Triple Down on Your Strengths

The “A” Game 

I am a fan of doing what you are good at. We hear a lot of advice on working on our weaknesses, particularly as it pertains to Strength Training and Jiujitsu. I agree with those concepts too – but you need a game-plan to implement this.

With JiuJitsu, you need to develop your “A-Game” on Offense. That means having a go to move(s) and chain of techniques that allow you to get to the best control or submission options you have the highest percentage to achieve. To keep it simple, I recommend having a submission on every joint in the body (wrist, elbow, shoulder, knee, ankle) and develop your techniques around getting into and around those offensive techniques. You may not be able to work on all of these at the same time, but one at a time is a realistic goal to start. For your defense, that is a slightly different animal, in that, you need to know many different attacks in order to develop the defense to them. That said, it may be a better use of your time to study concepts related to defensive postures, distance management and framing maneuvers in order to find the common thread that binds the defensive successes all together. Having holes in your defense, especially if you complete, is a no-go.

Watch this video by Gary Vaynerchuk. He is one of the few people on the internet that puts out motivational material aimed at helping people start doing what they should be doing that makes them happy and “triple down” on them.

Jiujitsu Training

What are some ways you can triple down on you? One way is to develop an “A” game for the position that you are most dominant. Most White/Blue Belts begin to have “go-to” moves that they use all the time from each position.  Instead of thinking that you need 20 moves from one position, make the moves, maybe 1-2, super-sharp and continue to work them.

In the clip below, Eddie Bravo and Joe Rogan ponder on Marcelo Garcia’s game after Joe mentions that Marcelo “does not “believe” in arm-in chokes” or the kimura because “it’s a strong man’s move”.

As you watch the clip, what emerges is the idea that if you only work on a few things that you polish over and over again and make them as error-free as possible, you may be better off than someone who works on numerous things without fully mastering any of them.

Strength Training

For Strength Training, when starting out, I believe you should pick exercises that you are naturally better at. For example, if you pick the Deadlift for total body strength, you should spend time finding which variation works best for you. This means finding the grip (i.e., mixed grip, overhand grip, snatch grip, etc.) and stance (sumo, conventional, etc.) that allow you to use the most weight with proper technique and then go “balls to the wall” to work that “A-game” move for as long as you can until you coax as much out of it (in terms of progressive overload).

At some point when your technique begins to display weaknesses, you will want to focus on bringing them up. This can be over years of training. In order to maximize this in your continued growth within the technique, you need to work on the weaknesses in your game/technique (i.e., accessory/auxiliary movements) to strengthen your “A-game” technique chain.

Try tripling down on your strengths and keeping the “A-game” concept in mind and let me know how it works for you.

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The Skill Life-Cycle

If you’re a software engineer or architect, this may vibe with you.

The Skill Life Cycle can be viewed much like the life-cycle of a software product. Following elements of the traditional waterfall and the agile development approaches to software engineering, you can compartmentalize the basic framework for deploying new capabilities to your training and competitive endeavors.

The basic life-cycle looks something like this:

The Skill Lifecycle

Acquisition: With software, we typically follow a decision model to build/buy/develop or stay ‘status quo’ with regard to acquiring capabilities to address gaps in (business) performance.

In JiuJitsu, we go through a similar model. We have many gaps/weaknesses in our “game” that we are trying to fix. We seek “new capabilities” or “fixes” to our games to close or improve the skill gap. We typically do this through reviewing videos, books and magazines, and through discussions with training partners. We even spend hours on the Internet going through forums like r/bjj.

At this stage, we know we need answers to our problems, so we invest a lot of time trying to figure out potential solutions.

Requirements: With software, once we’ve made our decision on how we acquire the new capability, we begin the process of decomposing our requirements to a fairly granular level in order to ensure the business gap can be met with the

In JiuJitsu, once we acquire what we believe will be the capability, we need to make sure we understand how to put it into practice.  In order to do this, we decompose the requirements into activities that we need to understand in order to begin using the skill. I cover this topic in more detail in the “5 Steps to Learn Any Technique“.

Design & Develop: With software, we go through iterations of initial designing and coding in order to evaluate what product is being produced and whether it will meet our requirements. In order to produce capabilities more quickly to end-users, we prefer using an agile development approach to shrink delivery time down and demonstrate value sooner. Activities like the daily scrum meeting, Sprints, and the Epic backlog become the norm as move toward the deployment of new capabilities.

