3 Things You Need to Get Better at Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

How do you get better at Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

You practice of course.

But practice is a very deep and rich conversation. Things can complicated quite quickly.

And although I love the science of motor learning, I like to keep things super simple in concept and design. 

This is why I fell in love with this simple concept I read about from MMA fight Frank Shamrock. 

Embracing the Seasons of Jiu-Jitsu

If you want to grow your mind, your body, your movement practice or your Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu skills you have to plant seeds.

The seeds of tomorrow's brilliance, your shiny new skills, your beautiful new body and Jiu-Jitsu are planted in the soil of today's activities.

That begins right now.

It begins with what you're putting in your mind and your body. How you're cultivating the soil and how you're tending the seedlings. 

So many of us live in a perpetual harvest mode.

We just want to reap a harvest all the time. But we're not willing to plant the seeds, to tend the seeds and to take care of it.

There is a natural progression to everything in life: you plant, then cultivate and then finally you harvest.

When we were farmers everyone knew this intuitively. And the results were self-evident: it's just the way things are. 

Plant. Cultivate. Harvest.

But that's all changed today.

In today's culture everyone wants to go from plant to harvest.

We get frustrated when we join a BJJ school and aren't brown belts in 6 months. We get upset when we start a diet and don't lose 10 pounds in 2 days.

Cultivation. This is the step we've lost touch with. But it's exactly where the power lies.

And it's this step that you have the most control over.

And it takes place totally with your movement and Jiu-Jitsu practice. 

In fact, I would go as far as stating that Cultivate & Practice (as a verb) are quite synonymous. 

So don't worry about your training year or your 8-week cycle. Master your day. Cultivate daily rituals that will lead to the beautiful type of fruit your looking to enjoy. 

Master your day and all else will follow. 

Be Like Bamboo My Friend

Be Like Bamboo is more than just another BJJ (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu) brand. It is a lifestyle, a choice, a calling to choose the most simple, strongest and most sustainable path.

It is an attempt to live a more simple life, to be less stressed, to take it easy and be gentle on yourself and those around you in your day-to-day life and training.

Be Like Bamboo is about the "being" and not the "bling." It's about the process and the practice (as a noun & verb) and not being overly attached to the external outcome.

Be Like Bamboo is taking the Gentle Art (Jiu-Jitsu) out of the dojo and into the world. 

Here's what I believe.

  • Brazilian Jiu~Jitsu is about much more than positions and foot-locks... to me anyways. Those are great, but it’s also about freedom, fun, challenging myself and finding flow, working on something interesting, living a life I’m crazy about, making a difference and creating a legacy for my sons.
  • That you are the author and creator of your own unique Brazilian Jiu~Jitsu experience from the very first day you enter the Dojo or academy. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is the vehicle but the journey is completely up to you.
  • That you can create meaning from your BJJ training that extends far beyond the walls of your academy into your life and career.

The Dojo is always open!

Be Like Bamboo! Simple. Strong. Sustainable.

Be Like Bamboo or Get a Knuckle Punch from this random but adorable kid at the park.

Be Like Bamboo or Get a Knuckle Punch from this random but adorable kid at the park.

Two Recent Interviews...

I must apologize. I've been MIA for the past few months. I've been traveling a lot with speaking gigs and kettlebell workshops at various locations, which is always fun because I get to meet so many cool people but tough because other things get put on hold.

Like creating some awesome content for you.

But I'm back now, so let's get caught up.

I recently had the awesome pleasure of being on 2 wonderful podcasts where we talk about the Gentle Art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu,  and Physical Preparation for BJJ and life.

You can check them out here:

Show the Art Podcast 

Fight Camp Conditioning Podcast.

The Body is a Musical Instrument

As part of my daily ritual, I read at least 10 pages, often much more if I can get some alone time. Sometimes it's a book that I'm revisiting for the 100th time, as in this case, and sometimes it's a new book I recently picked up. As I read, I'd like to share with you the parts that really jump out at me. 

The following few paragraphs were written by my mentor Frank Forencich, creator of Exuberant Animal

It's taken from an essay called "Learning from the Inside Out." It's part of a collection of essays from his book called "Change Your Body Change the World."

