Learning curves

Learning curves: Often I am asked questions about the length of time that will be required to achieve proficiency in jiu jitsu. An interesting corollary to this question is of great importance to many of the professional athletes that I teach - if I am to compete against an opponent who has trained far longer than me, how can I ever hope to catch up to his level, given the disparity in total training time? On the face of it, it seems impossible. If athlete A has been training 20 hours per week for ten years and athlete B has been training 20 hours a week for 5 years and A and B are of similar size and body type, it would seem that B ought to have little chance of success. It is my belief that this is not the case. Once an athlete has a strong foundation of the basic movements and concepts in the sport, there can be radical differences in learning curves that can allow for seemingly miraculous acts of catch up where athletes with significantly less total training time can do very well against more experienced opponents. The most important factor in an athletes training background is NOT length of time training, but rather rate and sustenance of performance improvement. Most coaches and teams simply teach students the same way they were taught themselves, with no thought for improving transmission of knowledge. As a result, many training programs cease being effective in continuing to build new skills after a certain point. Athletes go into skill stagnation and are more or less the same at ten years as they were at five. An interesting test of my beliefs occurred when my student Eddie Cummings competed in EBI championships. He knew he was slated to fight the outstanding veteran grappler, Baret Yoshida, who had competed very successfully at the highest levels for well over a decade. Understandably, Mr Cummings was worried that his total training time of only just over five years would not fare well against the highly skilled Mr Yoshida, who had been doing jiu jitsu three times longer than that. Yet on the night, Mr Cummings won with relatively little trouble despite having only a third of his opponent's total training time - a gratifying vindication of our program.

Body type and jiu jitsu

Body type and jiu jitsu: Very often people will ask me about the effects of body type on jiu jitsu. It appears that many people hold the belief that there is an optimum body type in jiu jitsu that confers advantage over other body types. Even a moments reflection will reveal that this is false. A look at the medal platform at the world championships will always show a wide variety of body types which are represented in no particular order of success. If I ask you to name for me the five most successful jiu jitsu champions of all time, I guarantee your list will show big disparities in body type. There is no dominant body type on the medal stands. There is however, a dominant body ETHOS. Champions always maximize the ability of whatever body they have been born with to perform the skills of the sport. Whilst there is no one body type that dominates the sport, there is a need on everyone's part to maximize what you can do with your body that will improve your jiu jitsu performance. Everyone's body has an optimal weight and conditioning that maximizes its performance for a given activity. It is your duty to find what that is for you and to maintain yourself close to that ideal (getting closer if competition is near). Thus any body type can win a world championship, but only one way of maintaining that body of yours will maximize your ability to perform the skills you hope to win that championship with. Here are three EBI champions. All three are very different somatotypes- Garry Tonon is a classic mesomorph. Gordon Ryan an ectomorph and Eddie Cummings an endomorph masquerading as a mesomorph. Yet all three have found a way to maximize their very different bodies to perform the skills they needed to win. Thus any body type can win a world championship, but only one way of maintaining it will maximize your chances of doing so.

The relationship between MMA and jiu jitsu

The relationship between MMA and jiu jitsu: In my teachings I try never to lose sight of the relationship between jiu jitsu and MMA. This is something I inherited from my teacher, Renzo Gracie. My first four teachers and training partners from white to brown belt were Renzo, Ricardo Almeida, Matt Serra and Rodrigo Gracie. All four were both grappling and MMA stand outs. All of our grappling was done in the context of fighting. Indeed, if jiu jitsu had not figured so heavily in early MMA, I never would have taken notice of the art and joined up. Effectiveness in fighting will always be the most basic appeal of any art that seems to call itself martial. As modern jiu jitsu has matured, the relationship with MMA is slightly more distant. This is a natural consequence of the two sports evolving and pushing in their own directions and the need for specialization to stay ahead of the competition within a specified rule set; but those early years still bear heavily in my thinking and in all honesty, no part of my coaching gets me as excited as helping an athlete prepare for a professional fight. Here, Georges St-Pierre and Kenny Florian go through their grappling drills in our Monday afternoon class.

