IS STRENGTH IMPORTANT IN BRAZILIAN JIUJITSU?
You have been training Brazilian JiuJitsu for a couple of years and finally have some color to your belt. In fact, you haven't lost a "roll session" for a few weeks and feel like your technical game is evolving by the day. Suddenly a new white belt appears in the gym. This guy isn't your ordinary white belt. He has the build, strength, and athleticism of a linebacker. During your roll sessions with this new white belt all of your submission attempts seem to close prior to locking in the move and it is almost impossible to get this guy in a bad position because of his ridiculous strength and athleticism. The white belt moves like he has been rolling for years, but swears it is his first few weeks on the mats. Is this white belt being deceiving about his grappling history, or is he just an athletic freak?
If you have been around JiuJitsu for any length of time you have probably heard the phrase, "Technique is invincible!”
You may not want to hear this, but as someone who has been on both ends of the strength and athleticism equation, I feel like it’s my duty to share with you what I perceive to be the truth about this reality, instead of traditional ideas that may lead some to quit JiuJitsu because perhaps they feel they aren't worthy of their belt rank.
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From my experience, technique is not invincible! I believe age, athleticism, size, and in particular, strength, play a huge role in JiuJitsu performance and often overcome technique. So despite what you’ve been told to by your instructor, great technique does not always prevail.
I believe this because I have seen white belt athletic freaks get the better of higher belts during roll sessions. Does this mean these higher belts aren't any good at BJJ? Or is it possible strength is more important than we thought.
I consider myself to be a "technical" JjiuJitsu practitioner and focus on trying to make my movements as energy efficient as humanly possible, but here’s the blunt truth, I muscle my way out of situations and sometimes ‘force’ a technique. I try not to make a habit of it, but because I understand the importance of strength and how to use it when necessary to aid my technique, I believe I use strength successfully to compliment my game.
Let's be honest with ourselves about the best Jiu Jitsu players in the world. Yes, they are all super-technical. But they are all, without exception, very strong human beings. Because of a combination of genetics, diet, and proper strength training, these guys are ridiculously powerful and athletic.
But what about leverage? Yes, leverage implies a more efficient use of strength, but it cannot exist without some sort of force or strength. That’s why I believe the whole idea of ‘strength vs leverage’ is absurd.
So if strength is so important in JiuJitsu, how do we become functionally stronger? JiuJitsu sparring or "rolling." will increase your functional strength for JiuJitsu performance, but I believe strength training is also important.
As a long time martial artist and 18 year police officer, I’ve had a long relationship with conditioning training. Since High school, I have been following the classic bodybuilding muscle building style of dumbbells, barbells and free weights. This approach increased my lean muscle mass and definitely made me stronger. However, after several years I started to notice the body building protocol was counter productive to my JiuJitsu goals.
A few years ago I started training with kettlebells and found they are very beneficial and perfect for JiuJitsu performance as well as functional strength in general. Kettlebells are amazing for grip strength because of the various movements while holding the kettlebell, your grip is taxed to the max and gets zero rest.
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The kettlebell high pull and snatch strengthens the posterior chain, the most influential muscle group in the body for athletic performance.
Kettlebells also allow for versatile conditioning. One thing that separates BJJ and Grappling from other sports is the wide variety of movement patterns the body uses while grappling. JiuJitsu practitioners must push, pull, twist, and lift during a grappling session.
Another benefit of kettlebells is they train whole body movements. One of the primary goals of kettlebell lifts is to perform them using the only the precise amount of energy required by employing momentum to the lifter’s advantage during the positive phase.This is pretty much the exact same goal of JiuJitsu where we strive to perform all of our techniques and movements using as little energy as possible. while simultaneously generating momentum. This allows us to create power without becoming exhausted. This can only be done when the body moves in a natural way and the correct muscles are employed.
Becoming good at JiuJitsu is about more than just having great technique. The true martial artist is one who is trying to better their performance in every way possible, including becoming stronger. Reaching your bodies maximal potential for strength is one of your responsibilities if you’re wanting to be the best you can be at Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Don't forget to check out Mike Perry's KB Essentials an instructional guide to Kettlebell training. You can get it here!