T Nation

BJJ - "Using Your Strength"


#1

Two stripe white belt back with another topic that’s been on my mind since the first day I stepped on the mat with a room full of guys who couldn’t do my barbell warm-ups, but could easily whoop my ass.

“Don’t use your strength.”

I was told this right away by more than a few of these guys. I got the general idea of what they meant on day 1 and my understanding of the subject has gotten a bit deeper in the year since. I’d like to think my training approach has reflected that. Even so, I’m of the opinion that strength absolutely has its place in training, and I’d like to share some of my thoughts on this subject. Hopefully some of you will too.

In the spirit of honoring the good advice my training partners gave me, I’ll start with some shit I don’t do anymore. I don’t brute force Americana’s from side control. I’m glad I did, because now I know this is a thing I can do. If I compete, it will be on the table. If I can pull it off on one of my instructors, it will be on the table. Otherwise, I’m only taking an Americana if it is presented to me, which happens plenty often with newer white belts.

One place where I will regularly use my strength is to power out of submissions. I’m beginning to realize this may butt-hurt people who feel like I should have just tapped to their technically-sound armlock, but if I can extend my arm out of your Americana and get an underhook from the bottom of side control, or row my elbow to the floor and stack you up after a failed armbar, then that’s what’s going to happen next.

I’m working on preventing those positions in the first place, but given my skill level, wouldn’t me powering through a submission a great training opportunity for my partner? I feel like it is for me, since I get to explore what happens next and learn from it. Presumably my training partner gets the same benefit, along with the gift of learning how to grapple with a much larger and stronger man.

Those are just two examples of “strength” adjustments I make in training. I always strive to improve technique and explore details, but I’ll always be a big strong guy by jiu jitsu standards. I might as well learn how to work with it in the most productive way.

Anyone else have thoughts on the place of brute force in jiu jitsu?


#2

I think using strength is a double edged sword.

It’s good for your training partners in that, should they ever have to use their skills in the real world/for self defense they are much more likely to experience an opponent trying to power out of it than they are to experience someone using a technical defense. By working with you, who are trying to power out they can find out whether their techniques are truly sound and can overcome superior strength, or how to flow to the next submission Extension/Combination effectively.

It’s good for you in that it is an “ace card” that you have up your sleeve that you could pull out should the need arise.

It’s bad for you in that, every time you use your strength to power out of a submission, you miss an opportunity to escape that submission via a technical escape/defense. This means that you are not developing in your technical skills as fast as you would be if you could not rely on your strength but instead had to rely on skill to get out.

It’s also potentially bad for both your training partners and you in that, such “powering out” of submissions drastically increases the risk of injury (to both you and your training partners) as in many cases it encourages people to go for submissions (skills that were originally designed to maim if not kill) as hard and as fast as possible in an attempt to “outrun” your predicted attempt to “power out” of the Sub. Even if they don’t, your chances of tearing something still go up significantly by trying to use muscular strength to defend as compared to using skill to defend. And, if you are strong enough, you could also potentially injure your training partners in your attempts to power out of things.

Now, IMO there is a balance that you can strike between the two, but it’s going to require that you and your training partners set explicit parameters prior to each “roll”. Like, “Ok, this roll I am going to let you put me into submissions and I am going to try to power out of them so you can get a chance to test your submissions against someone using brute strength, and so I can see what I can and cannot get away with.”

And, I would make these “power based” rolls the minority of your training and only do them regularly against Purple Belts and up. As, reasonably, other White Belts and the vast majority of Blue Belts will not have developed their skills to the point where they are ready to start trying to overcome extremes in terms of strength like yourself.

Hope this helps.


#3

#4

I can definitely relate to your conundrum as I am also a “bigger, stronger” white belt (6’, 260lbs). Nothing makes my blood boil more than when I hear another training partner say something to the effect of “you only got that sub because you are so much stronger than him/me”. I look at it like this: you would never say to someone “you only got that sub because you are fast/agile/flexible/intelligent/have good balance/have long legs etc.” Every single student of grappling brings their own attributes and weaknesses to the table. In my opinion, the smartest and most successful grapplers are those who recognize these and play their game accordingly. If you know you have an attribute, such as strength, which gives you an advantage, you would be an idiot to not exploit it to it’s absolute limit. I think that the strength disparaging in bjj specifically comes from the earlier days of it’s gaining prominence especially through those heady first few UFC’s where 170lb Royce mopped the floor with much bigger and stronger fighters. It developed this mystique, largely through the marketing of the Gracie family, that with perfect technique the smaller and weaker could reliably overcome the bigger and stronger. While there is definitely truth to this, (as I have repeatedly had my ass kicked daily by my 155 lb brown belt instructor) I think it is often overstated. I definitely agree that strength can be used as a crutch to cover up sloppy and poor technique, and this should never be allowed to creep into training, but you can say the same thing about any of the other physical attributes I earlier listed. My take home message is I think one should always concentrate on trying to perfect technique but that they should always try to exploit any strengths they can especially in competition.


