6 Techniques to Improve Your Roll

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WARNING:  If you are considered a minor, please obtain parents permission before reading this article.


What Would Shakespeare Do?

To bake or not to bake? Is that the question?

And I’m not referring to cookies and cupcakes either (only brownies).

There is a subculture of brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) practitioners that believe that the use of marijuana helps with their injury therapy (reducing pain and inflammation), improves training, and offers other medicinal benefits.

In the U.S., medical marijuana is legal in many, but not all, states today.  I’ve trained with folks in the past who would smoke before every class.

Their claim? It calmed them down and kept them relaxed.

While everyone else uses adrenaline and lots of energy while rolling, pretending it’s “Abu Dhabi” night at the academy, they weather the storm, remain clam, and are able to roll with an open mind and without getting fatigued prematurely.

Eddie Bravo and Joe Rogan are perhaps two of the more outspoken advocates of using marijuana. Eddie credits the use of marijuana with increasing his creativity and developing a Rubber Guard system, though the origins of the rubber guard techniques are always debatable.  Joe has written and spoken on his podcast about his use of the “herb” and its “magical powers”. Celebrities and athletes have not been shy about their marijuana use.

Rather than debate the effectiveness of marijuana as a training aid, I’d like to make the overall focus of this article getting physically and mentally ready for training.

But before I leave the topic, I’ll give you my thoughts on rolling high.

I’m a pretty straightforward guy. If it’s not legal, I won’t do it.

No performance enhancing drugs (PED’s) or recreational drug use for me.

I’ve never smoked weed and don’t plan to.

I’m all for human intrigue, scientific theory, and innovation to see how far we can push ourselves and the human potential.

However, not at the expense of overall health, well-being, or legal consequences. If I had a legitimate medicinal purpose to explore it, I would do my research and determine whether it was for me.

It’s as simple as that.

Cool Your Jets

Depending on the training we are talking about, there are pros and cons to getting your blood pumping or being barely comatose.  At the center of it lies your training program and training goals and what you want out of them.

If you’re a BJJ competitor at a high level, it might benefit you to exploring your capacity along the full spectrum. Knowing when and how to use your most precious energy resources would be extremely useful in the field of competition where you may be literally competing at a high level, in potentially physically demanding set of matches, for a day or more.

For BJJ specific training, I prefer to be calm, cool, and collected when I train. I want my mind to be sharp and ready when I engage in an adrenaline infused situation that would require self-defense techniques to kick in.

If we train the way we want to perform, then I would prefer to be ready for combat without being influenced by my fight-or-flight, adrenaline soaked response.

Ever notice when you remain calm, you are harder to submit, then when you are tense and thrashing around?  It wasn’t always this way.

My background in training with weights goes back farther than my BJJ training.  In order to get “pumped up” like Hans and Franz, my ritual prior to hitting the weights would include a pot of coffee, loud music, and Simpsons reruns.  By the time I hit the gym, I’d have run through my workout 100 times in my head, down to the specific weights I’d need to load the bar, and then I’d try to bend the bars in half.


When I started training BJJ, I adopted a similar pre-workout ritual. Back when my emotions were ruled by testosterone and adrenaline, getting excited to train was part of the routine. But I faced the reality that I couldn’t sustain this.  Also, it got me nowhere.  I wasn’t “winning” in the academy. I was eating a lot of humble pie.  My takeaway was that if I wanted to learn and execute the technical details of Jiu Jitsu that I was learning, without the influence of my size and strength, I’d need to find new tools to use.  I’ve always battled this and only within the last few years have I become comfortable with this concept and its execution.  It’s very easy to go to our lowest common denominator when things get tough. For me, it was relying on strength and size when I was getting trounced.

Paradigm Shift: Rickson Gracie

I realized the power of this, however, when I attended a seminar featuring the great Professor Pedro Sauer and the legend Rickson Gracie.  After our warm-up, Rickson had the group circle to demonstrate his first concept of “invisible Jiu Jitsu” and making connections to your opponent.  Much to my surprise, he grabbed me from the crowd, and asked me to assist.  Before he demonstrated his concept, he grabbed my shoulders and shook them lightly. It was as though he could sense the tension in my upper back, shoulders, and throughout my body, and he wanted me to completely relax before engaging in the technique.  That simple gesture completely convinced me that true technical learning can only take place when you are relaxed and comfortable and your mind is open (maybe this is why Smokers smoke?!)

