 100lb female trying to armbar a 6-foot, 5-inch tall male athlete that ways 250lbs will likely be ineffective no matter how proficient her technique.
To a large degree, mass moves mass. And to deny that would be ridiculous. This is why we have weight classes in sports. Too large a discrepancy in size and strength cannot simply be overcome with technique. If you want to be competitive, you should not neglect the value of getting stronger. Do not conflate increasing strength with becoming slow and inflexible which is a myth that kept many sports lagging behind the curve for years. Gone are the days when skinny Brazilians can enter the octagon wearing a gi and whoop three people in one night. We now have to train like real athletes and increase our speed and power and strength to be competitive.
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.
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.
The proverb says, “Methods are many. Principles are few. Methods always change. Principles never do.” Once you understand the principles you can begin to create your own methods to apply them. The beauty of this too is that you accelerate your learning and abilities by being able to apply key concepts to different areas. For example, if you understand the principle behind midline stabilization. You can create numerous methods for bracing your spine with your breath and your abdominal muscles in every situation where it is applicable.
“As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.” — Harrington Emerson
I see the value in many different methods and I am always on the look out for more methods with regard to everything in my life. I believe most people are drawn to methods. Look at what we consume in regards to cook books, self help books, workshops, gadgets: all methods to improve our life. However, I try not to lose sight of the principles. I am often the first to dismiss methods that come from faulty principles or principles that I do not agree with. Methods born from strong principles pass muster and stand the test of time.
Take a look at the principles behind which you set up your life. There an invisible script that holds the keys to the principles by which you and I live our lives. That invisible script is the code for whether we believe people are inherently good or inherently bad. It is the script that tells us whether we are worthy or unworthy of love, money, happiness, success, etc. Deep down we have a script that formed a principle that formed the method by which we live our life. Sometimes that script is working in our favor and sometimes it is not.
One way to improve your odds of success in any endeavor is to examine your fundamental beliefs and the script that they arise from. Try to rewrite it to be more favorable. Like when we are ill we try to combat the symptoms, but you can only really get better if you go and kill the virus that infected you in the first place. I have a script that tells me I’m entitled to things. It comes from being an only child and a son and the oldest of all my cousins. This entitlement script gets me in trouble because it leads to false expectations about what I deserve. Those expectations are seldom met and often lead to disappointment and resentment. A feeling of entitlement does not create a strong work ethic. I can come off as a slacker. I can come off as a jerk. Spoiled. Arrogant. Ungrateful. Not great qualities. I haven’t killed the virus yet. However, the fact that I know it’s there and can recognize the symptoms helps me fight it. When I feel resentful, disappointed, or ungrateful, I look and see if it’s based on me feeling entitled. When I merely act appreciative and show gratitude I feel like the virus is weakened. Now that I understand the principles, I have methods to rewrite the script, and methods to fight the symptoms.
Take a look today at what’s not working in your life. What are the principles that govern those faulty methods. Then go a layer deeper and ask what is the invisible script that created these principles. But do not get down on yourself. Do the same query for the things that are working in your life. There is a lot more going right than going wrong, I assure you.
Wednesday afternoon, 20130821, I woke up and went with Todd Lavictoire, Claiborne Davis, Dinneen Viggiano and her friend Cindy to Trina Altman’s reformer class and did some pilates. She’s an amazing teacher and it was fun to play on the reformer.
That afternoon we all went to Jill Miller’s Yoga Tune Up class at Equinox in Santa Monica. It was great to be able to watch Jill teach in the gym setting and keep it light and fun.
I ran into Elise Joan who I used to practice with at Sonic Yoga. That was a wonderful surprise. She seems to be carving out a remarkable career.
In the afternoon I drove to CrossFit LA which is owned by my friend Andy Petranek and I met with Brian MacKenzie of CrossFit Endurance and we did some work on my running technique. First he filmed me running and then we did a bunch of drills mostly with the jumprope but also some banded sprints and some foot pull drills. Then he videod my running again and it was so much better.
Here is some video from our session:
Finished with 21, 15, 9
KB Swings, 32kg
5, 4, 3, 2, 1 jump rope pulling drill between each round.