I see it all the time. A Jiu Jitsu student has a dominant position but loses it attempting to hit a submission.
We all want to get the tap. I get it. Most of us that train Jiu Jitsu are competitive, so when we see an opening we enthusiastically go for it. Problem is, it all too often results in a loss of position. And no submission.
Here’s a rule I try to live by: Attempt submissions only when the possibility of losing the position is low and/or the loss can be recovered from relatively easily.
I only make a couple exceptions to this rule:
1. When the clock is running out and I need to try to make something happen.
2. If I’m rolling playfully. In that case the goal is to exchange positions, so I don’t care where I end up.
If I’m rolling more competitively, the objective is always to achieve and retain positional dominance. The submission is secondary.
If you are relatively new to BJJ, your focus should be on learning to positionally control someone. As positional control improves it eventually becomes positional dominance. That’s when your opponents will be under such stifling control that any move they attempt ends up making their situation worse. Every movement tightens the noose. That’s when submissions will happen much more reliably.
As Roy Dean says: The submission is just the punctuation mark in a strategy of eliminating movement options from your opponent.
Eliminate movement options. If you can do that, the submission will happen more organically, and without the risk of positional loss.
Posted by Rick Ellis on September 09, 2018 • COMMENTS
Jiu Jitsu is not about stopping people, it’s about surfing people.—Evandro Nunes
I love the surfing analogy and use it all the time. In fact, the name “Third Way” is a reference to the concept of blending with an opponent’s movement. This is exactly what surfers do. A surfer can’t control a wave. They can’t redirect a wave. All they can do is integrate with it. Jiu Jitsu in its most sophisticated form is essentially human surfing. This is what allows a weaker grappler to have success against a bigger, stronger opponent. Matching strength is rarely a winning strategy.
New Jiu Jitsu practitioners almost universally proclaim “I need to get stronger!”. When ones technique is limited it’s a natural impulse to seek success through improved physical capability. Now, make no mistake, being stronger is better than being weaker. But the truth is, unless you managed to hit the genetic lottery, you will never be strong enough to deal with everyone you face on the mat. So if you are frustrated that there are big strong guys in your gym that give you a lot of trouble, you’re not alone. Nearly everyone feels this frustration.
But it’s important to understand that what they present is a technical and strategic challenge more than a physical one. I know it doesn’t feel like it when you’re being smashed, but it’s the truth. The only viable way to deal with someone that has superior physical attributes is to have superior technique—better timing and sensitivity, more accurate movement, better balance and weight distribution, more mechanically sound structures, better grip precision, and a bigger arsenal of technical solutions at your disposal. Good technique is what allows a surfer to, well, surf, despite the wave’s massive power differential.
So focus on technical development and learn to stay relaxed and present. If you can do that you’ll soon be much better equipped to deal with people of all shapes and sizes, and you’ll enjoy much more longevity in the sport. I’m not saying you shouldn’t go to the gym to lift heavy objects, but the fundamental purpose of strength is to help achieve better technique and greater efficiency at lower RPMs. Strength should never be a substitute for technique. The goal is to become a great surfer.
Posted by Rick Ellis on September 01, 2018 • COMMENTS
This video clip shows just how fast things can go south, and just how important it is to first establish control over a resisting adversary. My commentary isn’t intended to single out these policemen, but rather offer a few general observations from the perspective of someone that trains Jiu Jitsu.
In Jiu Jitsu, our primary goal is to put an opponent on their back and establish full control either via side control, mount, or knee on belly. When someone is on their back they will have the least number of movement options. Yes, they might still be able to use their arms and flail their legs, but these can be nullified within the context of positional control. Maintaining control and denying movement options is priority number one.
Cops are generally taught to put a suspect belly down so they can be cuffed. But unless control has been established FIRST, then the belly down position actually gives someone more movement options, especially if they can get to their knees. We see this in action in the video. The policemen established almost no control, nor did they prevent the suspect from getting to his knees which allowed him to escape. Punching the suspect ended up being counterproductive. Not only did it give him more space to move, it created more motivation to fight and flee.
What should the cops have done? Around the 45 second mark, after disarming him, the larger cop should have immediately pinned him using knee on belly, then transition either to mount or side control. The smaller cop could then have provided a support role, pinning the legs. They gave the man way too much room, and as the seconds ticked, this emboldened him to grab a gun and fight.
