Tag Archives: training

Improving At Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: Work On Your Weaknesses

There are no secret techniques. There is no magic to getting your black belt. It’s just an often overlooked quality called “hard work.” But hard work for the sake of hard work can lead to a lot of wasted effort. There is nothing that can replace more time on the mat except more quality time on the mat.

The journey to black belt in jiujitsu, for most of us, is a long one. And after years of training and stopping and starting and getting older and getting injured, I have learned a few things. One of those things is that consistency and persistence are extremely important, but so is training smarter and in a more focused manner. Sure there are plenty of athletes that simply accumulate more hours per day of training and therefore get to black belt faster. However, there are many athletes that get to black belt not only quicker but arrive at black belt less injured and with more gas in the tank and with a more well-rounded game.

One thing we always stress in CrossFit is working your weaknesses. This is just as true for jiu-jitsu. Your weaknesses are where you stand to make the most improvement. If you are a great perimeter shooter in basketball, you won’t improve your overall game by spending more time shooting threes. You stand to gain more as a player by working on your weaknesses like rebounding or free throws. Thus becoming a bigger threat on the court. The better you become at something, the smaller gains you can make over time. Taking one minute off your mile time is a wholly different experience if you run a 5-minute mile versus if you have a 10-minute mile.

This advice applies to most things we do in life because most things require us to have more than one specific skill. Once we move past the initial stages of learning the basics, we should endeavor to challenge ourselves to fortify our weakest links.

The reason why most people do not follow this strategy, is because most people do not want to start over and be a beginner or look like a beginner. If you are a purple belt and you have been training for five to seven years, you probably have a lot of good moves. You can hold your own on the mat. You probably got to where you are because you found a handful of techniques that worked well for your body and you had some success with them so you ended up using them a lot and became pretty strong at those aspects of your game. It’s safe to say you are becoming an expert at a few techniques and/or positions. However, you probably still have some holes in your game because you simply cannot get good at everything. The goal should be to periodically look at your skillset objectively and decide what your weaknesses are and attack them. However, many people would rather continue to utilize the techniques that brought them success so that they can continue to appear good. This is especially true in jiujitsu where it “looks bad” if you are a higher belt getting tapped by anybody, especially lower belts. It’s that stigma that forces people to fight harder than they should and to avoid getting into positions that make them look bad. It’s that mentality that makes people train only with people that they know they can beat or only train when they’re fresh and not when they’re tired. It’s that mentality that makes people go for easy footlocks (not that I have anything against footlocks) instead of really trying to pass the guard.

My best advice for those that are too proud to be tapped by lower belts and too proud to look bad practicing moves they suck at is this: nobody cares until you are a black belt! I would rather spend the next few years being the worst brown belt so that one day I can be a formidable black belt.

Training for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Taking twelve years away from Brazilian jiu-jitsu (“BJJ”) was not good for my skills on the mat.  However, I used that time to do a lot of training and coaching and worked with thousands of athletes around the world teaching CrossFit, kettlebells, weightlifting, mobility and gymnastics seminars.  While it could be said that I’ve dabbled in too many fields, I like to think that doing everything from yoga to strongman training has given me a lot of perspective when it comes to training.  As the saying goes, “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”  I find that yoga teachers think that yoga is what’s missing from everyone’s training and weightlifters think that everyone needs to get stronger and lift more weight.  Most blackbelts and people who have achieved success at something tend to advocate for whatever worked for them.  It’s only natural.  So when I lay out the things that I think are most important to BJJ athletes to help their training, I imagine my viewpoint might go against what other people have said. And that’s okay.  I am just here to help.

Coming back to the mat after 12 years, it’s taken me a few months to get back to my former level but I feel like I’m there.  In some ways I’m better than I was 12 years ago and in some ways I still have a lot of the same bad habits that I have to work to undo.  But what is important to remember is that now, at 46 years of age, I am in better shape than I was at 34 and I am smarter about taking care of my body.  So while I am an old purple belt and am not some world champion blackbelt or a CrossFit Games athlete, I have a lot of experience and time under tension. I also have a lot of training injuries that I’ve worked through so my recommendations come from a place of experience with an eye toward longevity.