In JiuJitsu, we begin to frame out what we need to do in order to meet our requirements (i.e., close our skill gap) and develop our training game plan.

I recommend a methodology that begins with the following items:

  • Examine the concepts related to anatomy
  • Break down the major muscle movements
  • Break down the mechanics

Test: In software engineering, a robust testing process will help troubleshoot defects, integration of existing capabilities, and help ensure that your requirements are being satisfactorily met.

In JiuJitsu, we start to put to practice what we want to do. We typically do this through drilling (solo and partner), and rolling in order to test out what we think should occur. In conjunction with the earlier steps above, I recommend the following during this phase:

  • Drill with precision
  • Add attributes to your drills
  • Drill with purpose

Without covering these areas in detail again, the idea here is to slowly test and obtain feedback (both verbal and physical) on the effectiveness of your testing. If you start to sweep or submit people, your technique is obviously working.  As you mature with the technique, you’ll begin adding more refinements to it over time to execute it the most efficient and effective way you can.

Deploy: With our software, we now “go-live” and use the capabilities to help run our business.

In JiuJitsu, now that you have battle-tested your techniques, you can test them through competition (in or outside the academy), and add the techniques to your “A Game”.

This is the Skill Life-Cycle. It is a way to view your JiuJitsu Journey as an evolutionary process of self-improvement on and off the mats.

5 Steps to Learn Any Technique

The Hamster Wheel

We spend a lot of time on the mats training our technique. Most of us spend an appreciable amount of time training off the mats trying to get stronger, faster, more explosive, more flexible and more mobile.

However, many of us don’t put the same energy into our out of gym endeavors that we do on the mat.

Don’t read that and think I am saying “you don’t work hard” because that’s not what I am saying.

If all you do is roll, you will improve at rolling because you are performing that endeavor.

When you start JiuJitsu, you are bombarded with many new movements. Not only are the movements new, but they are complex because they require simultaneous firing of your body in mechanical formats that you are probably not used to.

Just Train “More”

But do you know why you are improving?

What is making your timing, vision, mechanics and movement economy improve?

Many trainees struggle to understand this concept.  I see the same questions over and over again in forums.

New trainees realize the same challenges that their predecessor training partners have already faced.

They don’t know what they don’t know and the advice usually given is “just train more”.

Think about this. If you go to the gym for hours to lift weights and moving around from machine to machine haphazardly and wondering why your not getting stronger.

Maybe you’re getting some residual fitness out of that practice, but you have NO IDEA why you are or are not improving towards your goals. And if you don’t even have goals, that’s another issue I tackle in this article.

You may not even understand why you are having success in your rolls. You may have just been successful at chaining your sequences of techniques together and not even realizing it.

This is an opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of the mechanics you are using and the nuances that can make your technique sharp and crisp, as well as creating the shortcuts into your system that you may not even realize exist today.

This will accelerate your learning process multiple-times over.

Follow the 3 D’s: Deconstruct, Decompose and Drill

I view any exercise or technique as a new drill.  And I view drilling as a way to sharpen the sword.

Sharpening the sword may mean improving your technical execution of anything in order to improve on your timing, accuracy, velocity, strength, explosiveness, endurance, flexibility, etc., depending on what you are objectives are.

We all know that in order to get better at something we need to practice. That’s true, but from now on, you won’t have to practice without a purpose.

Start with these definitions.

Deconstruct: the analytic examination of something (as a theory) often in order to reveal its inadequacy.

Decompose: to break up into constituent parts. This means following a method to logically ask questions in order to achieve your objective (i.e., a submission, a sweep, or an escape).

Drill with Discipline: Drilling with sloppy technique or half-assed mindfulness is a waste of your time. Make the most of your time by being very present in each and every rep, every movement, every technique. Drilling with discipline is covered more here.

To simplify this further, this is a way to

  • Begin with the end in mind,
  • Break it down into mechanical pieces,
  • Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, and
  • Refine the mechanics and make it better and better over time through thoughtful drilling/practice.

Here’s an example.

When you teach a new trainee an armbar from the closed guard for the first time there are many simultaneous techniques you are trying to convey to the practitioner.

Common questions include:

  • Where do I put my hands?
  • What should I grab?
  • Where do I put my feet?
  • When do I open my guard?
  • What do my legs do?
  • What if my opponent doesn’t let me [x]?
  • Do I pull or push?
  • What if they stack me?

The list goes on.

This is a normal part of the learning process. But there is a way to get those questions answered more quickly.

