Monday, February 18, 2013

Should I Use Strength In BJJ?

                               One of my least favorite training partners:  24 kg kettlebell

Let's just cut to it.  Nothing makes me more stark staring mad than I when hear people say, "You shouldn't use strength in BJJ" or to a lesser extent, "I'm not going to use any strength".  What!?

The thing that sets BJJ apart from other traditional martial arts is the fact that you and your partner can go 100% (yes, that means using strength, lots of strength) without hurting each other.

And when I say 100%, I am talking about rolling in a controlled manner (not rolling recklessly or with the intent to injure or hurt someone).  Look, things happen.  We are practicing a full contact sport.  I've been hurt unintentionally, and I've hurt people unintentionally, too.  That's part of the game, sometimes.

Use some common sense as well.  I am not going to roll the same way with the young, high school kid or the fifty five year old recreational player the same way I roll with the another purple belt my size and weight.  Also, if I am visiting an academy (which I do quite often), like I did this past week in Japan, I am going to let the upper belts set the pace of a spar and try to be a respectful as I can to the other guys.  Some of you guys that have been doing BJJ for awhile, you know exactly what you are in for the first minute or so of a spar.  Act accordingly.

If I am sparring with a strong guy or a big guy, and things don't go my way, I have several options:

1.  Get frustrated and inwardly complain that the other guy is just using strength
2.  If the guy is a lower rank than me, tell them, "Gee, you shouldn't use so much strength"
3.  Realize that something is off about my game if I can't handle someone's strength or that I just need more experience.  That means assessing the situation and problem and taking the appropriate steps to solve it like rolling more with strong people (not avoiding them), figuring out the holes in my game, and using alternative strategies when sparring with someone really strong that gives me problems.

Being a tiny dude, I don't need to have some false sense of my BJJ abilities.  I want to remain honest with myself and what I can do, so that I can always improve and try to stay grounded.  I specifically tell some guys to go 100% (without hurting me of course) and to use full power and pressure.  It's real simple.  You and I are going to do our best to strangle each other, and if either one of us catches one another we tap and start over.  I'm going to try my best (yes, using power) to get you and you are going to try your best to get me.  Case closed. 

I've stated before that I don't agree with Caio Terra on his stance on weight training, but I really admire other views that he has on BJJ.  I watched an interview with him recently, and he said something like, "Don't worry about getting smashed in the gym.  Only then can your jiu-jitsu grow".

I try to remain realistic about my jiu-jitsu abilities as well.  Sure, Helio made BJJ for the small guy to beat the bigger guy, but he never said anything about the bigger, stronger guy knowing BJJ, too.

Also, if you are strong, don't feel bad about using what you have.  Work on technique of course, but use your natural abilities, too.  I've never had someone tell me, "Gosh , your fast, but you shouldn't use your quickness".  If you are not hurting people, don't let people make you feel bad, because you are using strength.  Those are other people's hang-ups.  It's going to be a real eye opener when you show up to a competition and are surprised or not used to the other guy using his power. 

The last thing I want to touch on is weight training.  For me, this has only improved and helped my BJJ.  I'm always getting, "Man, you're strong"!  I find this comment a compliment, but I get it most often (9/10) when I am not even using that much strength.  Gee, the reason that I'm not breathing very hard, and you are laying on your back huffing and puffing probably has more to do with technique than strength.  Especially considering you outweigh me by at least 10 kg. 

To put things in perspective, I am about 63/64 kg.  I lift weights about two, maybe three times a week along with some basic calisthenics.  I also use an exercise bike since I feel that cardio is what can make or break your game.  The main reason I've excelled at BJJ is dedication, hard work, and mat time, but at the same time the fact that I am strong has really, really helped me in being able to handle bigger, stronger guys.

To make it clear, I feel technique is very important, but it sure helps (a lot) if you are srong, too. 

Be honest with yourself and your abilities and don't make excuses when things don't go your way.  Instead of complaining or getting frustrated (I get frustrated, too sometimes, so don't be too hard on yourself), be introspective and  look at those situations as opportunities to help you grow and improve your BJJ.  Happy rolling!

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