AT THE BEGINNING OF 2012, Frankie and I had a conversation about how the year would go. One of the stand out predictions related to a change of direction for sport and competition by the end of the year.
I spent two years training my butt off for grip sport and 2012 was a year in which I shined. 10 meets this year, with stand outs of 2nd place at Nationals, 3rd place at World’s Strongest Hands, 1st place for the international Master of Horror and Pinch pull, 1st place for decathlons, and a lot of fun in San Jose at the Iron Mind record breaker beating 300 lbs men for a top finish as a “little guy.”
As the summer wrapped up, I was bored to tears with my grip training. Over three seasons I have competed in nearly 30 meets. Every month I get better, each meet it is easier and easier. At some point, it stopped being fun.
Not that was ever lame, but I don’t feel any drive to prepare for meets. I was not particularly excited for the coming meets. I do enjoy hosting, I enjoy bringing new people in, and I enjoy setting up contests…but the fire is pretty cool right now.
So anyways, in August I decided it was time for something new.
More then anything else, I wanted a new sport where the competition is going to be more intense. I wanted a sport where all of the things I have done so far would be of some benefit. I wanted a sport where longevity would be possible. Finally I wanted a sport that was not as fringe as Grip, All-Round lifting, or Strongman. While those are all fine, it’s really hard to find decent competition.
I joined The Academy that week, formerly Minnesota Mixed Martial Arts Academy. The school has over 500 students. The Jiu Jitsu team is huge. I am just another one of the new guys.
I was told my first chance to compete would be the 13th of Oct.
This series is the story of my journey.
BJJ, what is it?
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is one of the fastest growing, most popular forms of martial art sports in the World.
Most people probably never heard of BJJ before the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Everything changed when the scrawny Gracies stormed the cage or rather calmed walked away with the belts after strangling and armbarring much larger opponents with a stoic demeanor and smothering wrestling style.
Since the early 90′s a lot of things have changed. Tournaments are now held all over the world. Major competitive federations have been organised. Schools are found across the nation. The climate of competition is shaped by the performance of the top athletes. New games come and go, new techniques and strategies are battle tested.
A match could be described as a race. You are attempting to get to a position of domination where you can submit your opponent. You do this by out maneuvering them. There are 8 positions to learn, each with what can be called a “top and bottom” or an “attack and defense” position, 16 in total.
The rules allow for strangles, neck cranks, spine locks, shoulder locks, elbow locks, wrist locks, knee locks, ankle locks, as well as attacks which smother or stretch the body in to painful positions. New positions are sorted routinely to exploit the weakness of the body.
With all of those attacks, some people may think it is a dangerous sport but this is not automatically true. A person can yield at any point, if they feel stuck, in jeopardy, or pain they will “tap out” to indicate to the other player they are stopping. Percentage wise, there are far fewer injuries in Jits than boxing, kick boxing, wrestling, or MMA.
What are the skill requirements of this sport?
In terms of physical attributes, jiu jitsu requires a high degree of gross mobility in the spine, hips, and limbs. Many of the motions involve transitions from flexion to extension positions to lever your opponent off base. You move to off balance your opponent while improving your position.
The intriguing part, being stronger than the other player doesn’t equal “better” at this critical aspect of the game.
This was one element which really got my attention. I can say, and my team members will agree to this- no one I have rolled with is stronger then me. Stronger than all others, but I get tapped in practice all the time. In this sport being the strongest guy doesn’t mean as much. There are so many positions which the skilled player can use to keep you pinned down. The uniform can be used as a weapon against you to slow you down, drag you back, and bind you up.
I will also add max strength displays are not very useful if that energy can’t be sustained. The skill of relaxing under distress is exponentially more valuable then bursting with force. In case you are wondering, freaky strong hands really do help a lot, but you have to know how to get those weapons in position to use them.
My first few weeks were spent learning positions. Hours have racked up playing with transitional movements, learning the nuances of each core position. It seems Every move has a counter, and that counter has a counter to it. There are many ways the game is played. The more I learn, the less I know.
Some people play heavy game, some play fast, some fight from the bottom, others from the mount, from North-South, from the side. Some favor armbars, others foot or shoulder locks. It seems everyone has their favorite choke, there are dozens to choose from. Everyone has “their way” and of course everyone can sell you a list of pro’s as to why their game works.
No matter what the body type, there is a strategy to beat others. I have practiced with men of all sizes now, from 135 lbs to 375 lbs. What works in one situation maybe impossible in another. You must be able to adapt and overcome.
That is what brings me to the very best part of Jits for me, I can learn something from every person I meet.
Seeing so many people play the game, it can be challenging to figure out how to play to win for your body.
That is where two men have been a huge help, and in the next piece I will tell you about my coaches.