Strength and Size Don’t Matter is one of those sayings in bjj that has been around forever. The ability for a smaller and weaker person to defeat a heavier and more powerful opponent is what sets jiu-jitsu apart from many other martial arts.
The victories by 170lbs. Royce Gracie in the earliest UFC’s were the catalyst for bjj to become popular in the USA and the rest of the world. With all due respect to Royce, he was not the most imposing physical specimen and his ability to defeat some powerful fighters captured the imagination of the martial arts world.
But do strength and size really not matter in bjj?
Yes and No.
In that a smaller, lighter person CAN defeat a larger stronger opponent. Most students of bjj have had the experience of being schooled by a much smaller advanced belt and were shocked at how their size advantage was negated by the lighter fighter. When I was a 210 lbs. blue belt I was humbly schooled by a 145 lbs. black belt and it gave me an entirely new perspective on how bjj could overcome a size difference.
We have also observed lighter female bluebelts teach new whitebelt guys that they need to keep their arms in lest they be arm barred in short order!
When the skill and experience difference is great enough between two combatants, the advantage of size and strength of the larger may largely be negated. Observe a 150 lbs. black belt roll with a 200 lbs. noob and you can see this in effect.
There is a reason that there are weight classes in combat sports. A big deal is made of a lighter fighter coming up in weight classes to fight an opponent at a heavier weight.
In the Absolute division of a bjj tournament, it is rare that a competitor from the lighter weight classes captures the open weight gold medal. When the skill and experience are closer, then size and strength DO matter!
If you have noticed the elite ranks of the bjj competitions, you will find superbly conditioned athletes. If strength did not matter these athletes would not devote so much effort to their physical conditioning.
It is however, a different type of sport-specific strength than what enormously muscled bodybuilders display.
To develop the exact type of strength and physical attributes that you require is known as the principle of specificity of training”. Your strength training must as closely as possible the demands of ones particular sport.
Bjj’ers must be strong ENOUGH to execute their techniques, but being able to bench press double their bodyweight or have huge biceps has limited benefit to the person seeking to be the best grappler.
Doctor James Liu: bjj training, injuries and treatment.
Dr. James Liu is an emergency room physician and has been training in brazilian jiu-jitsu for about a year. Gracie Barra took a few minutes after training to ask Dr. Liu some questions about bjj training, injuries and treatment.
1) What is the proper treatment at the academy when a student has just sprained a shoulder or an ankle?
Truth to be told, most people will sprain her/his ankle/shoulder/elbow at some point during BJJ training. A proper treatment would not only ease the pain more rapidly but also prevent further complications such as nerve damage, etc. My recommendation for joint sprain is to stop exercising immediately. The RICE method of acute injury treatment works for everyone. Resting the injured part is important to promote healing. Applying an ice pack with a towel would limit swelling, but make sure the ice pack is not used for more than 15 minutes. Compression/restriction prevents further vascular or neurological damage. If dislocation/deformity is suspected, traction is only advised under medical supervision. Elevation is most effective when the injured area is raised above the heart level. Moreover, if the pain doesn’t abate in the next 3 days, one might need to see a doctor for further examination such as an x-ray.
2) What first aid supplies should a bjj academy have available for most injuries that might happen in training?
Surprisingly, most BJJ academics don’t even have the correct first aid supplies. BJJ involves a lot of movements such as neck bending, arm pulling, etc. Therefore, cervical sprain and lumbar sprain are probably the two most serious injuries that everyone should be aware of. If cervical sprain is suspected, a neck collar should be used immediately and avoid any unnecessary movement. My recommendation for first aid supplies should include at least an arm sling, a neck collar, a medical backboard and a regular first aid box.
3) What are the most serious injuries we might see from bjj training?
Let’s keep in mind that BJJ was originally developed for street combat and it can cause permanent bodily injuries.
