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Four Pillars Of Health In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
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Four Pillars Of Health In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

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"Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money.
Then he sacrifices money to recuperate health...he lives as if he is never going to die and then dies having never really lived."  ~The Dalai Lama

For many practitioners, jiu jitsu has become a spiritual journey, while for others it is how they support themselves financially. Some of us begin or end our training due to health problems, money problems or both. My own journey began because I wanted to be in better shape so that I could play with my daughter when she was born. I felt a little heavy at 195 pounds; my back hurt and my blood pressure was far from optimal. Jiu jitsu guys just seemed healthy, especially compared to golfers and sports fans.

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After three years of training, and a steady weight loss of 30 pounds, I have found the road to health a challenging one simply because there are so many answers. With millions of contradictory diets and promises of instant weight loss, it is no wonder that the fitness industry leaves most people in worse shape than when they started.

Losing weight is hard work. Regaining fluid body mobility is hard work. Building strength is hard work. One thing you need to understand is that all of your goals can be realized, but it will take discipline and effort.


Last year, after hitting a supernatural judo throw in competition that landed me in the hospital three days later, I was diagnosed with PKD [polycystic kidney disease]. Frankly, my jiu jitsu injury saved my life as I found out this genetic disease before it just randomly killed me one day.  I was not about to waste time bemoaning the discovery that I had three cysts the size of baseballs attached to my kidneys. We can change our destiny.


I have done a lot of research because my longevity clearly depends on success, and I have tested a great many things to improve my overall health. The data from my year has shown me a few pieces of wisdom, and each of them is simple to incorporate into anyone's lifestyle. Although the greatest piece I can offer is "drink more water," it will not make up for cracks in any of the following four pillars of your health's foundation: community, mobility, diet and strength.



1) Jiu jitsu is not an option. I train twice a week, every week. Period. If I can fit in more classes or a training camp in an exotic location, then great, but it has to be a constant in my life.  It is my community, my main form of exercise, and my place when all stress releases. Humans need contact with a tribe of individuals who have the same goals and motivations. When we step on the mats we find the physical contact that is lost to most of society. Afterwards, we share our love of the art and ramble on about our progress and failures.


2) Yoga is key to my mobility. Jiu jitsu tightens our hips, tendons and entire swathes of our muscular frame. A simple yoga practice before and after classes will not only keep you on the mats and decrease risk of injuries, but it will also calm your mind. You do not need to begin toting a mat around everywhere and mumbling ommmm, but learning a few key poses and some breathing techniques will make a big difference in your life. You can always consider attending a few basic classes or pick up a video instructional like the one offered by Jiujitsu Brotherhood founder, Nic Gregoriades. His voice is well-suited to mindfully bring beginners through poses and stretches specific to the needs of grapplers. Yoga for Grapplers would certainly be one of the first places I would turn to for information on how to start yoga. For 2.5 hours of instruction it is also well-priced.


3) What you eat and how you eat matters. I love food, and feel that a life without great food would be miserable. I tried ketogenic, I tried low carb, I tried calorie restriction, being bulletproof, the Gracie Diet; you get the point. In the end, each of these had some good and bad things about their implementation. What works best for me, especially given the small space free around my digestive system due to my PKD, is intermittent fasting.

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Not eating for 12-16 hours a few days a week has made an enormous difference in how I feel. I no longer feel bloated because three to six meals a lingering inside. I can suddenly berimbolo and invert without my stomach getting in the way, and I simply feel better. I like to pretend that I am a desert nomad who realizes the value of a near empty stomach so that his body can turn its energies to healing other injuries and to sleep. I prefer a 16 hour fast, but I would definitely start with a 10-12 hour fast. Drink lots of water. Three litres is an ideal goal per day.

If you are looking for a meal program, some thoughtful information about intermittant fasting and how it can advance your grappling then Tom DeBlass' Intermittent Fasting & Easy Body Fitness is an ideal place to start, especially if you do not have a few weeks to research the basics yourself. Time is money and money is time.


4) A kettlebell should become a constant companion. If I had one piece of advice for strength training, then it would be to get a 35lb kettlebell and learn three exercises: the Kettlebell Swing, the Clean and Press and the Turkish Get Up. You can always add a Goblet Squat in later and up the poundage once you burn in the techniques, but the key with a kettlebell is that it can be taken on vacations, camping trips and even kept around your office. You will need to find a reliable instructor to show you  proper form, but if there is no one in your local area then I can suggest Matt D'Aquino's Kettlebell Conditioning for Grapplers.


Every journey is different, but every single one of us should value our health. We can chase medals, money or fame, but when you find yourself in the ER in the distant future you never want to wishing you had taken better care of your hips and knees; you never want to hear that a barrier to an organ transplant is your past lifestyle. We can all be our best selves with a bit of discipline and honest work.

Heal injuries, recover faster, and add years to your grappling career! Check out Nicolas Gregoriades's DVD "Yoga For Grapplers" BJJ Fanatics has it here!

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