Establishing positional control over a resisting opponent is the primary goal in Jiu Jitsu. The secondary goal is getting the submission. In the case of cops, the “submission” is akin to cuffing them. And this can not reliably happen until you have eliminated all movement options.
Often, against a strong, dynamic opponent, it’s important to be patient and weather the initial storm. Going for a submission too soon can create an opening for them to counter or escape. Instead, it’s better to wait. To be patient. If you have someone under control, let them burn themselves out. Once they are tired they become far more easy to deal with.
In addition to learning to control someone, Jiu Jitsu teaches students to seize moments of opportunity very quickly. It trains you to take immediate action whenever an opportunity presents itself. It does this through a live training methodology that rewards fast decision-making, and makes you pay a price when you’ve fallen behind. In a life and death situation, seconds count.
Four of our students participated in the Laramie Police Department lip sync video. One of the storylines was that of a bullied girl that takes up martial arts. Jessi did a great job showcasing her BJJ! Thanks to the Laramie PD for including us!
Posted by Rick Ellis on August 11, 2018 • COMMENTS
11 years ago Roy Dean released a DVD entitled Blue Belt Requirements. I manned the camera and our good friend TJ would appear on screen. This video would become wildly popular, putting Roy on the map as a rising star in the BJJ world. No one had yet codified on an instructional video what is required to become a blue belt, so it quickly became a cornerstone in many a white belt’s journey. During the ensuring years we would join forces to produce half a dozen other DVDs. All of them would become very popular, but the king of them all to this day has continued to be Blue Belt Requirements.
Despite the long-lasting popularity of BBR, it was looking pretty dated. We filmed it in 4:3 aspect ratio in standard definition, as wide screen high def wasn’t ubiquitous yet. We also weren’t particularly good filmmakers. The production, camera work, and ancillary material on newer DVDs would be decidedly better. So a few months ago Roy announced that it was time to revamp the old title. A couple weeks ago we got together to film it at Third Way BJJ.
For me this project was particularly enjoyable because it revealed how much Roy has evolved as a teacher. When we filmed the original one, although Roy was already a superb instructor, he had only been a black belt for about a year. Now, 11 years later, he has taught these techniques hundreds of times to literally thousands of people. I noticed many subtile differences in the way these techniques were presented. As good as the original was, there is now a maturity in the details. I also found it rewarding that Roy leaned on my own knowledge to help him refine certain positions and techniques. Over the years we’ve each been on our own separate BJJ journeys, so in some ways I’m no longer purely his student.
Third Way Jiu Jitsu turns one year old this week. We had 10 new students on the mat the day we launched in July of 2017, none with any experience whatsoever. Today, we have a room full of skilled grapplers that I’m confident could very effectively defend themselves in a street altercation.
It’s amazing what you can accomplish in a year with consistent training. Four of our students have already earned blue belts, two students that came to us as blue belts are now purples, and six of our students have earned medals in grappling tournaments.
I’m grateful for the quality team we’re building, and excited to see what another year of training will bring!
We are excited to announce that we are currently offering six weeks of FREE training (absolutely free, no strings attached) to members of the police, military, fire, or EMT. We believe that all public servants should have, at minimum, basic Jiu Jitsu skills. Why Jiu Jitsu?
Jiu Jitsu fundamentally is about achieving and maintaining positional control over a resisting, dynamic opponent, using angles, leverage, grips, movement, and body positioning. Jiu Jitsu gives practitioners a huge tactical advantage, even over someone bigger and stronger.
I always say that Jiu Jitsu isn’t magic. This isn’t the movies. Dealing with a big, strong, chaotic adversary is always a challenge. But what Jiu Jitsu does is provide a technical framework that permits the advantages of size and strength to be minimized. It also provides a live, dynamic training methodology that gives students constant exposure to the pressures of fully committed, resisting opponents. Calmness and awareness in the face of chaos, and a much higher level of fitness, are direct byproducts of that training.
If you are a public servant, join us on the mats for six weeks. It just might save your life.
Fascinating article by Louis Martin, summarizing his findings after watching 154 fights on YouTube.
