T Nation

BJJ - "Using Your Strength"


To get super specific, stopping a choke by “sticking a hand in there,” may be unrealistic and not useful, or almost like cheating.

You can stop a smaller, weaker person this way. But not somebody anywhere near your own size. This can really give you a false sense of security.

A 180 pound dude putting you in a triangle is like a funny joke. It’s not so funny when that guy is 270. Or, if you can just shrug your shoulders to prevent a small person’s choke giving up your back may not seem like the worst thing that can happen.


I have the same thinking as you on this one. My opinion is that if the sub, etc. is truly locked in then no amount of effort would be able to resist it. I think that if you’re rolling and you’re consciously allowing a technique to work on you even though you know that you could most likely effectively counter it in a competition setting, then you and your training partner aren’t doing each other any favors. I think it’s detrimental to roll like this and get used to setting up a technique in a certain way only to find out that when the opponent is actually going all out, the way you’ve drilled it isn’t effective. In my admittedly limited experience, I can drill a technique 50 times against a non-resisting or only lightly resisting partner and think I’ve got a pretty good handle on it only to find in hard sparring that I don’t actually have the choke etc. in deep enough. Like I said, I’m a total newbie at this so take everything I say with a grain of salt but just my 2 cents.



Let’s say you’ve got someone’s back - you’ll try for a lapel choke using technique, trapping your opponent’s arm or distracting him with an attack from another angle.

In competition you use all the stuff at your disposal - brute strength, pushing your knuckles or the palm of his hand against his gums so that he gives up his neck etc. Same thing with juji gatame (armbar), if you’ve cleanly trapped your opponent’s arm, control him with your legs so that he cannot escape of roll into guard, what’s the point in him frantically resisting by holding his lapels until you yank his arm? It’s sparring, not a competition.

There’s no shame in tapping out and basically admitting “you’ve got me” without risking injury for both you or your opponent.

Ironically, this is the reason I was quite successful in BJJ competitions, even in open categories - BJJers who regularly got the better of me in class by regularly going “all out” constantly freaked out after I submitted them in competition - sparring is sparring and a fight is a fight.

Same with boxing.


Disagree 100%. Getting into position for an armbar is not the same as having a submission “locked in.” If you haven’t even broken the grip yet, you’re still a few steps away from finishing. Even after the grip is broken, he can still catch the inside of his near knee, and after that he can still hitchhiker out. If that fails and he has flexible shoulders, he can also do this:

Using your logic, when do I stop defending a triangle choke? When I have one arm in, one out with his ankles crossed behind my head?

Do you tap to a kimura every time someone secures the double wrist lock grip?

Should I yield a collar choke every time someone gets my back and secures a collar grip?

All of these scenarios are absurd to me. It’s not a good training practice. If you’re tapping early to everything, how are your training partners getting good feedback on whether or not they can actually finish? I’m not saying they have to break your arm or choke you to death, but if you’re not actively resisting until the point of futility (IE all options are exhausted or unavailable), then IMO you’re doing your teammates a disservice.

As an example, I (not surprisingly) use the arm triangle from mount a LOT. It’s my A game finish from there. Since my training partners actively resist until that “point of no return,” I’ve had to learn ways to amp up the pressure in steps so I don’t burn myself out and risk losing position. If they just tapped every time I got their arm across their face and my hands locked, I may never have learned those adjustments.

Really? You don’t think it has anything to do with you being an international judo black belt competitor going against bjj blue belts (maybe purple since I’m not sure of your current belt)?


I have to trust what twojarslave writes. He wrote that it’s in correctly, so I believe it’s in correctly.

Which is why I then followed it by writing that there’s literally nothing the partner could have done if twojarslave was indeed strong/big enough to muscle out of a properly done armlock.


I think it would be closer to a sparring session in boxing. From what I understand(never boxed!), you aim mostly to be technical and don’t put an intent to hurt your partner when you’re sparring with them.

Then you gradually increase the intensity and the intent to hurt your partner as you prep for a match.

It’s essentially the same in judo. You go at about 70-80% and don’t attempt to complete the throw at all costs, nor do you fight the throw at all costs. I’ve never done BJJ, but I know folks who do. From what they’ve described, randori and simply rolling should be really similar. It’s not an all-out war, but rather free practice where both partners aren’t going all out, since it’s counter-productive to go all out in normal practice.