Most blackbelts will tell you that if you want to be good at BJJ, you need more time on the mat. In order for you to log more training hours, you need to be healthy and injury free.  In order to stay strong and healthy what you do off the mat is extremely important.  Most blogs and magazine articles are concerned with optimal training: getting stronger, faster and being generally more awesome all the time.  This thinking is essential for young competitors. That is not who my advice is aimed at (although younger athletes will do well to heed this advice).  My experience is that you can take a 20-something male and throw a ton of training at them (both good and bad) and they will still continue to improve and get better.  Furthermore, younger people can train through injuries just because they’re young and (think/believe) they’re invincible.  I want to talk to the 30-, 40- and 50-year old BJJ athletes that are already starting to feel the wear and tear of training and advancing age.  Time is a precious resource and the older you get, the less likely you are going to be pursuing a professional jiu-jitsu career, so efficiency and longevity are more important than creating an optimal program.  For example, if you wanted to optimize your strength (i.e. get really strong, really fast), you might lift three to five days per week and follow some complicated periodized program and do a lot of complicated exercises.  However, lifting once or twice a week and sticking with 3 to 5 sets of 3 to 5 big exercises and going as heavy as you can for that day will give you almost all the general strength benefits that you need for BJJ without sucking up a lot of valuable time and energy.

For myself and my athletes I first consider that training time is limited and so our training off the mat has to be efficient and effective.  There are a lot of things that we could do, but there are a few things that we must do.  There are four areas that need to be addressed and trained and if you give them the proper weight and allot adequate time for them it will help you stay strong and injury free and allow you to enjoy your time in the dojo.

The four elements are Joint Preparation, Assisted Recovery, Conditioning, and Strength.   I listed them in what I consider their order of importance.  Furthermore, these four elements have some overlap so the lines can be blurred sometimes.  So doing joint preparation can also make you stronger and help your cardio. For example, doing heavy farmers carries (holding a very heavy dumbell/kettlebell in each hand and walking for distance or time) is not only a form of strength training, but it is also a conditioning workout because your heart will beat out of your chest.  Furthermore, it strengthens the grip as well as the connective tissues in the hands, wrists, elbows and shoulders.  Therefore, choosing exercises that have some crossover can be very efficient if you are short on time.  Of course, it goes without saying, that nutrition is probably the most important weapon in your arsenal with regards to health and longevity, so while you read this eat a fucking salad!

I will go into greater detail in future blog posts on how to properly prepare your joints, ideas for recovery and, of course, strength and conditioning.  Meanwhile, keep training and getting better.

Moving Into Stillness

This is not a blog about zen meditation although that is a good idea. This is about training. I discovered a weakness in my training and decided to share it with you as well as a simple strategy on how to strengthen it.

I am just finishing up the 30 Day Hanging Challenge from Ido Portal. The challenge is simple: spend 7 minutes every day hanging. Hang from a pull-up bar, rings, tree branch, door frame, etc. I started doing this and realized it was much harder than it sounds. Although I have a relatively strong grip, I have rather limited endurance in my grip strength and I actually struggle with being able to hang one-handed. Doing this challenge has made me stronger and reignited my interest in doing some other static work.

It turns out that isometric holds are a useful tool for strength development and positional awareness. They are a great tool for beginner and advanced athletes and are infinitely scalable.

As a coach I try to simplify complex movements. I look for the weak links in my athletes and try to strengthen them so that they can perform at their best and before those weaknesses lead to injuries. When I look at movement I look at the starting position, the finish position and the movement from one to the other. With that in mind, doing some isometric work on the basic start and finish positions can lead to better and safer movement.

Try to hold each of the following positions for a minute or more and see how strong you are. Please keep your body in a strong organized position the entire time. If that is too easy, try an L-hold where possible or try them one-handed where possible.

Hollow body
Arch body
Top of push-up (plank)
Bottom of push-up
Top of the ring dip (Support)
Bottom of the ring dip
Bottom of the pull-up
Top of the pull-up (chin over bar)
Top of the chin-up (supinated grip)
Top of the Chest to Bar pull-up
Top of the false grip ring pull-up
Headstand (bottom of the HSPU)

Some of these are far more difficult than others. Do not let that dissuade you. Go try each of these positions and see where you stand. Progress comes slowly but it’s worth it. Mastery of these basic positions will help you build strength and help with basic positioning as you fatigue during workouts.