Although many injuries can happen during training, cervical sprain and lumbar sprain is the nightmare. Hyperextension/hyperflexion or axial loading can cause nerve root or brachial plexus injuries, as well as fractures and dislocations. Common neurologic deficit/symptoms including numbness, tingling, loss of sensation, or paralysis. Sometimes a high level of cervical lesions can even cause respiratory distress. Therefore, in my opinion, everyone who is training BJJ should know the consequences of cervical injury and its symptoms. The responsibility of tapping and letting go of submissions lies with both people. Never underestimate the potential injuries of cervical spine, and return to play only when the symptoms have resolved.
4) What is cauliflower ear and how should it be treated?
Acute auricular hematoma and cauliflower ear are common sport injuries. Injury to the ear can cause blood and serum stored in the cavity between the cartilage and the supporting tissue. If the hematoma is not drained, disruption to the blood supply can cause necrosis, leading to infections. Cauliflower is a permanent deformity caused by cartilage overgrowth if an auricular hematoma is not fully drained. All auricular hematomas should be drained as soon as possible after injury.
Although there are many videos on YouTube teaching people how to drain the hematoma, this is usually done at the Emergency Department or clinic to prevent further complications such as infections. Therefore, I do not recommend people doing it at home by themselves.
The following procedure should only be used if one couldn’t find a doctor. First, clean the ear with antiseptic solutions, e.g. povidone-iodine. Then identify and aspirate the most fluctuant part of the hematoma with 18 guage needle. After needle aspiration, one should apply pressure for 15 minutes and then place a pressure dressing firmly on both sides of the ear. Finally, wrap the ear and head with gauze to hold in place.
5) Is this ringworm? How to identify it? I’ve got ring worm! What do I do for treatment?
If it is raised and round, it’s ringworm. There are several types of ringworm (tinea) that can cause the round shape on your body. The chronic tinea pedis is the most common form of tinea. Applying topical anti-fungal cream for several weeks would be sufficient for most people. However, patients with chronic disease may require oral anti-fungal therapy such as taking terbinafine 250mg daily. In medicine, we often say prevention is more important than treatment and it works for ringworm as well. Don’t share sports equipments with other people. Always wipe the floor before and after practice. Showering before practice is another good way to prevent disease from spreading. If you have ringworm, you should be responsible and to stay away from the gym until fully recovered.
One of the blue belt students at my academy asked my advice on what he should do to improve his submissions. He said that he felt that his submission success had recently decreased and felt frustrated.
I reminded him that this was partly due to the fact that the other students in academy were increasing their own knowledge of bjj and more specifically submission defense. He was no longer catching them by surprise with unfamiliar moves. They had become savvy to his attacks and prepared to defend!
I have seen some colored belts, when their rate of success slows, look on YouTube looking for new, unknown moves to catch the opponents unawares. But this has a limited life. Experienced opponents will quickly learn what is happening and no longer be caught by surprise.
You will find yourself scouring YouTube late into the night trying to find an obscure submission that no one in your academy has seen before.
I said that after training for several years, that he had likely already seen all of the submissions that he would need to know. The basic, fundamental techniques WORK when applied in an advanced manner.
The question them becomes: Are you attacking with single attacks? Can your opponent easily identify what you are trying to do and set their defense? Since defense is always easier than the offense, the opponent can shut you down.
The answer? Combination attacks!
I recall one of my training partners who had rolled with a black belt describing the experience, that the black belt would alternate between two different attacks. He didn’t know which attack to defend and eventually he would fall behind and leave his arm out or his neck undefended. Tap!
Let’s take a look at a basic combination armlock and cross collar choke from the mount.
Everyone after a few months bjj training knows these basic attacks. Yet black belts tap other black belts with these moves. Blackbelts obviously would know the defense so why are the attacks still successful?
Because the attacker can alternate between the two attacks and confuse the defense of the defender.
When they attempt to defend the choke, they must extend their arms away from the safe defensive position. Boom! Armlock! They clasp their arms together tightly to prevent the arm bar, but leave the collars open. Boom! Collar choke!
Bjj has many different classic submission combinations from all positions. Ask your black belt professor for some ideas on combinations that you can try in your own submission game.
What differentiates the fights on the mats from the fights of life? In fact, nothing. Every day, even when we are not wearing the kimono, we do battle, whether it be for a dream or an ideal. However, we cannot always be strong enough physically or psychologically to win some battles.