Follow these steps of the “3 D’s” to begin drilling towards mastery of any new technique.

1. Examine the concepts related to the anatomy (strengths and weaknesses)

Begin with the end in mind. With the armbar (from the closed guard), know how the elbow breaks.  I have trained with blue belts (and even some purples) that don’t know how the arm breaks. They just know how to get to the end-game holding pattern.

If we begin to examine every movement with this in mind, and asking WHY things are effective (e.g., the elbow breaks in the direction the thumb is pointing), then everything else you do begins to fall into place around that.

2. Break down the major muscle movements & the underlying mechanics used and to gain control of the position

Break down mechanics. What movements do you need to make to get to the end-state of the move?

With the armbar from closed guard, you have major movements occurring with the hips and legs.

Your hands are controlling your opponents posture or are attacking the arm (back of arm control and wrist control).

What controls do you need to have in place?

Control the upper arm (humerus): When you want to execute an armbar, if you can control the upper arm (the humerus) and the wrist, you have a far greater chance to improve your submission rate. Controlling the humerus gives you control over the primary mechanics of defense (elbow movement).

You should also know by now that if the tip of your opponent’s elbow is below your hips (even though you control the radius and ulna) you don’t have the armbar and are at risk of losing control.

Control the wrist (thumb direction): Allows you to control the thumbs direction which  for finishing the submission.

Control their posture: With the armbar from closed guard, you can finish the movement when the opponent is extended away, or if they have stacked into you. Using push and pull techniques will allow you to execute wither option. How do you control your posture? It’s mostly through the movement of your legs to initiate and your arms to pull or push.

‘Leverage’ Physics: For the armbar, you are creating a first-class lever. The fulcrum needs to be placed within the humerus, close to the load (the persons body). This means your hips and thighs are nestled at the end point of the humerus near the armpit). When you lock that up, you limit the defensive options of the arm being pulled out meaning you reduce ther effectiveness of the body to produce force (bicep curl).  When you have thumb control at this point, you use your hips to add a load at the end of the arm to perform the submission.

3A. Drill with precision

When you begin putting this all together, start slow.

Much like jumping into the weight room for the first time, you don’t load the bar with weights. You learn the mechanics of the technique first, then you slowly add weight to the bar over time. You can get away with errors more when you’re not using resistance.

Pro tip 1: Get feedback from your team mates and coach on how to improve even the most basic of techniques. It will pay dividends in the long run as you move through the next progressions below.

Pro tip 2: Use the SLO-MO setting on your camera to evaluate your technique.  In this video, I am practicing a flying/jumping knee. I can go over with a more skeptical eye all of the mistakes I’ve made, and also note what appeared to work well toward by end game goal of landing that strike in a certain location.

3B. Add sttributes to your drills after you master the mechanics

Attributes are things like strength, speed, explosiveness, flexibility, etc. Each of us is predisposed to having certain natural attributes.  My natural attribute is strength-based. It took many years of training to NOT use strength as my “go-to” attribute during sparring. How did I do it? I studied the movements associated with grappling, slowed down my sparring using defensive techniques, and worked on the movement economy.

For example, a haymaker punch is a wild swing at the fences. Add the precision of stance, timing, footwork, postural integrity and precise punching technique with those attributes and now you have a powerful left hook (think “Iron Mike” in his prime).

Watch this video. A young Mike Tyson goes through the mechanics of the combination before adding explosiveness and speed to the punches.

3C. Drill with purpose

 

Now that you have the framework in place for knowing how to do the movement mechanics, and you can add your attributes to them, don’t hold back. When you drill, you should be giving it your all. Adding a later of sport-specific conditioning to the refined technique has an exponential effect on your effectiveness. This is where the elite separate themselves from the average.

This video or Marcelo Garcia explaining his training philosophy showcases this well. After a more subdued 1 minute round, he demonstrates the second round with the intensity that is testing his and his opponents limit.

My recommendation? Pick some basic techniques to start with. Something like bridging or shrimping, and work on that yourself. Over time, add a few more movements into this method and add a partner to give you light resistance so your precision can be explored.

Go train!

 

DIY Balance Board & Muscle Roller

One of the best ways to get your “Mat Legs” is through balance drills. Your equilibrium and staying on your feet in combat sports (really, any sport), requires you to have basic faculties of maintaining balance.

You’ve also undoubtedly sought the foam roller at your academy, or maybe you even spent money on the giant foam packing peanut and learned quickly how weak and useless the product is.

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I’ve got one solution that addresses both.

