T Nation

Return to the Mat


My background: I wrestled for a year in high school, and despite having zero experience going into the season, towards the end of the year everything really clicked for me. To give a comparison, I now feel more comfortable wrestling than I ever felt at the plate in a baseball game, despite playing baseball for over a decade. I think I just have a natural aptitude for it, and I can roll with guys that have a lot more experience than me and hold my own really well.

After high school, I played football in college. The offseason before my senior year, I trained BJJ and kickboxing for about 5 months to get in shape for football. I ended up fighting twice in MMA towards the end of the summer, and ended up 1-1. The only reason I lost the second fight was my conditioning; I severely underestimated the demands of a full 15 minute fight, and I was actually gassed out about a minute into the second round.

Since then I haven't really done much of anything except lift weights. Competed in powerlifting for a few years, then had to stop that due to a hip injury. The hip hasn't bothered me at all in the first few weeks of training, which is awesome.

So, I recently started training at Fight Club Pittsburgh a few days a week. I go to an MMA class that changes focus quite often. We haven't done much in the way of ground work to this point, but I've only been there a couple weeks. I'm told they focused on ground stuff the month before I joined.

The lack of rolling is both good and bad for me. It's good because my stand-up is far and away the weakest part of my game. I'm about as uncomfortable fighting on my feet as anyone could possibly be. My footwork is a mess. If I'm working for takedowns or in the clinch, I'm good to go. But as soon as I'm in space everything goes to shit. I have poor head movement, so I take a lot of punches, and since my footwork is so bad I usually end up off-balance when I try to throw anything.

It's bad because rolling, to me, is the fun part. So it's been taking a lot of discipline to get my ass to the gym. I have found the training rewarding, but I'm really feeling like a fish out of water most of the time.

So I'm looking for ways to improve my standup so I don't feel so lost all the time during training. What can I do at home, what things do I need to focus on in the gym, etc.

My goal, for now, is to really enjoy this training. The way I generally enjoy things is if I'm really good at them, and for me to feel like I'm "good" I need to be able to be able to basically compete with, if not dominate, everyone in the school. The MMA classes really don't have that stiff of competition, so I think this is a realistic goal with a few months of dedicated practice. I guess that depends how well the training "takes" though, so I don't really have a set timeline.

Any comments are appreciated.


Break out your jump rope!

I know jump rope isn't the same as real "foot work," but it will totally help you get used to being on the balls of your feet, and kinda bouncing around.


Welcome back to the mat.

What you need is to build your foundation for striking, plain and simple. This is comprised of things like footwork, rhythmic head and body movement, proper punching (and kicking if you are doing MMA) mechanics, defensive skills, and putting these skills together into cohesive patterns.

At this point however you likely have no real idea what that cohesive pattern should look like, and thus trying to "create" (shadow fight) may wind up causing you to develop bad habits if too unstructured. As you gain more experience and a better understanding of the stand up game freestyle shadow fighting will be a great tool though. It's kind of like learning a new language; at first you need to just learn how to engage in basic conversation and learn basic vocabulary that lets you do so. Once you've got that, then you can start delving into creating stories/poetry/creative writing/etc... If you tried to do it the other way around it would probably be a disaster.

So I would suggest that you:
1) Practice what you learn in class. Hopefully your coaches do know enough to have you guys training and practicing effective skills, even if you don't fully understand why you are practicing them, and have a structured approach to teaching them to you. So for now trust that they know what they are doing; and practice those skills.

2) Practice basic footwork drills. Footwork is the foundation of all stand-up fighting skills; it can allow you to neutralize your opponent's offensive skills, put you in position to utilize your offensive skills, add weight and power to your strikes, improve the effectiveness of your defensive skills, confuse or frustrate your opponent, allow you to effectively change the range to where you want the fight to happen, to name just a few of it's benefits. I would suggest starting with basic linear footwork, then add circling, angling, pivoting, and eventually things like switch stepping, stepping through, shuffling, and crossover footwork (but get to where you don't have to even think to perform the linear stuff, it just happens, before you start adding the fancy stuff).

3) Practice basic punch and kick mechanics. Just throwing techniques while looking into a mirror, or into the air and really trying to throw each one as perfectly as you can (no matter how slow that may be at first) is a good beginner practice. If you have access to a bag, then throwing them on the bag to get feedback as to their power, structural integrity, correct distancing, and accuracy is also an excellent practice, but don't get too focused on power at this point. Try to perfect your technique, then work on speed/relaxation, then finally power (even though to a large degree you will have already built some by this point).

4) Practice basic defensive skills. Things like blocks, parries, and Shielding/covering. Evasive head and body movements are also crucial skills to learn, but are generally not as easy to learn at the beginning, so I would focus on the former skills at least at first. Initially it's easier to see incoming strikes coming if your "camera" (head/eyes) isn't moving all over the place making reference points more difficult to recognize and most likely taking your body out of a good solid position from which you can effectively fight/strike. Yes, absolutely those skills are outstanding if really mastered, but they also require more time to really develop to the point where you can use them at the right time effectively in live sparring/combat.