The one caveat is that he is not describing truly violent crimes, which obviously wouldn’t be on YouTube. Very interesting, nonetheless.
1) Fights often have no clear winner
Some readers will cringe at my use of the word “winner.” Of course on a deeper level, no one really wins in a fight. But I have to define it somehow. When your standing over your unconscious opponent, you’ve “won.”
The most surprising outcome in fighting seems to be no outcome at all. 48.4% of the fights ended indecisively. In most cases, people simply got tired and stopped of their own accord. Bystanders tend to allow fights to play out, but would often step in when there was a lull in the action.
In fact, it seems that fights that drag past just a handful of seconds are unlikely to end in a clear way. Most people seem to have the energy for one, explosive onslaught of punches. If that fails to end the fight, a second onslaught just won’t have the same power. Turns out, fighting really doesn’t solve much.
2) Knockouts happen in the first ten seconds or not at all
23% of the fights ended in a knockout (which I defined as a single blow that incapacitated a participant). What was interesting about these is that more than half, 64%, occurred in the first ten seconds. After that, there was a sharp decline, but people still “lost” fights by being overwhelmed by punches. This was very likely to happen within the ten to thirty-second mark. After that, the likelihood of an indecisive fight rose dramatically.
3) Women always clinch
For the most part, men and women go about fighting the same way, with one major exception. While 55% of all fights involved a clinch, a whopping 79% of female fighters engaged in clinching. The reason is simple:
Women have hair.
When people aren’t winging punches in fights, they are grabbing whatever they can get ahold of. Women almost always use each other’s hair as a handle to steady their aim and keep the punches coming. They will also commonly use these grips to snap their opponent’s posture over. They might even get them to the ground completely with a well-timed jerk of the hair.
Such a minor thing seems to dramatically influence the strategy with women fighters. If you’re a woman doing martial arts, I would give serious attention to this aspect.
4) Bystanders usually let fights go on
The good news is that only 26% of fights involved a third party getting involved. This means that most fights that started between two people, stayed between two people. The bad news is that when other people did get involved, it was more often than not (68% of the time) the classic “friend jumps in” to join in the fight.
And in terms of someone facing multiple assailants, it’s a mixed bag. Like most fights, 37% of them had no clear outcome. In 26%, the outnumbered person was incapacitated. In another 22%, the person escaped or fled.
Feeling lucky? Only 11% of participants who faced multiple attackers were able to defeat even one of them.
But in only 11% of the cases of multiple attackers, was someone able to incapacitate any of his assailants.
The bottom line here is this, it’s highly unlikely you ever defeat multiple opponents. Run away instead.
5) Almost all fights will go to the ground and stay there
It’s an old cliche that “all fights go to the ground”. And basically, it’s true. Participants engaged in ground fighting 73% percent of the time. When you take out those ten-second knockouts that make up so many early finishes, the number jumps up to 83%.
What’s more, only 41% of grounded fighters were able to return to a standing position. Of those that did, more than half of them returned to the ground (57%).
In terms of outcomes, ground fighting has a major silver lining: violent knockouts drop dramatically on the ground, nearly by half. Only 29% of grounded fighters were knocked out or incapacitated by strikes. For standing fighters, that number jumped to 56%
The last thing worth mentioning is that 57% of the fights that went to the ground happened intentionally, meaning a participant made some sort of attempt at a takedown that worked. The rest was simply a result of people falling down.
6) No one uses “dirty fighting”
I was curious to see if I would witness “dirty fighting” techniques such as biting, groin strikes, fishhooking, etc.
Obviously, I did see a LOT of hair pulling among females. But as for the other things, not so much. Hair pulling aside, only 16% of the fights I recorded contained what I considered “dirty fighting” tactics. Interestingly, they were done by females about 80% of the time.
I read one time that males in our society tend to fight for dominance, and females tend to fight for survival. This generally seems to be the case when I observe fights. My theory is that men follow a loose set of rules when fighting in these “dominance fights” and seem to avoid certain tactics. Women do not.
I could be wrong on that but the bottom line is that dirty fighting is not common, especially among men.
We’ve been conditioned by the fitness world to believe that every workout should be as intense as possible. That philosophy often carries over into sports. If you’re not going 100% you’re not training hard enough. But is that the optimal way to progress? Should we leave BJJ class totally exhausted?
