A recent post on Facebook got me thinking about this one today. “Strength training to improve your BJJ”. Now, before I say anything, I will confess that at one time I was a die-hard gym rat, iron pumping, bodybuilder type. I did a LOT of weight training.
Then I started training Jiu-Jitsu.
At first, I did both. I had gone back to college after a layoff and had a lot of time so I lifted weight in the mornings and trained Jiu-Jitsu in the afternoons. For a while it was all good. People would often comment, “Man, you’re really strong.” At the time, my no stripe white belt attitude took it as a compliment. Then I started getting severe tennis elbow in both arms. For those who aren’t sure, tennis elbow is the common term for tendonitis of the elbow. It was so bad that some nights after BJJ I could barely shift gears in my VW golf. Something had to give and it wasn’t going to be BJJ. So I quit lifting weights and my elbows slowly got better. I would go back to the gym and do a full routine for arms and I’ be right back to the tendinitis. After trying this cycle of lift, hurt, rest, repeat I just gave up lifting weights. I just didn’t go back. I miss it occasionally, when I put on my bathing suit and realize I could do for some military presses, or some squats for the chicken legs that BJJ can sometimes deliver, but I don’t miss it enough to go back to doing it, I don’t think.
But recently, I have been hearing about and reading these articles about “Strength training for BJJ” and it got me to thinking…Strength training to improve your BJJ…Hmmmm, something isn’t right here.
Don’t get me wrong, there is certainly nothing wrong with weight training. it’s good for your body and can be good for your mind too, but I am having trouble with it improving your BJJ. In fact, I am going to go so far as to say it is just plain wrong to put “strength training” and “improving your BJJ” in the same sentence. Okay, I said it. Now I need to explain why, and the reason is surprisingly simple, yet it can hide behind misconceptions.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, as I think we can all agree, is special because it was designed to counteract your opponents strength. It was designed to utilize leverage, angles and positioning so that the weak could defend themselves from the strong. With this axiom in place we can now start to see the inherent error in the concept of “strength training to improve BJJ”. It just doesn’t make sense.
If you tell me that being stronger makes you more capable of pulling off certain sweeps, or techniques, I will agree. Then I will tell you it is because you “muscled it”. That can’t be argued logically because your supposition is that the sweep / technique worked because you were stronger, i.e… you muscled it.
What I mean by this is that, inherently, couched inside of this idea that extra strength = more successful technique application is the truth that, while you may actually be more successful with certain techniques, your Jiu-Jitsu did not, necessarily get one tiny bit better. After all, the topic was “Strength training to improve your BJJ”. You may improve your strength but how did that help your BJJ?
This can be confusing at first because, I believe, some of us have not made a clear distinction between Jiu-Jitsu (and the study of it, understanding of it, and execution of it) and it’s close cousin: Winning on the mat.
Wining on the mat looks a lot like Jiu-Jitsu. You wear the same uniform, you go to the same gym, you train on the same mat, but “Winning” gets you medals, photo ops on the podium, and potentially a following or sponsorships. Of course, getting better at Jiu-Jitsu itself can also bring you those things, but it is a lot slower.
It seems unfortunate to me that winning on the mat and getting better at Jiu-Jitsu are so commonly confused or seen as the same thing. In fact, they are almost diametrically opposed when we start looking for ways other than Jiu-Jitsu to improve your Jiu-Jitsu.
But what about the case of two athletes, with equal technique, stamina, cardio…the lot, Won’t the stronger guy have a better chance of winning? Hmmm… I guess so.
I believe it was Ken Shamrock who said (as counterpoint to the Gracie mantra “size doesn’t matter”) “All else being equal, size DOES matter”. But Ken was talking about winning a fight, not about Jiu-Jitsu. Again, the confusion between “winning matches” and “Jiu-Jitsu” causes us problems.
Maybe you’re thinking: “Eric, you’re not making any sense. You just said “If you strength train you are likely to win more”!
Yes, you may win more, but because of being stronger, not necessarily because of superior Jiu-Jitsu. Personally, I don’t need to win a strength fight. I want to win a Jiu-Jitsu fight. Not because I am stronger, but because my Jiu-Jitsu is better. Being stronger does not make your Jiu-Jitsu better, Studying more Jiu-Jitsu makes your Jiu-Jitsu better.
Yes, many people want to WIN in Jiu-Jitsu tournaments. Hey, so do I. I ALWAYS step on the mat wanting a win. but, I never want to win so badly that I turn away from Jiu-Jitsu and rely on strength! Nowadays, when someone tells me…”Man, you’re really strong”…I get really bummed. I don’t want to be really strong. I want to be really good at Jiu-Jitsu.
As I get older, and weaker, I still want my Jiu-Jitsu to get better. The idea that strength training can improve your Jiu-Jitsu implies that, conversely, as you get weaker, your Jiu-Jitsu will get worse. Does that sound right to you? It doesn’t to me. Sure, I might not win tournament matches against the younger, stronger guys as much as I used to, but Jiu-Jitsu isn’t about winning.
Jiu-Jitsu is about Improving. Improving your technique, improving your mind, and improving your life!
Let me be straight: I do not hate on anyone for strength training, or for wanting to win tournaments, or for wanting to improve their Jiu-Jitsu. And I have no problem with lifting weights to look good, or feel good, help win tournaments, or just for the zen experience it can be. But what I do want is to help folks understand that there really is no connection between “getting better at Jiu-Jitsu” and “strength training”. You CAN do both, just don’t think that the latter will do the former.
Jiu-Jitsu is Jiu-Jitsu and Winning is Winning, sometimes they happen at the same time, sometimes they don’t.
Oss! Good training everybody!