#5

@Sentoguy Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts. Everything you say makes sense, and I didn’t give much thought to the connection between using more strength and injury chance. I’m still obviously quite new to this game and my understanding of submission defense is mostly instinctive at this point. One of the main things I’m hoping to get out of this thread is a better understanding of what that seemingly fuzzy line between strength and technique looks like. I’ll use a recent example to explain where I’m going with this…

I roll with our senior purple belt a lot. He’s a stout Army lad, well north of 200 and 15 years my junior, but I’m still stronger. He hunts armbars on me, usually stemming from knee-on-belly or successfully hunting high mount. I know what he’s going for, so I start trying to put my elbow to the mat as soon as I feel him set up the armbar. He’s a stout lad too, and I usually have to lock up with my other hand while he’s working to free it. I know he’s trying to pull my hands toward his head, use his feet, etc., so I stay locked up and “power” through his grip and get my elbow to the floor and out of the fulcrum. It took hard work. I call that using strength to “power” through his submission. If I was weaker or decided not to “use my strength”, he would have tapped me (with his strength?).

I know when a sub is locked in and I always tap right away (with joint attacks at least), but I’ve been “powering” through stuff like what I just described, or perhaps extending out of an Americana that isn’t locked in close quite yet. I’ve gotten out of a number of chokes by getting a hand in there and just not letting go and betting on my grip out-lasting their will to choke me. Again working hard with muscle to do that, using all of the strength I can bring to bear on that little battle.

I feel like that’s good jiu jitsu, or at least the closest I can hit to that mark right now. Obviously there are many more details underneath these gross movements that I’m unaware of, and that seems to be where the pursuit of technical mastery should lead me. Am I on the right track here, or is there something I’m still missing?

I’m pleased to say that I’m usually unwinded after rolling with some of our newer white belts. It is a good feeling, and I feel like being able to get multiple taps without getting winded or feeling like I worked hard at all is a good outcome to chase after. Some of the more aggro guys make me work hard, but I’m the most senior white belt who actually rolls regularly, so I feel like I’ve got a bit of a target on my back.

I’m definitely loving jiu jitsu right now, that’s for sure. Thank you again for sharing your thoughts!

@Steel_Nation Thanks for the big guy re-assurance. The purple belt I described above just used that same line the other week when we were discussing this topic. “We don’t get to whine to flexible guys that they only beat us because they’re flexible.”

My younger instructor, who is a four-stripe brown (and about as strong as one can be at 175 lbs), also pointed out that strength is trainable, and if anyone thinks that it is such a huge edge, they can prioritize eating and lifting for a year. Some of the upper belts I’ve tapped and give lots of problems to would probably be monsters if they gained 20 pounds of mostly muscle over a year of serious lifting. 130 pound upper belts are frustrating, but it is kind of like wrestling a very skilled child. The disparity in strength and size is so great it is almost impossible to turn it off and use pure technique. I have no idea how to do that with my body.

@CMdad Thank you for chiming in! Your experience sounds similar to mine, although people aren’t necessarily bitching when they get tapped by me. A few things have definitely been said about it, but nothing that makes me upset. I hate tapping out too. My instructor has advised me to be mindful about possible hurt feelings when guys with color around their waist tap out. I just try not to react to it and treat the person the same way as when I lose. Good job, thanks, etc.


#6

Ugh. As a fellow big guy I can say that’s one of my pet peeves about BJJ - in judo there’s a clear distinction between shiai (an all-out fight) and randori (a resisting practice akin to rolling) and it’s sorely missing in BJJ.

I would say that from each 10 submission that I have tapped out to doing BJJ I could have muscled out from around 7 of them but I chose not to as in my opinion that’s not the purpose of rolling in training. With the risk of sounding presumptuous that’s the judo ethos that’s been drilled into me from an early age in judo.

That’s what myself and several judokas I know found frustrating about BJJ practice, those “nnnggghhh” moments when your partner (intentionally not calling him an opponent) is illogically resisting an armbar or a choke with all the force he can muster.