Not due to a lack of preparation, but circumstances that often are beyond our will. To illustrate this situation in the dojo, imagine that you are preparing for a championship, and in the peak of your preparation, you get injured. A serious injury, which will require time and willpower to overcome it patiently and only then, go back and start all over again. In the case of Gabriela Oliveira (29), the fight began even before she got to know the real fighting within the jiu-jitsu world.
Unlike kimono fights, Gabriela’s combat would not take just a few minutes. Her battle started in an unexpected way: in routine exams. In January 2013, during some routine exams, this blue belt from GB Jacarepaguá (Rio de Janeiro) discovered a node in her right armpit. As could not be otherwise, her doctor ordered a biopsy. Some days later, precisely on March 1st, Gabi’s birthday as she is called by her colleagues, the exam result came, I got the result. The doctor said I had a Hodgkin’s lymphoma (cancer of the lymphatic system) and that the treatment was with chemotherapy. The word chemotherapy alone is enough to scare those that will face it. For women, the thought does not change much, but it messes with something that they all value: the hair aesthetics. I swear that the very only thing I thought at that point was ‘I’m getting bald’. There was not a moment when I thought I was dying or that I could not face it, said Gabriela.
There were 6 months of treatment. 15 days after the end of the sessions, we already could see Gabi on the mats of GB Jacarepaguá, at her first trial class. Little did she know, but that would be the beginning of a new love relationship between her and the sport. In 2012, I had practiced muay thai for 6 months. But due to lack of time, I had to stop training. During that time, I met some people who trained jiu-jitsu and it caught my attention. I soon began training in GB and there I’m until now.
In the beginning, the life on the mats used to be an activity to fill her time. Due to her treatment, Gabi could not be near too many people. The first training sessions she wore a headscarf. I did not feel very comfortable. My hair was no longer falling out at that time, but it was still very short and that bothered me a little. During that time, Gabi was under the command of teacher Villem Coelho, who was her great supporter. On the mats I would feel I was like everyone else. Being there was like an outlet for me. Soon came the first degree in the white belt, preceded and accompanied by new great friends, In particular, Renato Beliscão, who has had a serious health problem as well. When it comes to cancer, 90% of your healing process is in your head, and the other 10% in medical treatments. You may be near the end, but if YOU believe, you have everything to turn the tide. Because in the end, everything is up to YOU. It depends on your FAITH,; said Gabi.
So far, you, dear reader, may be thinking that Gabriela’s recovery process was soft. But not everything is perfect. Several times, she thought about giving up and always wondered, Why do I do jiu-jitsu? This is not for me, the blue belt remembered. Every month I promised myself I would quit, but every time, something happened and I never left. The reason that made her stick with her training came in September 2014, when she started having classes with her current teacher, Eduardo Aguiar. Unsure of how much her body could bear, Gabriela thought seriously about quitting, since, in the beginning, she couldn’t physically keep up with the class’s pace. However, over time, she did improve physically and psychologically and then came the blue belt! It’s like watching a movie, you remember everything you did and went through to get there. Only those who faced it know how to describe the feeling. It’s unique! A new person, a new woman, a new warrior. Today, Gabi trains 3 times a week and also runs another 3 or, as she herself explains, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, I run. I mean, Edu makes me run.
Examples such as this warrior’s serve as inspiration and example for those who are going through something similar. There is no problem that can stop those who wake up every day willing to overcome themselves. Everyone, one day, will feel like they will not be able to achieve their dreams or overcome some problems, but just like Gabriela said, God does not give a burden that one cannot bear. I repeated that several times, because I was not strong all the time. I cried a lot, every time I thought I was not going to make it. The treatment itself is very hard. At first I did not have any problem, but during the last sessions I would feel very sick. Thanks to God and to my family strength, I turned it around. Keep the Faith, without it you are not going anywhere. As previously said, 90% of the cure is in your head and the other 10% in the treatment, in the people around you and in the activities that you perform. In my case, jiu-jitsu was essential for my mind, body and self-esteem.