Here’s Firas Zahabi, one of the premier MMA coaches in the world:
Let’s say I go to Jiu Jitsu 3 times per week and spar 15 rounds. You only go twice a week and spar 10, but you kill yourself. You push yourself to your max, to the point where you can only recover enough to train twice a week. At the end of the week I’ve sill done 15 rounds and you’ve only done 10. At the end of the year I will have done much more training than you. Much more volume.
The real question is how much training can we pack into a week? To maximize that we don’t want to train until we’re feeling beat up. We don’t want to red-line the body. With fighters we only do that during training camp, for a finite period of time, to get a little more from the system. But in the long run, training that way will get you less. It’s too taxing to the system. If you train that way all the time, by the time you get good at Jiu Jitsu you’ll be broken up.
The goal with training is to enter a state of flow. What is flow? It’s where there is enough difficulty so you’re not bored, but not so much that you feel anxiety or beat up. When I go in the practice room I’m trying to create flow. I’m trying to have fun. Training should be addictive. If training were addictive everyone would do it and everyone would be fit. But people go too hard. They go until they are exhausted and their body is beat up. And then they try to convince themselves to do it again tomorrow. That requires tremendous mental energy. It shouldn’t be that way. Training should be a pulling force. You should want to go train. It should be fun. If it’s not fun you won’t do a lot of it. And you’ll never reach mastery. How do you make training fun? You find the flow state: Not too hard and not too easy.
I train Jiu Jitsu five days a week and I’m in my 50s. The only reason I’m able to do that is because I don’t crush it every day. I go about 70% of my max, with a few red-lines here and there. Some days I just go through the motions. To train that way means I must accept that my effectiveness won’t be stellar every day, as measured by my ability to submit my opponents, or by my ability to avoid the tap. But, I’m on the mat, putting in a high volume of consistent training.
Over time, volume pays off far more than training harder but less often because increased volume produces non-linear results. What I mean is this: If you double the volume of your training, you won’t progress twice as fast, you’ll progress more than twice as fast. Triple the volume and you’ll progress five or six times as fast. Progress increases exponentially as volume increases.
I first discovered this back when I was a musician in my youth. I found that if I practiced six to eight hours a day consistently my progress was almost freakishly fast. I had days where I would make huge leaps, seemingly from one moment to the next, as if a portal to a higher level simply opened. My progress was exponentially faster than when I put in only a couple hours a day. This is how some Jiu Jitsu prodigies are able to earn their black belt in only a few years. And I guarantee they are not training to failure every day.
So if you’re always feeling thrashed after training, consider dialing the intensity down. Keep it playful, as Ryron Gracie likes to say. Find your flow; not too hard, not too easy. Try to leave class energized, hungry to get back at it tomorrow.
Do you want to get really good at Jiu Jitsu? Then find your flow and train a lot. Remember, the key to mastery is consistency, not intensity.
I’m extremely proud of our team’s performance at Saturday’s Grappling Industries tournament in Denver. We had 8 competitors enter, with 6 earning medals. The format was round robin and the brackets were deep. Our competitors fought a total of 33 tough matches.
Everyone showed great heart, determination, mental toughness, and sportsmanship. Overall our technique held up exceptionally well. Our losses came almost entirely via points, whereas our wins came mostly via submission.
Jason had two of the fastest submissions of the day, tapping out two opponents in under a minute each. Russ showed impressive stamina and resolve, taking the gold medal in the no-gi division after competing in a very tough gi bracket. Alan took the silver medal in the blue belt division even though he’s only been a blue belt for a week. Jordan had one of the most technical matches of the day, triangling his opponent three times before finishing him with an armbar.
The tough break of the day went to Drew, who let go of a kimura because his competitor tapped once then contested it. The ref restarted the match and Drew lost on points, likely costing him a medal.
Honorable mention goes to Megan, who performed phenomenally well considering she has been training only three months. It wasn’t her day, but she showed great heart and technique against more experienced grapplers.
Jiu Jitsu is not an easy art to master. It takes time and dedication. But the rewards are immense: Real self-defense skills, undeniable fitness, improved agility, and mobility, dynamic problem-solving, and calmness under pressure. Come out and try it for free. It will change your life.