I think you'll like it. I added some notes within the text also. I think you'll clearly see how this all relates to learning Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu very easily. Enjoy.

 "Musicians everywhere are united on this score. Theoretical abstractions don't carry much weight in music education; it's time-on-task that makes the difference.

Learn to play by playing.

Learn to move by moving.

Keep at it.Immerse yourself in the process and participate fully.

Practice. Practice. Practice.

Abstract knowledge is nice if you can get it, but it's action that makes the musician.

In this sense, music and physical education are simply different expressions of the same physical education process. Africans have known this for a long time, ( *I would also argue Brazilians and indigenous cultures.) but in the West we have yet to realize the common ground between music and movement. We segregate  athletics and music into different departments, often located at opposite ends of the campus. We use different curriculums and require that athletic and music teachers undertake entirely different courses of study and earn separate credentials.

But this isolation and segregation reveals a deep misunderstanding of physical learning.In fact, the musician and the athlete are engaged in a learning process that is far more similar than different. Ultimately, the biggest difference between the musician and the athlete is that the athlete works with big muscles of the butt, thighs and core, while the musician works with smaller muscles of the fingers, arms or mouth. But both artists are ultimately after the same objective: quality movement that's smooth, powerful and lively. Both are working the nervous system, sensation and motor feedback loops to produce highly coordinated, orchestrated movement.

In fact, as a thought experiment, let's try putting music teachers in charge of physical education and physical educators in charge of music. Yes, there would be a transition period with plenty of noise and wasted effort in the process, but ultimately everything would work out very nicely indeed. Musicians and coaches are both physical performance teachers after all.

So let's get back to the fundamentals.

Leave the abstractions for a another day. Get some movement going, then refine it as you go. 

Play the music, play the body, play the drum. Play Jiu-Jitsu!

It's all the same thing."

 

 

 

The 3 Levels of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

There are 3 levels of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu...and I'd imagine any form of martial art and combat sport to be honest.

These 3 levels are:

  • Reflexive/Reactive
  • Responsible (Or Response-Able.)
  • Creative

The Reflexive/Reactive Level is marked by our instinctual movements....movements that are hardwired into our system to protect us from danger. Think about going into the fetal position when we hear a loud sound or something startles us. These can be good reactions in most situations but in a grappling context they can be quite dangerous.

Some common sights you'll see in the Reflexive Level is giving up the back or pushing with the arms when you get mounted which quickly gets you choked or arm-locked. 

Another example of the Reflexive Level is using up all your energy while trying to escape and panicking under the pressure, exhausting yourself to the point that you can no longer defend yourself and surrender position.

Picture the new white belt student in your head for a moment. They have the best intentions, but are usually quite spastic and reactive simply because they haven't learned how to respond well to the techniques that are being applied to them.

The Responsible Level is the next level in BJJ. I want you to think about that word for a second and break it down...Responsible...Response-Able. It's literally your ability to respond.

On this level, you're able to think clearly and respond to your partner's attack with clarity and focus.

You know what to do.

You can step between stimulus and response and choose the most appropriate counter.

Please try to pay attention the next time you feel yourself being triggered and see if you can sneak back into that lovely place between stimulus and response and actually stop the reflexive...knee-jerk reaction and choose your next move.

In many situations you know well ahead of time what your training partner is planning so your response is proactive and not re-active. In fact...you can start to develop your game entirely around well-timed responses that put you into better position and also use your responses as attacks. For example, I have very few guard passes, but one of my favorites is the old-school stack pass. Often times I will simply wait and bait my partner to go for an armlock or triangle and use this opportunity to secure his collar and go for the stack pass. Do I get caught sometimes? Of course. But it does work very well for me. Being well-developed within the Responsible Level can blend into the next and 3rd level of BJJ, the Creative Level. 

On the Creative Level, you are the attacker, you are the person that decides where the game will be played and just how quick the pace and flow will be. You know that term Martial Artist? I believe that's where the "Artist" comes from, the Creative Level. 