5) Practice humility and focus on competing with yourself first and foremost. To be honest your attitude kind of sucks, and if you don't change it IME there is a good chance you won't last long in Martial Arts. There is absolutely nothing wrong with holding yourself to high standards or wanting to be the best you can be, but having the attitude that it's not enjoyable unless you can dominate everyone else is not the same thing.

Hope this helps. Good luck.


What Sento said.

Honestly, focus on learning your craft. Success on the mat is a byproduct. Dominating in practice may feel good, but it's basically meaningless, especially if the competition isn't that stiff. The goal is to get better and to help others get better. The road is long.

The way you come across displays the type of attitude/ego that gets people hurt, be it you or your training partners.


How does one gauge improvement if not via the measuring sticks you face everyday while sparring? If someone is kicking my ass today, and 3 months from now they aren't, that's progress, correct? But if my goal is to not just avoid getting my ass kicked, but to kick their ass, now my attitude sucks?

You guys do understand that by "if not dominate" I don't mean beating the shit out of a training partner, right? I'm talking about dominating or competing with technique.


Progress can be measured many ways, depending on how you look at things and your focus.

Progress might mean "Hey, I'm not crossing my feet when angling/stepping left/right anymore!"

It could mean "He,y I actually saw that straight right coming and was able to shoulder roll it and come back with a counter right that landed!"

It could mean "Man, I'm getting a lot better at holding the mitts for my partners during drills!"

It could mean "I feel a lot more flexible and balanced throwing my kicks and can now easily kick to the body/head and not just the legs!"

It could mean "I no longer have that bad tendency to "flinch"/look away/close my eyes when I get into trouble/get cornered/get swarmed and instead can keep my composure much better and stay in the fight!"

It could mean "I no longer see my sparring matches as competitions to be "won" but instead a chance to test my skills, improve my weaknesses, work on new skills, or try out new strategies that I could use in real fights (sporting or otherwise) should the need arise."

It could mean "I am starting to see that Martial Arts is a life long journey; I realize that I will not always be top dog (or maybe never will be); but that I can always strive to be the best that I can be, have learned to just enjoy the process, have stopped worrying about "winning and losing" in the gym so much, and have instead focused on conquering the true opponent which is my fears, insecurities, self doubts, ignorance, and pride."

It's all in how you look at things. Good luck.


I guess my problem is that I don't really know how to look at things when working standup. When I'm wrestling or rolling BJJ, it's pretty easy to figure out if I'm doing better/worse. I either got a takedown, escaped from bottom, improved my position, locked up a submission, successfully implemented a new technique, or I didn't. I know how to gauge progress in that arena.

The things you listed are definitely what I should be focused on. That all makes sense. Really what I want is to feel more comfortable, more "at home," on my feet. Just didn't really know how to put that into discrete terms so that they are actionable goals.

I appreciate your help.


I got my wake-up call yesterday. We free-rolled for about a half hour in 3 min rounds w/1 min breaks. I was totally gassed after 2 rounds. Like a limp dishrag. I am humbled and even more motivated than before. I needed this. Didn't even know I needed it til it happened.


Since my last post, I've switched my focus to pure grappling. I am not willing to make the time commitment necessary to actually fight MMA, so I'm avoiding striking training altogether. I've also had half a dozen concussions from 10 years of football, so not getting hit in the head is probably a good decision.

I've been training mostly gi BJJ for around 5 months now. Just got my second stripe on Monday. I also got to roll with our black belt professor (Lou Armezzani - got his black belt from Ailson Brites) for the first time...probably the most humbling experience I've had in the last 15 years at least. Now I realize (or at least I'm starting to realize) how tall this mountain actually is.

I'm competing in my first tournament at the end of May, which should be an interesting experience.


Congrats on the stripe, good luck in the tournament.

Did any of your previous training (weights/football)especially help any part of your bjj training?

Has the bjj training taught you anything that could have helped your football or lifting?


I wrestled a bit in high school, so that experience has obviously been a huge advantage. It was a long time ago, but I still have a few decent takedowns and better top pressure than most people of my rank. Putting the strength on top of that is a pretty good combo.

I just wish there were a few guys my size at the school. There is one guy who is probably a little bigger than me, but he is a brand-new grappler with no wrestling experience or anything. I'm proud of him that he's hanging in there so far because I know it's gotta be tough to walk in with no idea what to do and get knocked over or fall over every 20 seconds. There is another guy that started about 3 months ago that's been coming religiously and he's improved so much it's amazing. From literally no grappling background to almost looking like a former wrestler in 3 months. Pretty incredible.

I don't think I could take anything I've learned from BJJ to football or lifting. Wrestling obviously has a lot of crossover, but football doesn't. At least I don't see any right now.


Ha! Funny you mention lack of practice partners.

The only place there are a bunch of athletic, 6'2", 210 pound guys is the internet.


The principle of leverage/line of force is the BJJ concept that most applies to lifting, albeit the coorelation may not be that apparent at first/during the earlier stages of learning.

In power lifting you generally want to maximize leverage to allow you to lift maximal weights. While in Bodybuilding you often times you want to minimize mechanical advantage/leverage so as to challenge the musculature as much as possible. Obviously both types of lifting utilize both concepts though at times.