Huge congratulations to Alan John for earning his blue belt. He showed a ton of heart and great technique. Alan is a perfect example of what you can accomplish if you dedicate yourself to consistent training. He put in the work and it showed. Wear it proudly, Alan!
One of the more common reactions I get when I inform a student that I’d like them to begin preparing for their belt promotion is this:
But..I don’t feel like I’m ready!
Look, nobody ever feels worthy of receiving their next belt. I certainly never have. Why? Because everyday on the mat we get tested against skilled opponents that are progressing along with us. Some days you’re the hammer, other days the nail. So if you don’t feel deserving, welcome to the club. No one does. The most uncomfortable feeling I’ve ever had stepping onto a mat has been that first day wearing a new belt.
But that discomfort is a good thing because having to represent a new belt will always push you to step up your game. If you’ve been at your belt level for any length of time you will start to feel very comfortable there. In fact, you might even feel complacent—a lack of urgency to improve your game. “Hey, I got tapped today… but that’s OK because I’m just a _____ belt”.
Nothing will recalibrate complacency like a new belt and the target on your back that comes with it. People will want to test you. If you are a new blue belt, I guarantee the white belts training along side you will come at you harder. All of a sudden you will be someone’s measuring stick in a way you weren’t before. A huge part of advancing your game is responding to the increased pressure.
And in our system, since you have to demonstrate a fairly large technical repertoire along with proficient live execution to earn a belt, it means you have to put in extra time drilling and honing, shoring up weak spots, and rounding out your game. It’s my conviction that that process is an important part of getting to the next level.
Also keep in mind that your instructor is able to see your game in a way that you can not, so if they believe you are ready then you are ready. Maybe they see the quality of your execution, or the depth that you are starting to understand certain concepts or positions, or how you respond to pressure, or the fact that when they show a technique you exhibit the maturity to see other possibilities. I guarantee they are observing you every day that you train.
And when you roll with your instructor they are feeling your game. In fact, they are likely putting you into specific situations to test you. Maybe they pressure you in certain ways to see if you respond correctly, or they allow themselves to be vulnerable to see if you recognize a pathway toward a finish, or maybe they even have to step up their game in a way they didn’t have to in the past because of your improvement. Without realizing it, you might be a catalyst to their continued improvement. So I guarantee there’s more going on than you realize.
The bottom line is this: Trust your instructor. If they think you deserve the next belt then you deserve the next belt. Accept that fact, as uncomfortable as it may be, because it will undoubtedly be an important part of your continued growth.
Being the OCD type, a few years ago I set out to make a list of every Jiu Jitsu technique in existence. Granted, that’s as absurdly impossible as naming every food dish in the world. By the time you get to asparagus soup a thousand new recipes and ten thousand variations will have sprung up. Still, I’m one for a good challenge, so I made my list (and checked it twice!). About a year later I had a list with over 1000 techniques.
Incidentally, if you’ve ever trained with Roy Harris you know that he can list a thousand techniques off the top of his head over breakfast, add another thousand while waiting for the check to arrive, and then list the exact number of distinct movement components in each one. I’ve never met someone that could catalog such insane levels of detail. And then smash you. Like a bug. A very small, insignificant one.
I’m not suggesting the average BJJ player needs to know that many techniques (although if you train long enough you will amass an impressive repertoire). My point is only how deep the art is. I’m not aware of any other martial art that offers so many solutions to the problems we encounter while fighting. Instead of calling it Jiu Jitsu they should have named it Brazilian McGuyver, and made the belts out of tin foil, chewing gum, and bellybutton lint.
So how many techniques do you need to know? The simple answer is it depends on your level. To test for your blue belt in our curriculum you need to demonstrate 50 techniques—various offensive and defensive options from the major positions, along with some throws, takedowns, leg locks and headlock escapes. By purple you will have delved into the many minor positions of BJJ and drilled much deeper into the specific building blocks of your own game. By brown you should be solid from just about any position. By black belt your knowledge should be broad and deep.
The base curriculum we teach from has a pool of roughly 300 techniques, consisting of the most useful options from the major and minor positions, along with a good collection of throws, takedowns and ancillary techniques.