#7

Hi loppar. I’ve got to say I respectfully disagree with you on this one. One of the things that I like the most about rolling in bjj is that it is almost always a “hard roll.” I think that’s one of the things that separates it from most of the other martial arts. Comparatively, it tends to put much more emphasis on competition than other traditional arts do and I think this is why you see such a high prevalence of all out sparring. To me, I think this is what has produced such an effective and highly applicable martial art. Pretty much everything that exists in the art is only there because it has been battle tested and found to produce results. Unlike many other martial arts, there seems to be a much more dynamic state of existence of the art as well. It is constantly evolving as old techniques are neutralized by new ones over and over again. This hard sparring and the results it begets in competition serve as the laboratory for this constant evolution. For this reason I look at Bjj as existing somewhere in a gray area between a martial art and a combat sport as the emphasis in Bjj isn’t as much about achieving the next belt level as it is about winning the next competition.


#8

I’m only with you 50/50 on that one. With new students I think it is missing. It isn’t always an easy thing to get your head around, and some of the younger guys definitely want to bang hard all the time. I think we could do a better job getting the idea across.

That said, all of the guys and gals I’ve trained with over time, including white belts who I’ve known for at least four or five months, have at least a basic grasp between rolling hard and flow rolling. I can’t say I’m the most controlled with my movements yet, but a similar distinction in intensity definitely exists in the BJJ world. My brown belt instructor has such a skill disparity on me (along with being strong enough to put the nail in my strength advantage coffin), he can simply choose to make it a flow roll. That bastard has made me work for like 20 minutes straight until he let me armbar him.


#9

And yes, this too. My rolls are probably 50/50 flow/hard, but I’m only recently gaining the ability to dictate that pace with less-skilled and/or weaker training partners. With training partners I trust, going hard feels totally safe to me. I’m more cautious with people I don’t know now (hard lesson learned there too).


#10

Man every time I rolled in the beginning I was all strength and explosiveness. I think the students at the first gym I briefly went to were annoyed. Only the brown belt occasional instructor told me to not use strength.

BJJ is a contact sport/art. Strength and athleticism in general is an integral part of it. In my opinion people who tell you to stop using strength are probably scared to get physical in their rolls. They don’t feel like battling it out.

I will say this though. I was 208-212 lbs at 5’9 600 lb deadlift repping 500 on squat. Stronger then 98 percent of people out there except high level athletes and power lifters. I was certainly way stronger then anyone in the BJJ gym. Never the less I got schooled by most purple belts. Blue belts could give me a hard time occasionally tap me with me not getting any subs on them. This in the beginning. I used my strength liberally. Literally throwing people off me for cheap sweeps. Pinning people down. I was really good at that. I noticed I wasn’t getting better at BJJ. I stopped lifting focused on stretching because I was so stiff. At first when I started losing size and strength I would get wrecked more and more but eventually since I did not have strength to help me I had to actually work technique. Now I am 165ish which is the lightest I have been in a long long time and my game as far as technique goes is making leaps and bounds very fast. Eventually though I would like get back up to 180-195 with my newfound flexibility and just be stacked as hell and deadly.


#11

At 6’2 and 190 lbs, I’m bigger and stronger than most. No stripe blue belt.

When rolling I try to use 50% of my strength and focus on technique. This is easier to do on higher belts who are obviously more technique proficient than myself.

Only issue I have is that in my dojo we have had a flurry of new white belts come in, who are all explosiveness and strength. I don’t think my technique is good enough yet to overcame the erratic white belt game of strength and explosiveness, that sometimes I have to resort back to using my strength. I suppose over time as myself and my training partners improve, this might change.

Side note: My usual technique partner is 6’7 and 340 lbs. he is so big that every visiting black belt asks for a photo with him. Size matters.

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#12

Im super new to BJJ so don’t have anything useful to add, but i will say strength is useful. since I’m stronger than the other people that attend class, its really annoying not having the technique to beat them. They struggle with my strength but I’m yet to submit any of the more experienced dudes. If i was alot weaker id suck alot more haha

@twojarslave i have been relying on my strength alot when rolling and from what I’ve read in this thread, that isnt good as a beginner? I should be drilling technique more?

Really enjoying this discussion guys!


#13

I can only tell you what’s worked for me in my first year as a dude who is old enough to be your dad.

As a beginner I think drilling technique is very good to do, and I don’t see this changing for me anytime soon on my jiu jitsu journey. Over and over, get lots of reps with your submissions and escapes. I think drilling basic movements is very good too. Practice hip-outs, rolls, getting up in base, etc. I think it is very important to start understanding the hierarchy of positions, and have as many ways as you can to advance through them and stop your partner from doing the same. I’m getting pretty close to having two escapes and/or two submissions from each position that I can reliably pull off in live rolls against good guys. I’m not quite there but that’s the house I’m trying to build right now.

