Are you using too much strength?
What does this mean and why is it wrong?
Most of us who have trained bjj for any length of time have both given and received the advice: “You Are Using Too Much Strength!” After a few years of training, a more advanced student will realize what this means in terms of being efficient and using leverage and timing in your rolls.
But to the new student, this seems like confusing advice. “Of course I am using strength! I have someone on top of me trying to bend my arm! I have to escape!”
To further complicate the issue, we have articles on conditioning and strength building for brazilian jiu-jitsu. Many of the top bjj competitiors are extermely well conditioned and explosive. Check a conditioning blog here.
So why is “using too much strength” wrong?
One of the best pieces of training advice I ever got early in my study of bjj came at a seminar. The seminar instructor was himself 145lbs, Royler Gracie. and displayed dazzlingly smooth and fluid jiu-jitsu. He was demonstrating a kimura and the much heavier opponent had a strong defensive grip on their belt. The instructor mimicked trying to use muscular power and grunting in exertion to break the grip.
He turned to the students and said “This is NOT jiu-jitsu! Some of these guys have a STRONG arm! You can not beat them this way.” He then suddenly switched to a choke. The opponent, preoccupied with defending the kimura, left the neck undefended and he immediately tapped.
The seminar instructor had made his point. If the technique (or more accurately the WAY you are trying to execute the technique) required much muscle power, how would you be able to execute it against a larger, stronger opponent?
I am fond of saying that I trained jiu-jitsu in order to learn how to defeat bigger, stronger opponents – not to beat smaller, weaker opponents! One must approach all of your techniques with the underlying presumption that your opponent is stronger than you and overcoming them with physical strength is simply not going to be an option.
A second part of this advice is that the beginning student attempts to compensate for a lack of technique with speed and strength. That is understandable if you are in a competition or self defense situation.
But we understand that rolling in the academy is for the purpose of DEVELOPING your bjj technique, not merely to prove how tough the individual is.
One student at my academy is a superior athlete. Lots of time in the weight room and natural athleticism mean that they can often overwhelm smaller, more experienced opponents. As an instructor, I caution the athlete to not be seduced by their early success in getting a tap over a more experienced student. Sure, they overwhelmed the smaller student and succeeded in getting a submission.
But my question to them is “Would their jiu-jitsu be effective if the opponent were the same weight and strength as you?” They would no longer have an advantage in the physical department and find out in a hurry if they had enough technique.
Perhaps more accurately, the advice should be “Try to find a technical solution to your bad position in the roll, rather than relying on athleticism.”
The person giving the advice is trying to tell you that you are using strength at the wrong time, when a technical solution is really what you need to be doing. When you are in a difficult situation in a match, pause and ask yourself “what is the technical solution?” Is there a way to escape or pass that would work if your opponent is heavier than you? A technical solution that would work even if you were fatigued and could no longer rely on explosive power?
Being a Good training Partner!
Train with control
One of my favorite BJJ sayings is, “BJJ is a marathon, not a sprint”. When we take this to heart, we understand that staying healthy so we can consistently train is vital to our progress. This is infinitely easier when your training partners drill and roll with control. “Control” does not imply a lack of intensity; it indicates moving technically and with purpose. Rickson is my favorite BJJ athletes, Somewhat surprisingly, when you speak to people who train with Rickson they describe a pleasant experience. Rickson is able to train with anyone, regardless of size and level, substituting fluid movement for the crushing power he uses in competition. Supporting this information is sparring footage online of do rolling with smaller male/female teammates moving with real grace and control. At the end of the rolls, all parties are covered in sweat and fatigued but at no point are any of Rickson’s partners at risk of injury. When we train with control, we make it easier for teammates to train more regularity and we also allow for the intensity to be increased. Increased mat-time and directed intensity promote technical improvement for our partners and us.
From time to time, we can also greatly benefit from training with partners who do not exhibit control. Power-reliant and overly aggressive partners can be unpredictable and unpopular in the gym. Ironically, they often replicate the same violent and uncontrolled movements we commonly find in self-defense situations. While training with these type of partners daily can be counter-productive to our efforts to stay healthy, we must sometimes embrace the opportunity rolling with them represents to improve our ability to react to and control spontaneous and threatening opponents. The keys are to be a training partner who exercises control and to train with like-partners regularly to insure longevity in the sport while also recognizing the opportunity for growth that infrequent training with “uncontrolled” people offers.