Cauliphlower BJJ Creative

 

But the strange thing is though...artist don't sit around talk about art. They talk about work....works of art. It's a creative process. One that requires great effort and patience. One that requires us to chisel away at the non-essentials on a daily basis so we can bring out the beauty that's not hindered and dampened by excessive effort and tension. 

Jiu-Jitsu is not something you take...Jiu-Jitsu is something you make!

So get to work Jiu-Jiteiro! Start creating!

When you get a second please check out these awesomely creative Jiu-jiteiros:

Cauliphlower. 

Show the Art.

How to Get Smashed and Keep Smiling

Maybe I'm just a selfish guy. Maybe I'm asking for too much? But to be blunt, I think the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world is pretty closed-minded and incestuous.

Personally, I want more out of my jiu-jitsu journey than the move of the day and let's roll syndrome. I'm looking for a deeper connection with human movement, play and physical challenge. 

Sometimes we need to look outside of our own culture to discover some gems.  I think I've found one.

There's an entire world of movement available to us. Beautiful movement cultures and approaches that would blend and resonate very well with the gentle art, but we're so slow to adopt them and to explore what they may have to offer us as Jiu-Jitsu players. 

One dogma I hear quite frequently is "You don't need anything for your jiu-jitsu but your jiu-jitsu..." Although there is some truth to that statement, it's not the best way to train if longevity is a goal of yours. 

Take a moment and check out the video below. Please watch and listen through the eye's and ears of a jiu-jitsu player and see the truth, the beauty and wisdom in exploring other movement arts. See what this type of play can offer us.

Here are my favorite highlights:

  • When you are changing partners, you're meeting a new strategy. And you can test on yourself how adaptable you are. 
  • You have to speculate how to put your partners out of their habits. Because only there do you cook & develop.
  • Everybody can have muscle...but what kind of muscle do you have?
  • Diversity brings immunity! (This may be my favorite.)
  • Try.Try.Try. Change partners. Try.
  • Out of repetition the quality will come.
  • Play.Play.Play.
  • If you don't have pressure you don't develop.
  • Stay healthy but be challenged. (This sounds very much like Judo's "Mutual Benefit Tenet.")
  • You get smashed but you still smile and go on to explore more.



Jiu-Jitsu and the Art of Churning

I grew up in small-town PA. There were plenty of woods around my house and they were always a favorite get-a-away for me and my friends. We spent hours playing in the woods behind my house and one of our favorite things to do was to make a mess with an old water pump that was on my neighbor's property.

Jason C. Brown | Churning

Every Spring we would sneak down to this old pump and try to make a huge puddle of mud. But we had one issue...there was always a ton of junk in the line...leaves, mud, stink and skunk piss.

So we had to churn.

Churning is the art of producing garbage. 

We had to literally pump out the garbage before we could get to the cool, clear pure spring water that we were searching for. 

And one day while I was down on myself about my Jiu-Jitsu skills and practice I started thinking about those days and then it hit me.

Our bodies and our Jiu-Jitsu can be just like that old water pump (I wonder if it's still there.)

We literally have to crank our levers up and down and churn out the garbage before we see the quality of movement that we're searching for. And sadly, sometimes that garbage has been sitting in those pipes for a very long time. It's brown, it's rusty and smells horrible.

But, the solutions isn't to stop pumping. The solution is to pump more. You have to keep going. I have to keep going. 

Eventually the bad movement will be pushed out of your system and you can hit the clean pure water (Jiu-Jitsu) hidden below. Churn out enough garbage and you can start to create beautiful movements and Jiu-Jitsu.

Just accept the fact that churning is a process. Something you will revisit every training session perhaps or maybe not so often. In that case you're lucky.  Just don't let it get you down...the pure waters are on their way.

The Top 5 BJJ Conditioning Tools

A lot of people suffer from paralysis by analysis, always postponing their performance training until they have the best training tool, the best training situation or the best training partner.

This is a huge mistake.

You CAN take action now and start developing the physical attributes you need to have fun and enjoy Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to it’s fullest.

One area where people struggle most is deciding which training tools are the best for BJJ Conditioning and workouts. I’ve compiled my short list of favorite training tools that I’d like to share with you.