Check out this video of Rickson with Budo Jake. About 1:00 minute in you’ll see what I’m referring to.  It’s very subtle, but it left a powerful impression on me.

Note: If you have the opportunity to go to a seminar featuring either of these BJJ legends, do yourself the favor and go.  They are game-changing and will remind you how vast and deep (and incredibly simple when they show you) Jiu Jitsu can be.


BeastMode? Only When You Need It

Let me break down the tools I use to get ready for BJJ Training.  You’ll notice that these tools aren’t specific to BJJ, but for any type of physical activity you are going to take on (e.g., strength training, conditioning, etc.).  You’ll need to determine the priority of using these tools, and how much or how little of them you will want to use before your workouts.

Mental & Physical Readiness

Mental preparation often precedes every workout, often hours or even days before the physical preparation takes place.

The physical preparation is where the proverbial rubber hits the road. You’re now putting your thoughts (and dreams if you took a power nap) into action.  It’s a very powerful feeling when this occurs. Feelings of Déjà vu are not uncommon. Mind and body achieving something together is omnipotent.

Here are the common tools I use before each of my workouts.

  1. Visualization:   It’s not uncommon to daydream about your next training session and hitting that sweet takedown, submission, or berimbolo sweep (ummm…not this guy). Getting into a meditative state by sitting in a quiet room or even taking a brief nap (avoid rapid eye movement (REM) sleep) can often be very helpful to clear your mind and sharpen your focus.  I like “Power Naps” that last 10-15 minutes. Here is a good resource to follow from Charles Poliquin.
  2. Media Clips: Videos, DVD’s, YouTube clips. In my day, magazines were a big deal and we had stacks of them. Videos are great for sharpening techniques you are struggling with, or even for motivation. There are lots of compilation clips that can get get you excited to train.  When I want to get amped up, my favorites include old Pride fights (especially Fedor), and some quick-paced BJJ, like Buchecha vs. Rodolfo from the 2012 Worlds Absolute Match.
  3. Music/Sound: Music is, arguably, one of the best tools to get you in the right mood to tackle an activity.  Classical music can calm the savage beast, Heavy Metal, Rock and Roll, and Hip Hop can make you fight the devil, and Pop music can make you rip off your cauliflower ears. Point is, sound waves gets the juices flowing like no other tool. I highly recommend listening to music before and during workouts if you can, if you want to get in the proper groove.  Pantera, Metallica, Megadeth, Rage Against the Machine, and Cypress Hill are some of my all time favorites to get all worked up.
  4. Stimulants: Nothing illegal here. I’m referring to plain old coffee.  My favorite drink of all time. Coffee, for me, is an overall mood lifter, so I drink it before most of my workouts. Pairing this with the other tools (music and watching clips) can get you ready for battle, especially the weights or a MetCon session! My top pick is to brew the coffee and while its brewing, hit a power nap for 10-15 minutes. When I wake up I drink it about 30-60 minutes before I need to be ready.
  5. Dynamic warm-up: This is a great time to bridge the visualizations you’ve been using with your physical exertion.  As your body begins to get warm, start thinking about what you’ve been going over (whether it’s a roll, setting a new PR, sprinting, etc.) and start your warm-ups to get your body temperature up, joints and muscles loose, and overall state of mind, ready.
  6. Movement-specific drills: As things get “more serious” into the workout you’ll be using specific drills that you’ve been visualizing, or specific exercises you’ve been targeting (grip fighting drills, BJJ specific drills with a partner, that last 1RM you hit, etc.).  There is no turning back at this point. It’s game on!

Give this a try next time you’re getting ready for your workout and let me know how it works for you.  Dialing in your energy preferences for your training sessions, whether they are BJJ or not, will take you a long way towards reaching your overall goals.

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