Obviously you will ramp up the intensity as you get closer to a comp so that you prepare yourself.

It’s very different from drilling. Drilling should be for technical purposes, and is focused on improving a specific aspect of a certain throw. It is highly scripted. You’re free to do what you want in randori.

I think there’s a bit of a misunderstanding going on here, and I’m not sure why.


That all depends on how you define “properly done”. I’m lucky enough to train many times per week with a high-level, high-athleticism, high-strength brown belt. Quite often I will simply have no opportunity to power out of his submissions. His jiu jitsu is just scary as fuck (and he can throw me pretty reliably too, fwiw).

That’s where I agree with Steel_Nation. Could my instructor do that to Hafthor Bjornson? Maybe, but maybe his “properly done” armbar won’t be technically-sound enough to overcome a strength disparity that big, and 'Thor is able to create an escape opportunity that just wasn’t there for me.

Now, “properly done” to a purple, blue, and white belt will probably mean sllightly different things. That’s normal I think, and probably a reflection of the depth of technical refinement. I’m sure plenty of blue and purple belts are doing technically-sound submissions on me that just aren’t quite as sound as my brown belt instructor’s. I can get out, and my strength is part of the reason why.

Which brings me back to the central theme of this thread. What does it mean to “use your strength”? What situations is it good to use, what situations is it bad to use?

So along those lines, these same sort of questions pop into my head…

When I think about this, it seems silly to just give up on it and say “yep, you got me”, especially when this white belt is not a particularly good judge of whether I’d be giving up on a technically sound submission or whether they just got lucky or maybe even used their strength to muscle it out.

Why not just fight back, assuming you’re not being a dumbass and getting yourself hurt?


No one was saying that. You’re incorrectly assuming that I’m advocating a tap as soon as someone grabs my hand.

Let’s assume that my opponent is trying to submit me via an armbar from the mount and that for the moment I’m defending it by cross holding my lapels. I can try a myriad of ways to escape the armbar - a side or a forward roll, I can try to separate his legs if the hold is sloppy, work into breaking his grip hold, extend my shoulder etc.

But in sparring all these moves should be done with a reasonable amount of force and effort - if your opponent suddenly breaks your defense and hyperextends your arm over his knee you can mess it up on some idle Wednesday in class destroying your competitive career.

If you rely on brute strength too much - the most notorious example I can think of is forcibly yanking an Americana from side control against a weaker opponent - you’re in a world of problems in competition once you’re facing guys of your size and strength. “But, but… nothing works anymore”

Yes, that the best comparison. Boxers know the difference between sparring and a fight. Ironically, with the rise of MMA this part of boxing often got lost in translation and hence the toxic culture of standup “gym wars” in some MMA gyms and teams.



I think that just by asking the question you already have the self-awareness and concern for your training partners to determine this on your own. Don’t be an asshole and just manhandle tiny people and women just because you can (unless they want you to). Don’t crank submissions super fast. Don’t pick people up and slam them from the feet just because you can. Don’t do other assorted “big guy” bullshit like stacking and shoulder smashing someone in guard, etc. Be responsible for the safety of your training partner.


I think differing notions of “reasonable” is where this gray area exists.

I feel like most of the time it is for me. I’m definitely not going all out, definitely not trying to overwhelm anyone with total brute force. It is more situational, and the sort of questions I quoted above in my earlier post.


Oh I definitely feel like I’m navigating it well so far. It is just such an interesting topic, especially since the basic idea of whether someone “used strength” or not is so highly subjective and difficult to really pin down (for me at least).


Can you clarify a little on when you feel is the right time to tap from an armlock, a kimura, and a collar choke? It’s entirely possible I might be misunderstanding you completely.


I wanted to hear more about this from you. What do you mean by this? It’s not unrealistic if I’m doing it, and it is useful if it is stopping me from getting choked and creating an opportunity for escape. The situations I’m talking about here would be gi chokes mostly. I don’t defend a RNC or triangle by “sticking my hand in there”.