This principle also allows for progression/regression without the need to change load (especially useful for bodyweight exercises), mechanical drop sets, and strengthening different points within the strength curve.


So when I'm using a kimora or Americana, I want it to be like a bench press. Technique for torque. When I bench, I want my tri's and lats to mash together, and my biceps and forearms to squeeze together and support my elbows. When I'm twisting dudes arm, I want as much contact and leverage as possible.

When you take someone down, you change levels or directions, and go from slow to fast. Like a Olympic lift.

An arm bar is going to be really effective, if you can make it into a preacher curl for your opponent.


It's actually a lot more complicated and specific than that.

Let's take an armbar for example, since it's probably the quintessential BJJ technique:

All lever systems have a fulcrum/pivot point and a "lever"/rigid structure through which force is applied to create kinetic energy/move a load.

The law of the lever states that the longer the lever arm the less force must be applied to create force at the other end of the lever. In fact, if we double the length of the lever, we half the amount of effort required to produce the same amount of output and likewise if we cut the lever in half we double the effort required to produce the same amount of output.

In an armbar we can use this knowledge to our advantage in several ways:
1) by being as far out on our opponent's forearm as possible (thus making our lever as long as possible)

2) by placing our lever/opponent's forearm as close as possible to our fulcrum (in this case our elbow joint)), thus creating the shortest possible lever for our opponent to utilize to attempt to bend their arm

3) by placing out hips/fulcrum as close as possible to our opponent's elbow/their fulcrum, thus again creating the longest possible lever to utilize to create our output and utilizing the power of our hip to extend their elbow

In powerlifting we can use their knowledge as such. Let's take a look at the bench press as an example:

1) by maintaining a vertical/in line with gravity forearm orientation at the bottom of the press we maximize leverage at the elbow joint, thus allowing us to maximally transfer the forces we produce through our lower arm bones/levers into the bar

2) by utilizing either a false grip or by placing the bar diagonally across our palms (so that it rests on the Ulna bone/pinky side of the Palm heel) we create as short of a lever at our wrist as possible, thus minimizing the forces needed to maintain a solid wrist alignment

3) by utilizing maximal back arch we seek to minimize the distance that the bar must travel and if possible to allow bar contact at a point that is shy of having our upper arm bones being perpendicular to the line of gravity/parallel to the floor (which is the point at which we are working against the longest possible lever and thus must produce the most force to move the bar)

The better we can do these things the more weight we will be able to lift with the same strength levels.

If we were going to apply it to bodybuilding, let's say a biceps curl, we could utilize it like this:

The biceps produce three joint actions-supination of the forearm, elbow Flexion, and shoulder Flexion

So, in order to best contract our biceps we must fully supinate the forearm, fully flex the elbow, and fully flex the shoulder AND we must set up a condition where we are working against the longest possible lever at this point in the movement.

In order to do this we are going to have to utilize an adjustable cable attachment and either a straight bar or two independent handles (to allow for maximal supination), a bench to place our elbows on as we bring our elbows "overhead"/chest to the floor as much as possible/flex our shoulders, and set the cable attachment to a height so that when our elbow is bent maximally the angle between our forearms and the cables is 90 degrees. If we set this up correctly and actively try to maximally supinate, actively flex the shoulders, and flex the elbows as much as possible we can achieve the most possible contraction in the biceps while building strength and maximally challenging/stimulating the muscles in this most contracted position.


Good stuff, thanks.

I'm starting to see some crossover now that I've thought about it more. Not really in terms of movements, but in terms of how I can create optimal leverage for myself while also creating poor leverage for my partner. Something to think about while I drive to/from work every day. BJJ basically consumes my every waking thought now (when I'm not working or with my family).


Haha, yeah I know the feeling. :grin:

Another carryover from lifting to BJJ would be in terms of knowledge of anatomy and which muscles are strong vs which are weak (or how to place the body to strengthen vs weaken the body).

For example, should you find yourself in a "spider web"/armbar defense position (opponent defending), trying to pull straight back on the arm will generally not work as you are fighting against strong muscles (biceps, pecs, anterior deltoids), however if you pull off at angles (towards the head or towards the hips depending on how your opponents hands are locked) you force the opponent to use their rotator cuff muscles to resist the movement (which as we know from lifting are much weaker).


Yeah that's a good one. "Unclipping" grips is a lot easier than trying to break them open. It sucks when somebody does it to you though.


For sure!

That's why you don't want to just hang out in an armbar defense position though, and why not all grips are created equal. In fact most of them are pretty ineffective at preventing the armbar or helping you escape the position.


Injured my elbow yesterday during the last round of sparring. Was fighting out of an omoplata, but I was also being wristlocked, and I didn't feel that. Moved the wrong way too fast and CRUNCH. Didn't hurt too much right away, and doesn't hurt that bad right now as long as my arm doesn't twist (supinate/pronate) under tension. Did some pushups and pulldowns this morning. Definitely feels uncomfortable, but not unbearable.

Not sure if the tournament is still a go at this point or not. I will try to roll on Saturday and see how it feels then.