My list may not be the same as yours, no worries. After you’re done reading this post please let me know your favorite training tools are in the comments below. I’m sure others would love to hear your list as well.

Cost- How large is the initial investment? Will there be an ongoing cost or maintenance fee associated with this piece of equipment.

Footprint- how large is this equipment? Does it take up much floor space? Can it be stored away easily?

Portability- can you travel easily with this training tool? Will it fit in your training bag? How about your trunk or suitcase for your trip overseas?

Lifetime value- how long will this training tool last you? Will you be able to pass it on to your future generations?

With this criteria in mind here we go…

Nothing Trains Your Body Better Than Your Body…Duh.

The best BJJ conditioning tool is your own body, without a doubt, nothing trains your body better than your body. It’s always there; it’s highly portable and easy to travel with. It’s already paid for and the exercise possibilities are incredibly immense.

You can crawl, climb, run, jump, do solo BJJ drills, shadow wrestle…you name it, if you can imagine it, you can do it. Do I even need to speak about its lifetime value? Hopefully you’ll have it for a long, long time and if you treat it right you will.

Wanna Roll?

My number 2 on this list is someone else’s body. The only reason why someone else’s body isn’t #1 is because you may not always have access to a training partner. But all the same benefits of using your own body apply here as well, and can often be enhanced.

Since BJJ is a grappling sport it’s a great idea to actually apply force against another body, perhaps a body of equal or greater weight and a body that is resisting your own actions.

Drilling and sparring are excellent options of course but partner calisthenics are also a very effective method for getting into BJJ shape.

And again, the exercise options are limitless, resisted pull-ups, monkey boys, resisted partner push-ups etc…Use your imagination and match your training to the demands of BJJ and you’ll have some great results.

Numbers 3 on my list is dumbbells and kettlebells. Yes, I’m including these under the same number and yes there are some distinct mechanical differences between these training tools but it’s not that big of a deal to have a separate category.

I choose dumbbells and kettlebells next because they rank high for all my chosen criteria. They’re both very versatile, can be taken almost anywhere (I’ve taken them to Brazil and Mexico without any issue.) They don’t take up much space and you’ll be able to pass them onto your future generations quite easily. I’ve seen some vintage kettlebells and dumbbells for sale on EBay that are well over 100 years old.

Sure, they cost more than your body or a training partner (unless you plan on doing more than training.) but it’s a one-time investment and their lifetime value makes up for their initial cost.

Number 4 on my list is some form of suspension trainer. It could be a set of classic gymnastic rings, a TRX, an Airfit Pro or a Jungle Gym XT. There are many models and options to choose from currently and I appreciate and train with them all.

The exercise options when using a suspension trainer are quite broad and versatile. It’s very easy to make adjustments in leverage and angles making each exercise either easier or more difficult depending on your needs.

You should have no issues traveling with any suspension trainers. I’ve taken mine inside my carry-on luggage without any glitches on domestic and international flights. They don’t take up any floor space and can be taken down very easily and stored quickly.

Some suspension trainers are a bit on the pricey side. I suggest you investigate each option and match it with the type of training you have in mind. You may not need all the bells and whistles that come with some units.

Number 5 on my list is a favorite of many old-time grappling traditions…the sandbag.

I would have really loved to place sandbag training higher on my list but the truth is once you’ve built a nice sandbag it’s hard to travel with. You’ll be able to fit it into your trunk no problem but it is a pain. Trust me! I’ve done just that for years and it’s a pain.

But don’t let that stop you from using sandbag training for your BJJ conditioning.

Outside of your own body and the body of a resisting training partner, sandbags are the next best thing. Sandbags develop great grip and isometric strength. They’re excellent for performing loaded carries and walks and they’re generally very tough and hard to destroy.

There are several commercial sandbag options available, some great, some not so great. If you go the commercial route I recommend Ultimate Sandbags form Josh Henkin. But to be honest, I still love my homemade sandbag made from an old sea bag and duct tape.

Things I didn’t include.