Like the other situation’s I quoted above, I’m thinking about what the alternative is here? Just tap out when I could have escaped? If so, why?

I wish. My brown belt instructor is about 175 and his triangle attempts require my 100% attention and have a pretty high success rate on me. He’s got little hobbit legs too.


Put 100% attention into Not getting triangled.

If you barely escape a small guy, you won’t escape a large guy.

If you can muscle out of a triangle, you may not realize that on your toes with your head down(like when dude is setting you up for a triangle) is Danger Zone.


I see what you’re saying now, and I definitely agree. I’m not treating positions that get me triangled as “safe spots” because I might be able to just power out. That would definitely be a good example of using strength in a very non-productive way.

Edit: I just wanted to clarify that I regularly escape triangles from both big and little guys, but this particular little guy is a complete monster. He’s a four-stripe brown belt and a very high-level weightlifting competitor. He’s has had to slough off his share of “strength” accusations too.

I get a sense of how the strength/skill equation lines up when I train with him. For reference, he’d probably deadlift 100-150 lbs less than me, but that’s still “strong enough” to make my strength advantage amount to a total of zero real taps on him. His technique applied by his “strong enough” body wins against me 100% of the time, and I don’t believe that’s likely to change anytime soon, or possibly ever.

Progress for me when I’m rolling with him is just defending and making him work harder, change plans, make an escape, etc. The overall outcome is not in doubt. Me getting my deadlift up to 700 would not change that, either.


When the technique is right and the only remaining thing to do is application of brute force. But again, it’s assuming that both you and your partner/opponent are going at 80% which is my understanding of sparring or randori.

Let me explain this with the armbar from mount example. If my opponent is setting up an armbar, I’ll try different ways to escape and if he’s pinning me down tightly closing all avenues of escape so there’s no other option but to defend with, let’s say a cross lapel hold. So if he starts prying my fingers and I feel my grip loosening, I’ll resists until a reasonable level of effort and that is to say 80% after which if I’m see it’s a matter of five to ten seconds of his grinding, I’m letting the armbar, thus avoiding my nightmare scenario where he’s almost completely extending my arm while I’m (barely) resisting purely on the strength of my biceps.

That’s an injury waiting for happen and pointless dick-measuring contest outside of competition. Training smart helps you extend your training lifespan and improves your technique.

That’s the philosophical difference in approach to training - are you and your fellow team/club members trying to get better so that you can give your absolute best on the mat in competition when it really matters or are you the proverbial weekend warrior that shows up every class to beat and get himself beat up.

This is a nice summary I found on line:

According to Dr. Kano, there are three tools for instruction or practice: Kata, Randori, and Shiai. At the highest level, here’s what they mean:
• Kata: practice of forms; predetermined movements
• Randori: adversarial, free-moving practice
• Shiai: competition, tournament (I’ve posted before about the value of competition.)

I’m not going to talk about Kata here (though it bears discussion), but I do want to talk about the difference between Shiai and Randori because they’re sometimes confused.

Randori is practice. To “win” in Randori, you just need to learn something new or get better or help your partner learn. Thus, you can still win if you get thrown 30 times. The way you “lose” in Randori is that you don’t do any of those things and/or you hurt yourself. You are generally not putting your heart and soul into putting your partners back on the mat. Given the principle of "Jita Kyoei” (mutual benefit), you are trying both to help yourself as well as help your partner. That doesn’t mean that there’s no struggle, but it does mean that if a 200 pound black belt is going against a 150 pound green belt, the 200 pounder shouldn’t be making it as difficult for the green belt as he is capable. Maybe the 200 pounder will decide to focus more on foot sweeps, or he will give the green belt many looks at the same attack (even if that attack puts the green belt on his butt every time)…

Shiai, on the other hand, is a competition. You “win” in competition by winning. You put the other guy on his back, you pin him, you make him tap, you get more points, or he gets disqualified (though I’m not a fan of people who try to get the other guy disqualified). If, for whatever reason, the 200 pounder in the 150 pounder mentioned above were in the same division, and they found themselves facing off against each other, the 200 pounder’s job is to put the smaller man on his back with force and control. As I mentioned in the article I linked to above, both Randori and Shiai are about field testing your Judo. Shiai, though, is intended to be a more extreme environment, where the other guy is trying as hard as he can to put you on your back, and you’re seeing how your Judo works in that situation. Jita Kyoei still applies, but in this instance the benefit that you are providing your opponent is a sincere attack.