Students don’t need to master all of it. What the techniques represent are possibilities—they represent destinations on a map. And they represent a framework to learn principles. By drilling a variety of techniques from each position a student gets the ingredients to build a game that suits them best.
The training methodology is key. You need a system that gives you regular exposure and lots of repetitions. The best methodology, which I experienced back when I trained at Roy Dean Academy, has students drilling several (generally related) techniques per class in a concentric system based on priority. Let me explain:
In order for assimilation, you must see and practice all the techniques at regular intervals. However, some techniques are more important than others, so the system gets divided up into groupings based on priority. Higher priority techniques cycle more frequently, while lower priority ones less frequently.
Escapes are priority number one, so those get drilled more than anything else. The second tier of priority gives students the most useful and classic options from each position—things like armbars and chokes, and these get cycled through frequently, but slightly less so than priority one. The last tier are the more specialized techniques that help build a well rounded game with lots of options and solutions from each position. These are on a slightly slower cycle.
I like to think of these three tiers as a series of concentric circles, like those spinning hypnotizing disks from 1950s Sci-Fi TV shows. The most important techniques are on a tight circle so students see them all the time. The other techniques are on slightly larger circles. With a couple years of training, the curriculum will have cycled enough times to build surprisingly good assimilation, and it will have provided a foundation to arrive at one’s own game. If you’ve watched any of the belt demonstrations on Roy Dean’s YouTube channel you’ll see examples of this in action.
As an instructor, my goal is to give each student a broad enough foundation to build a game that works for their body type and attributes, and at the higher levels, to use as a platform for deeper specialization.
I think strength by itself is helpful but overrated. Having grappled with thousands of people on this planet as the result of teaching so many seminars and teaching so many Jiu Jitsu classes at kickboxing schools, karate schools and the like, it has been my observation that the most difficult guys to spar with are those who had the mix of strength and endurance. Let me say this a different way. The guys I sparred with who had strength were difficult to spar with the first 3-5 minutes. After that, their strength would let them down because they did not have endurance. The guys I sparred with who had endurance – and a tinge of strength – were the most difficult to spar with because it felt like they could keep going and going and going and going—Roy Harris
So how do you develop muscular endurance? That’s actually a fairly deep question because the body utilizes three distinct energy systems (phosfagen, glycolytic, and oxidative), each of which allows your body to fuel activities of different intensities and duration, ranging from steady state sub-maximal aerobic, to activities requiring short intense bursts of maximal effort. Each energy system is improved through a different workout methodology.
For example, lifting heavy weights at low reps is a short-term, high intensity activity which relies on ATP (the phosfagen system). If all you do is lift heavy and slow, you’ll certainly develop strength. But your lactate and aerobic systems won’t develop much, so if you’re tasked with sprinting up a hill or grappling at full intensity for several rounds you’ll likely do poorly.
The short (and incomplete) answer to how you develop muscular endurance is to mix up your workouts. Lift heavy some days, do high rep low rest complexes other days, train your aerobic system some days, and push yourself into an anaerobic metabolic state other days. That, and for us Jiu Jitsu players, grapple a lot. Every sport requires specific physical adaptations that can not be trained apart from doing the activity itself. Do you want to be able to grapple longer? Then grapple longer.
There is also an efficiency component that is rarely talked about. I hear white belts all the time say “I need to get into better shape”. Many of them are already, objectively, in pretty great shape. However, they are inefficient at Jiu Jitsu. They utilize way too much muscular power in non-productive ways which zaps their energy quickly. As you gain experience in Jiu Jitsu you become far more efficient. In my experience, athletes with great endurance are often also very efficient athletes. Great technique and excellent timing allows far lower energy expenditure. So get in shape, lift heavy things, and workout. But technical development and lots of mat time is the ultimate answer.
Having a big goal can be overwhelming at times. The finish line can seem very far away, even unreachable. Successful people learn to break down the process into smaller steps and make them into habits—little things they can do every day that gets them closer to reaching that goal.—Dan John
If the goal we set is too big—too far removed from our current reality, there will be too many steps necessary to get there, too many life habits that need to change, too many uncontrolled variables, too much momentum has to be enlisted, and the time-scale for achievement will be too long. That’s a recipe for failure.