I don’t like barbell training so I didn’t include it here on my list. I honestly feel barbell training is great for developing strength but not so great at developing other physical qualities like power and endurance.

Sure you can rock some O-lifts with your barbell but they’re rather tricky to pick up, and I’d rather you spend your time on the mat and you can train similar and equal movements with dumbbells and kettlebells.

What else? Any type of cardio machine, this is just too obvious. Besides being very expensive, taking up large amounts of space and limited in terms of training options you can accomplish everything cardio machines promise with creative coaching and programming.

What’s on your list?

I’m sure I’ve let some things off my list that you love to train with so let me hear about them. Shout out load and clear in the comment section below. But be sure to tell me why you train on those tools as well. Paz.

Do You Make These Mistakes in Your BJJ Training?

Getting the most out of your BJJ workouts involves making some decisions. Problem is, when making decisions it's very easy to choose the wrong path or maybe the longer path to where you want to be.

I love stepping off the beaten path from time to time and don’t always consider it a waste of time but I’m going to make four assumptions about your workouts for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu:

  • You want to get the most out of your body.
  • You want to get the most out of your training on AND off the Jiu-Jitsu mat.
  • You want your workouts to compliment your BJJ specific training and not take away from it in any way.
  • You want the greatest impact and reward from your training when you actually have the time to train...

With those 4 assumptions in mind I’d like to highlight some of the most common mistakes that I see BJJ players make in their conditioning plans. In no particular order by the way, as these may manifest differently for you and from athlete to athlete.

1. Devoting too much time to strength & conditioning: I know this is a weird one coming from a strength and conditioning coach but here me out. I truly believe that if you want to succeed at a sport then you must spend most of your time actually training that sport, upwards of 70-80% of your time should be spent on that mat mastering the basics and working on the technical skills you need for your BJJ game.

The other 20% of your time could be devoted to strength & conditioning and corrective exercises, injury prevention and reduction etc…

So, in case you’re not good with percentages, if you had 10 hours per week to train, 8 of those should consist of actual BJJ training, technical and tactical. 2 hours of your week would be supplemental strength & conditioning work. And that can further divided into shorter sessions over the course of the week etc…15 minutes before work, 15 minutes during a lunch hour. Your supplemental work does not need to be done all in one session.

Quick note: If you’re a re-creational BJJ player those percentages can completely change and disappear all-together. I know many people that use their time on the mats as their only workout and have no desire for additional training. There’s not one thing wrong with this unless (and it’s very probable) that imbalances occur. At that point they seek out some additional training but only enough to help correct the imbalance and speed recovery.

2. Getting too sport specific: I learned this term from Vern Gambetta “Athlete Specific- Sport Relevant. “ and I love it. Your athletic development program should be specific to you and relevant to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Unless you’re nearing a competition there’s no need to have your work and rest ratios to mimic a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu match. There’s no need to continuously stress the same movement patterns as in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. You’re getting enough of that on the mat. Save that stuff for when you’re in the top 3% of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitors.

3. Choosing the wrong exercises: This one is closely related to my last point. Since you’re only devoted around 20% of your training to strength and conditioning you better be choosing exercises that have the greatest impact on the physical attribute you’re trying to develop.

As in BJJ, the basics work best, deadlifts, squats, presses, rows and pull-ups. If you bore easily you can apply the “Same but Different” principle. Instead of pull-ups use gi pull-ups or mixed grip chin-ups. Instead of bench presses hit some incline dumbbell presses…you get the point.

4. Always working your strengths: Don’t be that guy that bench press 600lb but can’t wipe his pooper. You are not a powerlifter and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is one sport that requires several physical attributes to have fun and be successful…agility, mobility, flexibility, endurance etc…

If you know you’re lacking big-time in one area spend some time bringing it up to acceptable levels.

5. Not having fun: This one is hard for me to understand. It’s 2012, you have more options than ever before to get in-shape. Don’t suffer through some class that you absolutely hate. There’s no need to. Find something that makes you come to life and go for it. Don’t like yoga? There are other ways to get flexible. Don’t like weight training? I know some beast that do nothing but bodyweight training. Cool? Cool.