I spend a lot of time at the gym both watching and participating in Jiu jitsu classes here in Appleton. During these times, I hear a lot of discussion regarding body type and jiu jitsu. Even the kids in our BJJ program have realized that body type makes a huge difference. Many times the discussion is more of a complaint than anything…
“I am not strong enough to bump him”
“I am not flexible enough for this move”
“I can’t lock my guard/touch my knees to the floor in mount”
And then, there is the speculation that “That guy has the perfect jiu-jitsu body!”
The fact of the matter is that there is no such thing as a perfect jiu-jitsu body. Every body type has its advantages. Tall and lean is great for the guard. They may not be big and strong, but small guys can ball up, move fast and fluidly, and take advantage of little spaces. Those that aren’t that naturally flexible tend to take up a strong pressure and passing games. You must use what nature gave you and work with it! Not every move shown in class is going to be perfect for your game or be your #1 move; we all pick and choose. If you like to watch jiu jitsu videos, it may be a good idea to find someone that shares your body type!
That being said, remember that if you are frustrated with a certain technique or training partner, your body type may not be to blame! You may be missing details, a frame here or a hip movement there, or may need to modify your strategy…it’s probably something that your instructor can help you with!
Once upon a time, there was a man who decided he wanted to try to play basketball. He had never played before, but thought it was a cool sport that would be fun and help him get into shape. He imagined himself flying down the court with ease, getting the ball and making the perfect jump shot. It was beautiful. He found a rec league to play with and attended his first practice. It was harder than he imagined; he was out of breath and had trouble handling the ball, let alone making a basket. In fact, the other players left him in the dust. The man decided that basketball wasn’t a good sport for someone like him and quit after one practice.
We see this a lot in our Brazilian jiu-jitsu class here in Appleton. We have a lot of people come in with absolutely no real experience and/or a low fitness level wanting to try the class. Very quickly they realize that the warm-ups alone are tough.Very quickly they realize that they don’t know anything, especially compared to the other people around them. Very quickly they realize the time and work it will take to see even the most basic positions and get their BJJ strength and cardio up.
And this is the crossroads. Will they have patience with themselves and realize that it was everyone’s first day at one time? Will they come back to the next practice and see what else they can learn and start chipping away at getting the basic positions down? Or will they decide that Brazilian jiu jitsu is not a sport that is for someone like them, inexperienced and out of shape?
Jiu jitsu is for everybody! It is for you if you are willing to judge yourself by your own personal progress, rather than in comparison to others. It is for you if you are willing to work hard at it and do your personal best. Michael Jordan didn’t come out of the womb as the best basketball player of all time. He looked as most everyone else the first time he held a basketball. If you come to Brazilian jiu-jitsu thinking you are going to be a superstar on your first day, you are going to be disappointed. But, it is not the sport….it is your frame of mind!
There are a lot of different ways to cross train. One tool that has changed my Brazilian jiu-jitsu game is the exercise ball (also called a stability ball). If you have never seen an exercise ball used for Gracie jiu-jitsu, check out this video (sorry for the weird music…the guy knows how to move, but may need some help with his soundtrack choices):
I love the exercise ball for jiu-jitsu because it teaches a lot of different principles.
1) Balance and flow come from RELAXING the right parts of your body: If you are tense, you will lose your balance. The ball will “sweep” you. You need to relax the majority of your body and make minor adjustments to keep the main balance point. This is also helpful with your jiu-jitsu because it conserves energy and allows you to roll better longer.
2) A lot of CONTROL comes from your HIPS: You control the ball with your hips. You determine the direction it can roll and the places it will stop. This is a great concept for top positions in BJJ: Your hips create pressures and barriers for your opponent when you are rolling!
3) Mistakes happen, but you can MITIGATE the consequences if you FLOW: Tensing up and holding onto a bad position or base will get you swept or subbed. If I relax and counterbalance the mistake I may be able to salvage the position, deter my opponent’s game plan, or go to the next best position. I need to flow instead of panic.
Get started! There are a lot of videos out there to give you some ideas of where to start. You can also just start experimenting on your own, even if it is just starting with basic balancing positions (butt, stomach, knees). Have fun!
So, we go to the BJJ academy 3-6 days per week; some of us exercise outside of the academy; some do extra strength and conditioning classes at the academy. So, we’re healthy athletes, right? Well, it depends. Whether you like it or not, it’s not just the classes and workouts that we do that make us the kind of athlete and jiu-jitsu fighter that we are. It is, in fact, proper nutrition that can make you or break you. That is, we need to think of food as fuel.
Unless you were blessed by genetics with the metabolism of a hummingbird (i.e., really high), do not put terrible fuel into your body and expect to look like an Adonis (i.e., chiseled as a marble statue). Your body is not, in fact, an engine designed to run on Doritos and Ho-Hos and other highly-processed, chemical-ridden foods, or a lot of red meat. I know, I know: That “All Bacon” diet seems like a great idea at first glance, but I would reconsider.
We have “proper nutrition” down to a science these days; it can become extremely complicated, especially when you start following special diets, such as a completely vegan diet (no animal products, ever). But getting the right fuel in your body doesn’t have to be complicated or overwhelming. Just follow some simple rules:
1. Keep your processed food intake to a minimum. This means, lots of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and basic, lean meats (if you are not vegetarian). Along this vein, I would recommend not eating out frequently, even at supposedly more healthful restaurants.
2. At each meal, try to get a good carbohydrate source AND a good protein source, especially at breakfast and post-workout.
3. Eat small portions more frequently, rather than one or two huge meals. Let your metabolism keep up with you!
4. Eat lots of veggies and drink plenty of water with each meal and/or snack.
If you don’t know where to start, I recommend keeping a food journal; awareness is the first step. Sometimes you don’t realize how much your “treats” really add up, or that you are not getting enough protein to replace what you lost during your workout until you look at it on paper. Keep your journal for at least a week; you may be surprised!