Safety on the mats: How to be safe and minimize training injuries!
It is a reality of combat sports that training injuries are a risk. It happens to the best blackbelts in the world, and it can happen to you also.
Also, among mat athletes, there exists a danger of incurring skin infections (staph, ring worm,..etc.)
Here are 7 tips to avoid injuries while training.
1) Tap early to submissions
This one is so common, and yet is largely preventable.
You are caught in a submission and say to yourself, If I just bridge a little more and turn I don’t have to tapPOP!!
Later, with an ice bag wrapped around a throbbing elbow, you say to yourself, I should have tapped.” Some of those injuries can malinger for weeks and months and provide a painful lesson to tap when you are caught and start again.
2) Warm up adequately
This is another one that is so common yet easily avoided.
You arrive several minutes late to the academy because of traffic, and decide to just jump into rolling.
During a scramble you feel something pull in your neck and now you have a training injury to deal with.
Before intense exercise, you need to spend a few minutes moving around to get some blood into your joints and increase your mobility.
There is a great saying that applies here: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Don’t be tempted to skip this step.
3) Do some specific stretching strength and conditioning
Strength and conditioning expert and bjj black belt Steve Maxwell says that not only should bjj’ers spend time working the muscles that you use in your training BUT also the muscles that you DON’T use.
This is to maintain a balance between the antagonistic muscles groups and maintain flexibility in lesser used muscles and joints.
Imbalances between opposing pairs of muscles and neglect of smaller muscles can lead to chronic pain and injuries.
An example would be those little rotator cuff exercises you can do with a very light weight.
These exercises increase the range of motion in your unstable shoulder joint. They go a long way towards preventing shoulder tightness and insure against hurting yourself.
4) Clean mats!
Skin infections are sadly not uncommon in some academies. The academy manager must ensure that the mats are cleaned often and sanitized properly.
The other part is that those who suffer from ring worm, must treat it and stay off the mat to avoid infecting their classmates.
Any open cuts and abrasions must be taped and covered with bandages. An opening in your skin can allow bacteria into the cut and infection can follow.
Rashguards, trimmed fingernails, and proper hygiene all help to prevent skin infections.
5) Protect yourself in positions
Inverting is a great technique for those more flexible among us to defend the guard and even catch triangles and other submissions.
These positions, however, can place one’s neck and spine in a precarious position. If the opponent suddenly reacts in an unexpected way, the pressure and weight can come down in a dangerous way on the bottom player.
One of the students had an infatuation with inverting and berimbolo for several weeks. I watched a match against a wrestler where he was getting stacked up on his neck and shoulders.
The following week he was sitting slumped at the edge of the mat when rolling started. I asked him what was wrong?
He pointed to his neck and grimaced in pain.
If you are getting stacked while attacking a triangle and your neck is in a bad position, be safe by giving up the triangle and protect your valuable spine!
6) Injured? Stay off the mat
Want to know how to turn a mild injury into chronic pain?
Train before it is completely healed and keep injuring and aggravating it!
Sarcasm aside, this is very common in academies. We know that you are hungry to get on the mats and train through discomfort, but there is a line where you are doing more damage to yourself than benefiting by continuing to train.
The body is an incredible self healing machine, but it needs time to do its work.
7) Be aware of your surroundings
When you are rolling you must be constantly aware of your space. Other rolling pairs and walls, benches and pillars are environmental hazards that you must avoid.
Have you ever been rolling and had another pair crash into you, and you catch a painful knee to the back of your head?
Or witnessed someone execute a throw, launching their partner right into the wall with a crash?!
As intense and focused as you are on your roll, you must maintain situational awareness and protect not only yourself, but your training partner and the other students training.
10 important reminders of important bjj etiquette.
Every sport or subculture has its specific set of rules and etiquette. When you are first introduced to the sport and art of brazilian jiu-jitsu, people will explain to you as you go.
Not knowing some of these rules of conduct will identify you as a noob and even worse, annoy your training partners.
Here are 10 important reminders of important bjj etiquette:
1. Don’t walk on the mats in your street shoes. You transfer who-knows-what substances from the ground to the training area. This is important to prevent skin infections!