Check the ego
BJJ is a Martial Art where much of the focus is on the individual. Even though tournaments recognize both individual and team results, many still consider the individual more important than the concept of team. I am not here to debate that but feel it lends important context to this discussion. The same way that high-level, individual success demands a certain level of “ego” in terms of the approach to training and lifestyle, being a great training partner to any number of teammates over time requires some subjugation and control of “ego”. This is not to say that top-level athletes cannot be awesome teammates and training partners. It would be more accurate to say that those athletes must desire to also excel as teammates and training partners. The aforementioned example of Rickson rolling with smaller and less advanced partners illustrates how a world-class competitor can also make the choice to be a world-class teammate and training partner. When we, regardless of level of skill, “check our ego” during sparring and consider how we can make it productive for our teammates, as well as ourselves, we follow Rickson’s lead and help support the team collective as well as get individual benefit.
Whatever our goals in Jiu-JItsu, we all spend time on the same mat and the hours learning and sparring with training partners form the foundation upon which our BJJ lifestyles are built. When we consistently apply these tips, we become vehicles via which we help maximize both our and teammates’ academy experience. Being a great training partner on the mat allows us to better enjoy, and help others enjoy, all the benefits of BJJ in and out of the academy.
Here are a few tips to consider when rolling with a BJJ spaz
Understand that becoming more relax and less “spazzy” is a process that takes time. Just because you told your partner that he needs to chill out, doesn’t mean he will be able to. He can mentally be committed to relaxing and just training, but his body can have other ideas once you guys lock horns on the mat.
Keep them tight. When you give someone who is inexperienced or reckless with their movements too much space. They have a tendency to come crashing into you. Keeping them close will lessen that possibility.
If the person is super new. Do some situational rolling from the position you worked on during class. Many times when I rolled early on. Accidents happened because I didn’t know what to do, so I’d sling my body in one direction or the other to see what would happen. If they have a technique to focus on it will help eliminate the possibility of them doing something that might hurt you or them.
Use it as an opportunity to see how your BJJ skills work against someone who isn’t engaging the same way as everyone else. It’s good practice.
If they do stuff that is dangerous (elbows, headbutts, knees, etc). Talk to them and bring it to their attention. Again, it won’t be an immediate fix but it will bring their screw ups to their attention and over time help improve the situation.
If the person is being overly aggressive (no tapping, cranking submissions too quick, etc) bring it to your instructors attention. There is a difference between being inexperienced and sort of clumsy with your movements, and being aggressive and almost angry. If you get the vibe for the latter. Speak to your coach
Here are a few tips if you are the BJJ spaz (These are things that helped me).
Focus on your techniques. While you do need to experiment with positions and techniques to learn. If you’re a inexperienced practitioner. Really focus on what you’ve been shown. It will act as guide and help you from injuring someone. Many times I see newer white belts doing really weird stuff like squeezing on someones neck or spinning around with their elbows flung out. I try to get these people to focus on what I, or other instructors, have shown them in the past.
Do a little soul searching. Figure out why you feel the need to go balls out to win every single time you roll. Mine was because I was insecure and felt like that if I lost a roll, my day was a failure. Stupid yes, but that’s what I thought. Yours might be different. Either way. Understand that your BJJ progress is not predicated on whether you win every roll during training.
Roll with someone smaller or someone that you can easily control or don’t care losing against. Rolling with a couple of kids we used to have in class helped me tap into a slower gear. I didn’t care about being tapped or anything. They were kids. This allowed me to be more relaxed with my movements and just goof off. It gave me a feel for how I could turn down the intensity but still move around.
Put yourself in uncomfortable positions and learn to relax and be comfortable in the uncomfortable. Learn to stay calm and not to freak out when you’re in an undesirable spot.
It’s not the world championships every time you roll. On most days of training. You’re there like everyone else to get better and develop as a team together. Training is about building each other up, sharpening each others skills and growing with one another. Not about tapping them out and standing over top of them in victory.
BREATHE!!! I see so many newer people get crazy on the mat when they’re rolling. Then they take a deep breath and they’re able to relax. If you feel like you’re getting frustrated, angry or whatever, take a deep inhale and push the air out of your body. This always helped me. In fact, it was one of the queues my coaches used during my matches all the time. I would get to a position holding my breathe and I would just be going nuts. Then he’s say, “breathe.” With the exhale, everything seemed to slow down a bit and I was able to think more clearly which helped me relax.
So take it easy on those spazzy people in the gym, we all make mistakes. Be careful for sure, but unless you get the vibe that they are angry or just being mean. They are probably inexperienced and aren’t completely aware of how they’re rolling. They might even actively be trying to chill out.
If you are the so-called “spaz” in your gym. Learn to tone down the way you roll. Use some of the tips above and keep working. More than likely, as your experience grows, so will your level of comfort on the mat. The more comfortable you become the more relax you will be when you’re tangled up with someone during a roll.