How many out-of-shape people join a health club on January 1st intending to get shredded only to lose enthusiasm a month later and return to their old ways? Why does that happen? Because the goal is too big. They have to undo years-worth of couch gravity and poor eating habits. To do that from one day to the next is nearly impossible.
Major success is always a byproduct of small steps that when consistently taken produce habits and momentum toward an increasing number of bigger successes, which in turn reinforce these positive habits, creating greater momentum toward even bigger successes. Major successes are always built from a series of minor successes.
It’s great to wake up one day and decide you’re going to scale Mt. Everest, but if you’ve never hiked up a hill then the goal is wildly disproportionate from where you are right now. A better goal would be what Frans Johansson calls the smallest executable step—the tiniest change you can make that moves you in the general direction you want to go.
As you create habits and momentum toward your goals you are actually, literally, re-wiring the neural pathways in your brain. That’s huge. You’re also enabling yourself to feel success at small intervals.
It’s OK to dream big. But if you want your dream to be anything more than a far-off desire with low probability, break it down into bite-sized achievable steps. Then rejoice as you meet each micro-goal, inching yourself toward the big one.
It used to be thought that the human brain was essentially a static organ, but today we know that through a physical process called plasticity the brain actually changes and reorganizes neural pathways based on new experiences. If you learn something new, your brain will create new physical pathways. If you forget something you once knew, the pathways will have degraded.
One of the most powerful findings is that visualization affects brain plasticity nearly as much as doing the actual activity. In the book The Brain That Changes Itself, Norman Doidge writes:
One reason we can change our brains simply by imagining is that, from a neuro-scientific point of view, imagining an act and doing it are not as different as they sound. When people close their eyes and visualize a simple object, such as the letter A, the primary visual cortex lights up, just as it would if the subjects were actually looking at the letter A. Brain scans show that in action and imagination, many parts of the brain are activated. That is why visualizing can improve performance.
Doidge cites a study in which one group practiced finger strengthening exercises, while the other group visualized doing the exercises. After four weeks, the group doing the exercises increased their strength by 30%. The group visualizing the strengthening exercises increased by 22%. That means the visualizing group got over 60% of the benefits of training! During these imaginary contractions, the neurons responsible for stringing together sequences of instructions for movements are activated and strengthened, resulting in increased strength when the muscles are contracted.
This has profound implications for those of us who do Jiu Jitsu because it allows us to improve when we are off the mat. Most of us train physically only a few hours a week. And occasionally we must take time off due to injuries or other commitments. But if we get much of the benefit of physical training just by visualizing it means we can accelerate our development quite dramatically with zero wear and tear on our body.
I’ve experienced the benefits of visualization throughout my Jiu Jitsu career, so I can attest that it works. The key is applying it consistently. For example, after going to class, spend time visualizing the techniques that were taught. Or if you watch an instructional video, pause after each technique and spend several minutes drilling it mentally.
No, visualizing is not as beneficial as live training; what it lacks is the feedback and resistance that an opponent gives us. But it can certainly serve as an effective training enhancement and accelerator. The Soviets pioneered sports visualization in the 1970’s, and since then there has been much empirical evidence that it works. Today we have the science to understand how it works.
If you are serious about your progress, consider adding visualization to your training.
A dirty, rotten, stinking, scoundrel of a lying liar. A trickster, a cheat, a con artist, a deceiver. In biblical terms, a bearer of false witness.
Your brain has one main task—one prime directive: To conserve energy. In order to do that it lies to you. Constantly.
“You’re tired tonight. You should skip Jiu Jitsu”
“You did enough reps. You should stop”.
“Hit the snooze button… you need more sleep”.
Here’s Joel Jamieson:
The brain tightly controls both energy production and energy expenditure, and activity and training is a huge component of how much energy you expend each day. When the brain senses a threat to energy homeostasis, (i.e. too much energy is being used), its first reaction is to decrease motivation to keep moving and expending more, while increasing the desire to eat and take in more calories.
We are far more capable than we think we are. I recall reading a study showing that when cyclists thought they were racing against their own best performance, but were actually racing against a faster time, they exceed their best performance. When you trick the mind into thinking it has more in the tank, it does.