DIY Materials

You’ll need:

  1. 1 PVC Pipe
    • Dimensions: ~2 feet length and 6 inches diameter and 1/2 inch thickness
    • Requirements: Make sure it is at least 1/2 in. thick. You’ll be standing on it so it needs to withstand your weight.
    • Cost: ~$4.40
  2. 1 roll duck tape
    • Cost: ~$3.50
  3. 1 roll rubber or insulation tape or foam insulation
    • Cost: ~$7.20 (insulation tape price)
  4. Medium Density Fiber (MDF) or Melamine Board:
    • Dimensions: A 2 ft. by 1-1.5 ft. board, or 2.5 foot by 1-1.5 ft.
    • Requirements: Something that can withstand your weight. I weigh 240 lbs. and I’m using an old shelf from an old TV stand.
    • Cost: $4.95

Total Cost: ~$20.00

Quick Comparison

A quick price comparison reveals this is a “no-brainer”.  The links I provide were quick searches performed on the Internet. You may be able to get items cheaper if you have a local hardware store or a chain hardware store like Lowe’s or Home Depot.

Balance Board options are usually over $100.  Here are two examples: This option costs $119.95, and this popular option costs $159.95.

Foam rollers are all over the map. A higher end foam roller like this one can run you nearly $45.00.

You’ll make a more durable, more versatile version of these products for 1/10th of the price.

Instructions

  1. Use the rubber tape, insulation tape or the foam insulation to create a thin layer over the PVC pipe. The pipe is too smooth on its own to make contact effectively with your skin or the board, so this layer will help create friction for balance drills and a little comfort (not much) for rolling. NOTE: I made the version in this video with insulation tape as it’s easy to apply and not expensive.
  2. Apply one, thin layer of duck tape over the insulation tape. This helps protect the insulation tape from wear.
  3. Go workout.

Here is the final product:


Video Training Demo

Here is a quick video of the new item in action. I demonstrate the balance board option using the upper body and lower body.


That’s all there is to making your own. A couple of quick things to make sure you get the most out of your time.

Tips:

  • Consider smoothing out the MDF/Melamine board on the edges. Use the extra tape around the sides or have someone good at wood work smooth it out. If not, wear long pants the first few times you try balancing.
  • Wear shoes at first when trying until you find your legs. After you’ve comfortable with the movement, you can go barefoot, which is ideal.
  • Perform this on a suitable surface. You may fall at first. This works very well on mat surfaces. You don’t need to be a show-off and do this on your sidewalk and crush your elbow when you fall. If you have no alternative, wear elbow pads, helmet, etc. like you would with a skateboard (Note: I know most of you won’t listen, but it’s my recommendation to be safe, not stupid).

Want to see more drills like this? The new DRILLSKILL WORKOUT MANUAL for COMBAT ATHLETES is now available in the Store. It has over 120 exercises and 100 workouts for you to put into your program!

3 Resistance Band Drills For Grappling

I’ve used resistance bands for training for over a dozen years. The right bands can add a lot of value to your training program.

They are a very affordable alternative when compared to a complete weight set, durable, portable, and versatile.

You can perform nearly every exercise with bands that you can perform in the gym, with some creativity and modification.

Iron Woody Fitness resistance bands are by far the best bands I have ever used. I do not have any endorsement deals with this company. This is simply my experience. Try it for yourself and you’ll find out.

Drill for Skill

With JiuJitsu and other grappling based movements, we have many ways to move that are not common to other exercises.  Therefore, drilling these movements is a useful and necessary ingredient in your overall success as a practitioner of the arts.

In the videos below, I will demonstrate how I use bands to train:

  1. The Wrestlers Shot
  2. Maintaining Positional Control
  3. Neck and Guard Posture Maintenance

I’ve a big fan of drilling. If you’ve read my articles, you know that every workout and training session I perform is reviewed as a set of drills. I’ve created a product around this concept called DRILLSKILL.

Solo drilling is a way to turbo-charge your results. You may not always have the luxury of a training partner to drill with, being creative with your solo drills becomes paramount to your development.

Overall, drill by yourself, drill with a partner, drill with multiple partners….it all helps you reach your goals faster.

In this video, I demonstrate a few of my favorite video uses for bands: the wrestler’s shot and positional control maintenance.

 

Here is another example using bands to improve the quality of neck training.

The first drill includes a guard posture drill where you resist the tension of the band throughout your neck and body as if your posture were being compromised in the Closed Guard.