The power of adaptation

The power of adaptation: Very often in the sport we have to adapt our game around changes in our body. Usually these adaptations are in response to injury or age. When one part of our body is incapacitated we have to adapt our game around that problem and find new ways to play in order to maintain our overall effectiveness. The main thing to remember is that our goal is to continually improve our overall effectiveness in the sport. It does not matter if I lose some of my best weapons due to injury, so long as I can adapt and create new ones. Sometimes this cycle of adaptation in response to physical changes and problems can have very good effects. An injury can make us play the game in a very new and exciting way; then when the injury resolves itself over time, you get your old weapons back along with your new ones. In my own case, I always favored ashi garami on my left side, but after my hip replacement I completely lost my ability to perform it. I quickly had to become more proficient on the right hand side in order to demonstrate to my students post surgery. Now it feels as natural as it used to on my left. Here I work for a rather feeble looking ashi garami on my left against the highly skilled Eddie Cummings - the end of my 14 inch surgical scar visible outside my shorts - perhaps one day it will return and I shall be ashi garami ambidextrous

Teaching to teach

Teaching to teach: Throughout my coaching career I have always avoided the common tendency to teach with a do this


Defeat: The only people that never lost are those that never went against the best competition. In life and jiu jitsu, defeat is as certain as death and taxes in other people lives. The question then, is not whether you will be defeated, but how you will react when defeated. Of course the initial reaction is always emotional, but after that comes two general types of reaction. The first is denial. The athlete tells him or herself that the loss was an aberration due to outside factors, an injury, a distraction, an unfavorable environment or whatever. The loss is dismissed and the athlete goes on doing what he has always done and goes to the next match essentially the same person. The second approach is acceptance. The athlete accepts the defeat as a sign that something needs to be changed if the cause of that defeat is to be overcome. It may be something small, or it may be a major overhaul, but some form of modification is necessary. This second approach generally gets the better results in the long term (though many athletes have had good careers using the first). Here Eddie Cummings and his team show the pain of a narrow loss by penalty in over time at the world championships, but already ideas of change and modification are going through our minds photo by Tiago Molinos

The iron law of posture

The iron law of posture: For every given human physical activity, there is a posture that maximizes our ability to successfully complete that activity. This insight is critical to success in physical action. In jiu jitsu our ability to work in accordance with this law is severely tested, since our position and goals can change second by second and everything is done in a competitive environment under duress. Learning how posture can improve our efficiency, learning how to move from posture to posture in accordance with the unfolding action and learning how posture is related to the goal of minimum effort for maximum effect is the foundation of the truly deep part of the study of jiu jitsu. It is here that we begin to gain deep insight into our physical bodies and their workings. Here Eddie Cummings and his opponent, Tanquinho, both display fine posture relative to their respective goals as they engage in their match at the ADCC world championships Photo by Tiago Molinos

Continuous combat

Continuous combat: The ideal grappler of the future will be able to apply him or herself through the full spectrum of positions from standing to floor. Once combat is begun they will be able to follow the action effortlessly and confidently from upper body throws to leg takedowns to standing submissions down to the floor in both top and bottom position - strong in both positional and submission attacks over the whole body. Currently, most grapplers are specialists who are much better in certain areas than others. This creates a rather artificial or limited look to their game where the action stops as soon as they get to an area outside their speciality. This creates problems when they have to transition to fighting or MMA. Some great figures of the past give a good idea of what is possible for the future. Here is the truly great Isao Okano, who displayed great balance and flow between standing and ground technique of the highest level. Men like him are an inspiration to a future where grapplers exhibit an ability to flow continuously between every scenario in grappling at a high level of proficiency

When the fighting is over

When the fighting is over: Garry Tonon finishes another impressive performance. The self analysis that must follow every match has already begun as we reflect on his immediate assessment of the match. His initial feelings and thoughts are the first part of the process. As the next few days unfold, the analysis will deepen into video review and a congress of informed opinions, so that training and behavior can be modified in the light of experience. Only in this way can progress be made over time. Only in this way can an athlete build strength upon strength and put on increasingly better shows. Most people celebrate a win. The best analyze a win and see where improvements can be made so that winning becomes a habit rather than an accident.

If I asked you six moths ago to find a photograph of someone attempting a leg lock on the great Rousimar Palhares you would have come up empty handed. Such was his reputation in the area of the game that people would have thought it suicide to even try. Yet when Garry Tonon engaged him in a match he went forward with confidence and attacked Mr Palhares' legs repeatedly, along with a host of other submission and positional attacks. This was not the result of any suicidal tendencies on Mr Tonon's part. It came from confidence in a system of leg offense and defense he had put a tremendous amount of work into over years. Despite a huge size and strength disadvantage, he took it to the legendary leg locker and dominated all the leg exchanges. Here he tests Mr Palhares' legs with a powerful inverted Achilles lock variation that puts great pressure on the big man. Real confidence comes from knowing you have the answers to all the problems you can reasonably expect out there under the lights and the physical preparation to manifest them.