2. Cut your fingernails and toenails at the start of every week of training. I have seen people with toenails so long they could swoop down and snatch their dinner out of a lake! Don’t scratch your training partners while trying to get a grip on their kimono.
3. Show up with a clean smelling kimono. Trying to drill techniques with a partner with a funky gi is really nasty. You probably need more than one kimono if you are training more than once per week. You need to allow it to dry properly in between training sessions.
4. Don’t be the guy who purposely shows up late to miss warm-ups and spends an extra-long time tying his belt or taping his fingers to avoid the drills. It sets a poor example for the other students.
5. Show that you understand the technique being taught in the class before asking all of the what if he does this? questions. It is good to be curious about the counters and recounters, but let’s get the original technique correct first!
6. If you have the flu or a cold please stay off the mats, especially if there is a competition coming up. You run the risk of getting all of your teammates sick before an important event.
7. Don’t talk in the backgroundwhen the instructor is teaching a technique. This is not the time for that hilarious one liner that just popped into your head. This is time to pay attention and allow everyone to focus on what the instructor is teaching.
8. Neither be a super stiff or a wet noodle when your partner is drilling the technique. You can drill with resistance after you have learned the basics of the move. How is it helpful if you are resisting your partner the first time they are attempting a move? Or just as bad, just flopping over limp when they try a sweep?
9. A big one many students have said to me: Don’t go into the bathroom barefoot and then track who knows what bacteria back onto the training surface.
10. Cellphones in the training area are not appreciated. The class time is an oasis way from the rest of your worldly cares. Carrying on a full volume conversation or loud ringtones breaks the atmosphere of the academy and is disrespectful to the other students.
Jiu-jitsu is a long journey. Many people get hooked and set out on the ultimate journey, achieving the rank of black belt. Along the way, there will be hiccups.
This is normal and will happen for everyone. That’s just life, and like a bad position in jiu-jitsu, we must learn to escape or ultimately tap. One speed bump that students might run into is transfer to another academy. This can be due to several reasons such as a career change that requires you to move. For jiu-jitsu students this means having to find a new academy. This can be a bit stressful. Your academy and training partners essentially become extended family. Leaving that family can be a difficult choice, but its important to remember that change isn’t always bad.
Here are some tips to help you along the way
Make sure you do your homework
Jiu-jitsu schools are not all the same. Even organizations such as Gracie Barra, which have a standardized curriculum, are not exact copies of each other, and each academy has its own unique flair. This can be a result of the students that train there, or the instructors own personal jiu-jitsu. Make sure to find out if the academy you’re looking at has classes geared to meet your specific jiu-jitsu goals. That could be anything from self-defense classes or fitness.
Remember that iron sharpens, iron. If your focus is to compete at the highest level of jiu-jitsu, there are several academies that have competition classes. You have the ability to train with other competitors and learn from the best.
This should go without saying but just to reiterate an important point. A jiu-jitsu academy is like a home to many of its students. Treat it as such. When walking into a new academy for the first time, respect it as if you were walking into someone else’s home. The last thing you want is to make a first impression as the disrespecting new student.
Keep an eye on what everyone else is doing. Though its still jiu-jitsu, different gyms may have different practices, warm ups, ways of training, etc. I also wouldn’t recommend rolling to the death on the first day, especially with new people. You don’t have anything to prove to anyone as a new person. Jiu-jitsu academies are typically very welcoming so don’t feel like you need to prove your abilities on the first day. Having good jiu-jitsu isn’t about being good for one day, it’s about consistency.
Be willing to try something new
Whatever the reason was you needed to find a new Academy, it provides you with a unique opportunity to start new. This means any bad habits you developed over your time in jiu-jitsu need not carry over into your new academy. This goes for anyone. Tomorrow is a new day after all.
Everyone’s journey in jiu-jitsu is different. Some people may stay at the same academy their entire jiu-jitsu career, but not always the case. There are a lot of different points of view, styles, and unique people to meet along the way.
Life is made up of many experiences.
“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
Don’t miss out on your chance to train with World Champion Victor Estima and many other top Gracie Barra black belts.