Roll with a purpose. I think some of the younger guys are trying to not look dumb when they roll instead of working on something specific, like an escape or defense or any actual technique. Defend, escape, advance your position, hold your position, hunt for submission. Learn something from every roll.

And of course, listen to your instructor.

That’s my white belt $0.02 for you.


#14

Thanks man! I will take all of that into my learning. Hopefully i can start 1 on 1 sessions with the instructor soon.


#15

Far removed from combat sports these days, but I’ll say that, back when I rolled, I already knew I was strong and I also knew that I sucked at jits, so if I was in class, I wanted to get better at grappling. This meant that, when going from knees, I didn’t spend 5 minutes hunting for a takedown, I just fell on my back and worked from a bad position. I tried to get into position by technique rather than by strength. I practiced moves I was bad at, rather than hunting for the handful of subs I was good at. I tried and failed at a LOT of things when rolling.

However, when it was a fight, I fell back on my strengths, muscled out of stuff, slammed people, etc. Just depends on what you’re trying to get out of the experience. Some folks try to “win” rolling, but I more saw it as my chance to practice.


#16

I think you misunderstood what Ioppar meant.

You resist throws with great effort in randori, but when the throw is in pretty darn good, you LET yourself be thrown because, at the end of the day, it’s just a sparring session.

Technically speaking, there are options to avoid an ippon. You can attempt to muscle out or otherwise manipulate your way out of many throws, particularly if they’re not perfect, but this will likely increase the risk of injury to both you and your partner(depends on the throw). You can also attempt to stop it from being an ippon by manipulating how you land. You can stick an arm out to stop yourself from falling cleanly on your back/side, you can land on your head/neck, you can land on your feet, etc. But, again, all of these dramatically increase the risk of injury. Accepting the throw and rolling through it is the safest way to land. It will almost mean that you lose under Judo comp. rules.

Then you go to a place that really tries for the national competitions and has a dedicated team, and you drop into their training session in prep for said competitions. There is huge difference in the intensity and the willing to both take and give pain.

In other words- when you’re sparring, you tap to the armbars/chokes that are in pretty good, since the goal is to get good enough that you don’t have to be in a situation where you have to defend against an armbar/choke to begin with. When you’re prepping for a big comp, you fight against armbars/chokes with all effort so that you prepare yourself for the possibility.


#17

I’d think it depends on the size discrepancy, and it speaks to the reason why there are weight classes.

If the armlock is in correctly, but you can muscle out of it anyways, then doesn’t that mean there’s little he/she could have done to prevent you from muscling out? How is that helpful to him/her? The only point there is that it turns out combat arts don’t work as well when the other fellow has some training and is that much stronger than you.

One thing your partner could learn is that the technique is simply not effective when the size discrepancy is large enough, and that they should aim to go for some other submission instead.

There was a brown belt at my old judo place. She was barely 5ft 1inches at most. Her skill is such that she would be a brown belt; there’s nothing wrong with her skill. If she got proper kuzushi on me then she could throw me cleanly. The problem is that I have 7-8 inches and likely close to hundred pounds on her. It would be effortless for me to literally pick her up if I so chose to. I’m pretty sure I, and virtually every other male 170lb and heavier, could have flung her half-way across the mat if they applied the same amount of force they use to throw other 170lb men.

What do we do? We accommodate, because there’s little point to proving that size discrepancy is a serious disadvantage when folks start to get better and better.


#18

I’d appreciate it if you could describe one or two of these situations in more detail please.

I can also appreciate that judo is inherently more dangerous than bjj (assuming you’re starting on the ground in the latter) because fully resisting a high amplitude throw can get you seriously injured. So I imagine the actual sparring would be some % less than “full-go” when compared to bjj.

This is basically how I approach most rolls as well. We almost always start from knees because our student/mat ratio is high enough that starting from the feet isn’t possible. I pull guard 99% of the time from the knees, but would never even consider it from the feet.

There’s a time and place for both. Everyone has an A game after a few years of training, but just because it’s your A game doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be practiced. But you also have to experiment in training, or your growth will be stunted.

I tend to experiment more with people my level or lower. Upper belts get A game all the time.

The difference between the two is pretty murky IMO. I guess the former is like porn: you know it when you see it.

I think the two are mutually exclusive. If an armlock is applied perfectly, you’re not getting out unless the strength advantage is absolutely massive.


#19

Just saw this (the video should start at the appropriate clip). Good example of why you just “give up” and roll with a well-executed throw.

Ouch.


#20

Brand new to BJJ (one stripe white). But is this not just drilling? Before we grapple we drill for like an hour. I’d say I resist about 60%. Just enough to make sure my partner is able to get some good work in.