The second is a brief demo of resisting the tension from the side, making your entire body resist the tension and posture-breakdown caused by the bands.  In this manner, neck training becomes much more “functional” as a result, rather than isolating the muscles of the neck.

Add bands to a few basic drills and you will notice the difference in your performance on the mat.

Hard Work Profile: Tom Brady

Love him or hate him you can not deny him. He is arguably the greatest Quarterback of all time in the National Football League (NFL)

After having faced a 4-game suspension for “deflate gate” the prior year, Tom Brady led the New England Patriots to a Super Bowl LI comeback, which is one of the most impressive and historic comebacks EVER.

He is one of only two players, and the only quarterback to ever win 5 Super Bowls (for the record, the GMEN have beaten them TWICE in the Super Bowl).

He owns 11 Super Bowl records.

His success can not be denied.

What Beats Talent?

But he did not have the easy road.  He was not the most athletic, talented, or sought after recruit for college or the pros. In fact he was drafted in position 199 by the New England Patriots in the 2000 draft, now considered perhaps the biggest steal in NFL draft history.

What he DID have, was the desire to outwork everybody, the desire to learn, and to constantly evaluate his ability to get better with the tools he had.

Adding the desire to be his best, with his motivation to work hard, created the disciplined person you see today.

His success is no accident.

This short video below explains the hunger and the mindset he keeps. Always open to learning, always eager to prove himself, he shows up and he is willing to work harder than anyone.

 

What can we learn from this?

Here are five things I’ve gathered from this brief video:

  1. No athletic ability will make up for a poor work ethic.
  2. The work ethic needed to triumph over your limitations is the journey to self-improvement. Don’t ignore it…..seek and savor it and make it happen.
  3. Limitations can be a blessing….if you allow yourself to recognize them. Don’t bury your head in the sand. Look in the mirror and take control. Work harder to improve incrementally every day.
  4. Showing up every day, early, and staying late is a trademark of hard-working people. Remind yourself of this next time you feel like sitting on the couch or sleeping in and missing practice.
  5. Practice makes habits. Don’t half-ass it. Practice with purpose. The reality for your potential is on the line.

 

Strength Training 201: Overload Lifts

I’ve been a fan of Overload movements for a long time.

Why?

I’ve always referred to it as building the infrastructure.

Think of any successful endeavor and you start with having a solid foundation. This applies to athletic endeavors, planning projects, or learning, really, anything.

In JiuJitsu and strength training, once you begin to put the demands of hard training on your body, you need to invest time in building up your systems to handle the rigorous onslaught of training that you will perform. If you are not familiar with them, let me introduce you to Overload Lifts.

Why Overload?

Overloading your systems is a proposition in training your human potential. Getting under, or lifting a supra-maximal load will get at the core of your grit.  You have to get into a certain mentality to WANT to lift the weight and feel the effect on your body.

What effect does it have?  It feels………………uncomfortable yet energizing.  You get a boost to your endocrine system, skeletal system, muscular system, and your cardiovascular system.

It’s also another way to get your mind razor sharp to focus on a feat, control your systems to blast off and cool down within minutes. This mind/body connection is crucial when training for life on the mats.

Physically, this has a dramatic training effect on the body. It also makes your other training easier to conduct for a variety of reasons, such as building the integrity of your systems to withstand more rigorous training sessions.

Building the intra-abdominal pressure needed to perform other athletic feats is also crucial to performance. Hoisting the opposition off of their feet is much easier after you’ve been performing overload lifts. All weights feel lighter as a side effect.

Do not read this article and think this is the ONLY way to train. This is one tool in your training arsenal to get you closer to the goals of your choice.

Here is a brief video I shot demonstrating several of my favorite overload movements or “infrastructure” lifts.

Still need a  few more reasons to include them in your training?  Okay. Here are 5 more:

  1. They work your body as a unit.
  2. They develop your body’s ability to generate force rapidly. Generating force is crucial for combat sports.
  3. They contract muscles VERY hard, more so than other movements. Motor-unit recruitment is critical to being fast and strong.
  4. They build character. You can’t do these half-assed and get away with it. You’ll get hurt if you try.
  5. They require Hard Work.

Include them in your program once a week to start and you’ll notice the carry over performance to your other strength training sessions and the mat very soon.


Want to see more drills like this? The new DRILLSKILL WORKOUT MANUAL for COMBAT ATHLETES is now available in the Store. It has over 120 exercises and 100 workouts for you to put into your program!