The GB European Experience Summer Camp edition will go from July 22nd to 26th at Gracie Barra Irun in Spain.
This is your chance to train with World Champion Victor Estima and a host of top level Gracie Barra black belts from across Europe. The six day camp will enable you to train for 3 hours a day, enjoy activities such as Kayaking and Surfing, and spend time getting to know Gracie Barra’s top athletes and your training partners with a range of social events. Spaces are limited, so don’t miss out on your chance for the experience of a lifetime.
Each day of the Gracie Barra European Summer camp you will be provided with three hours of training, which will take place each morning as a single session. Each session will commence with a warm up followed by the teaching of a number of specific techniques. These techniques will then be tested through positional sparring, which will then be followed by several rounds of sparring.
Gracie Barra European Summer Camp is not just about learning world class Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, it is also about enjoying a range of activities on offer in the beautiful surrounds of Irun, Spain. Every afternoon a range of activities will be offered to attendees including Kayaking, Surfing, Stand Up, Paddle Boarding, and beach activities.
At Gracie Barra European Summer Camp you will get the opportunity to meet new people from different Brazilian Jiu Jitsu clubs from across the world. During the camp a number of social events will be held to allow you to spend time getting to know people away from the mats. Events will include a beach BBQ and trips to several different restaurants.
The Hotel Urdanibia Park in Irun lies on the national I, in front of the San Sebastian Royal Golf Club. This hotel in Irun is only 3 min. from the airport of San Sebastian, 5 from the beaches of Hondarribia and only 7 of San Sebastian.
Gracie Barra Knoxville just released a new video highlighting their 6am class program. They have an awesome class running for those who enjoy an early morning workout, and choose the remainder of their day to spend quality time with their families, work, and other activities. Gracie barra Knoxville’s head instructor, Samuel Braga, is a multiple time world champion, that currently teaches the 6 am morning classes, This is a great opportunity to learn the art of jiu jitsu from a world champion. Gracie Barra Knoxville wants everyones to enjoy the benefits of Jiu jitsu, tailored for everyone budget and schedule, offering no contracts and giving you the freedom to choose the best option for you.
One of the students at my home academy is a competitor who comes from a striking background.
Well conditioned and coordinated, he is progressing very quickly since he started training bjj in the kimono 4 months ago.
He asked me at the end of class last week if I would recommend that he start to focus on becoming really good at a certain position or submission. Developing his A game as bjj guys like to refer to it.
I told him that would likely happen anyway. That he would naturally gravitate towards certain positions that fit his attributes and developing game.
Instead I recommended that he concentrate on getting all of his positions down in the Positional hierarchy.
The Positional Hierarchy: Rear Mount Mount Knee on Belly Side Control Half Mount Guard Top / Guard Bottom Turtle Top / Turtle Bottom Half Guard Bottom Side Control Bottom Knee on Belly Bottom Mount Bottom Rear Mount Bottom
A list of the major positions in jiu-jitsu organized from worst to best, or maybe more accurately, from least to most dominant.
Looking at the list together with the student I would ask the following questions about each position:
1) Do you know when you are in each position at any point in the match? Can we stop the video of your roll at any point and you identify which of the positions you are in?
2) If you are in a dominant position:
~ How is your opponent trying to escape?
~ How do you control the position?
~ What are your submissions from there?
~ How do you enter into this dominant position? ex. move from side mount to mount?
3) If you are in an inferior / defensive position:
~ How do you escape?
~ Which submissions do you have to defend / counter?
~ How can you move or progress your bad position to the next higher position? ex. move from half guard to full guard?
Before thinking of delving deep into a certain position (ex. learning everything in the spider guard) you need to know what to do in every and all of the major positions in the hierarchy. It does you little good to have 5 techniques from omoplata if you have zero ways to escape the mount!
In order to have a productive roll, you have to have knowledge of what you should do in each position or you will be stuck, not knowing what to do or resorting to using pure strength to try to survive.
The Gracie Barra curriculum is designed to systematically teach students all of the positions (both top and bottom!) for each of the major positions.