Randori has partners, Shiai has opponents.

One’s first Shiai is often an eye-opening experience. You get hit. You get ground up. You get mauled. You get jostled like you’ve never been jostled before. It may not be beautiful judo, but that isn’t to say that that’s not what your opponent is supposed to be doing. You see, they’re giving you the opportunity to test your judo against somebody who’s mauling, hitting, and jostling you. That’s a useful skill. Just be ready for it.

Also, here’s a short clip of my favorite judoka Flavio Canto rolling in BJJ to illustrate my point - look how smoothly he’s transitioning and giving up positions without ever resorting to grinding.


I just want to express my appreciation for the frank discussion here with respect to tapping and BJJ in general.

I started Kempo a few years ago, worked up to a green belt (white, orange, yellow, blue, green, brown, brown stripe, black candidate, black) and was never really impressed with the level of real life application. I came to the conclusion that the “secret” to karate was that guys in karate trained three times a week and practiced striking and were therefore more likely to win a fight than those that didn’t train at all. I didn’t feel like there was a lot of technique involved, but really, there was - you just miss it when you’re training often.

I chose karate over BJJ frankly because I read that BJJ required greater physical stamina, and at 50 (at the time), and at 210 pounds and six feet tall, I thought karate would be more accessible to me.

I’ve been following @twojarslave’s log since well before he started BJJ and was amazed that it consumed him, to the exclusion of his impressive strength gains in the gym. And I have been completely sucked in by his experience.

I work with a guy that is an instructor at Matt Serra BJJ here on Long Island, and have had several conversations with him. I have an open invite to roll with him at Serra, anytime. While I am now down to 190, I’m still intimidated by the idea of rolling. To me, tapping is failure.

My buddy used to weigh 190 when he was a personal trainer, solid AF. But now that he does BJJ, and he’s a purple belt, he never gets above 165. It’s that balance of leverage and strength that works for him.

Metaphorically, I think my fear of tapping is a limitation on life.

I’ve also read that if you roll, are trained, you can walk into almost any dojo and have that connection. This is something that resonates with me.

This thread has been inestimably beneficial to me, so thanks everybody that has contributed.


The people who claim that a submission was all strength, probably used strength to try and escape it.


Awesome I think we’re on the same page now. Thanks for clarifying. Our approaches are not that different. Sorry for the misunderstanding.


Now that I’ve got a little time to write, I wanted to address a few of your points…

I don’t like to tap either, but viewing it as “failure” isn’t how you should look at it. If nothing else, it is a reality check on your ability to handle yourself in a grappling situation. I tap out all the time. I tap out 100% of the time with some guys when we roll with no timers to save me. I didn’t fail if I maybe won the takedown, passed his guard, defended a choke, escaped mount and lasted 10 minutes. I didn’t last 10 seconds the first time I rolled with some really good guys, so that’s definitely progress. But tapping is inevitable. It is usually good medicine every time.

I think you’ve got a good enough handle on your body to do BJJ and eat to maintain your weight, if that’s what you wanted to pursue.

You’ll be amazed at how quickly you get over that.

This is true, but there’s still a bit of gym rivalries to be had. My brown belt instructor has been banned from several area gyms. The problem is that he trains traditional jiu jitsu for self-defense, which isn’t always as polite as sport grappling. I guess some people take it personally when you murder choke them or smother their face so they can’t breathe during a roll, or just using good pressure and sound jiu jitsu fundamentals. I don’t see anything impolite about it and neither does my other instructor, but not all gyms have that kind of vibe.

I’d probably have a bit of a target on my back if I walked into one particular gym. That’s not to say I’d get jumped and beaten by the Cobra Kai, but I’d probably get their toughest guys and I’d probably get some pressure. A lot of guys there know me as a bouncer and I’ve tapped a few of their colored belts out pretty easily, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I had some of their sharks set upon me if I show up for a class (which I intend on doing at some point while I’m still a white belt).

All good fun, if you ask me.