But really, we don’t need no fancy-shmancy study to tell us what we intuitively know. Imagine you’re in the middle of a hard workout. Let’s say you’re pumping out kettlebell swings and your lungs, legs, and grips are burning. You’re on your last set, closing in on your last rep. The agony is nearly over! At that moment, into the room walks in the most beautiful women (or man, depending on your preference) you’ve ever laid eyes upon. She stops to watch you. Intrigued. How many more reps could you crank out? What kind of maximum effort would you find the will to conjure?
Have I mentioned that your brain is a big-fat-pants-on-fire-hanging-by-a-telephone-wire liar?
It’s my belief that the difference between high achievers and average ones is that the former are able to ignore their brain better than the later. They ignore fear and they ignore discomfort.
Not once have I ever regretted ignoring my loser of a brain in order to do what I was supposed to do. The times I feel regret are always when I give into my prevaricating liar of a cerebellum and take the easy path.
So ignore your fibbing fibber of a dishonest brain and go train!
Jiu Jitsu is a system based around 4 distinct steps:
1. Take your opponent to the ground. The closer someone is to the ground, the less they can employ explosive force. What’s the first thing cowboys do when they brand a steer? They lock up its legs and put it on the ground. Nobody tries to brand a standing steer, you’re going to get killed because it can employ dynamic, explosive movement. Taking someone to the ground takes away the single most dangerous aspect of fighting: Quick, dynamic movement that can generate explosive, kinetic energy. So step number one is get the fight to the ground. It’s inherently safer. Less things can go catastrophically wrong than in a standing position.
2. Get past the legs. If you are a skilled Jiu Jitsu player and I end up between your legs, you can armlock me, you can leglock me you can strangle me. Even if you are an untrained fighter you can up-kick me. Legs are dangerous. So step number two is to get past those dangerous legs.
3. Work your way through a hierarchy of positions. Once you get past the legs there is a sequence of pins. You’re going to go to knee on belly, you’re going to go to side control, you’re going to transition to mount, or transition to rear mount. Jiu Jitsu encourages you to go through those various pins. If you look at the sport of Jiu Jitsu, the pins are scored according to ones ability to strike an opponents and inflict damage. Knee on belly scores more than side control because you can strike with more power. Knee on belly is inherently unstable, however, so it scores less than mount, which is inherently stable and offers just as much punching power. So step number three is to work your way through a hierarchy of pins, where the pins are graded in value according to your ability to strike with effect on the ground.
4. Attack for a submission.
Jiu Jitsu is a four step system. It’s beautiful, it’s elegant, and it’s deadly effective.
And now the question needs to be asked, where do leglocks fit into that system?
They don’t. Leglocks don’t fit comfortably in that system. That’s why for generations, leglocks were considered a signal of failure. When you can’t take your opponent down, when you can’t pass his legs, when you can’t secure a dominant position, you go for a leglock. When you couldn’t get the system to work you resorted to a leglock.
What I tried to do is find an avenue where leglocks could come in, and the results were surprising. The four step process I described assumes a top position. The goal is to stay on top. Leglocks, however, assume a bottom position. 80% of leglock entries come from the bottom position or with an opponent is behind you. In other words, from supposedly inferior positions.
What I discovered is when you incorporate leglocks into the system you change the very nature of the sport. Jiu Jitsu, as it’s ordinarily practiced, is a single direction game—movement from the legs toward the head. If you get stuck or lose position, you start the process again. Traditionally it’s a mono-directional sport. But once you start adding leglocks into the game, Jiu Jitsu becomes a two directional sport.
So if I’m passing the guard and I can’t do it, I can fall back into the legs. If I’m in side control and my opponent recomposes his guard I can fall back into the legs. And I can play my opponent’s reactions in ways that open up opportunities for submissions more easily.
It’s been said that Edmond Hillary, the man who first scaled Mount Everest, after having made several prior unsuccessful attempts, turned to the mountain and proclaimed “I will conquer you! Why? Because you are not getting any bigger but I am!”.
What a great way to approach a goal! Hillary understood that even something as difficult as Mount Everest was achievable because the goal wasn’t getting any bigger, but he was.
Often a dream can seem unattainable because it’s so far removed from our current reality. The goal is way up there, but we’re still way down here. But little by little, with patience and perseverance, even scaling Mt. Everest is achievable because we have the capacity to keep growing, learning, and improving.