Physical Attributes in Jiu Jitsu

Physical Attributes in Jiu Jitsu

It is natural and understandable that people feel they need certain physical attributes to be successful at Jiu Jitsu.  Many times I have heard comments like, “I need to be faster,”  “I wish I was more flexible,”  “I need to start lifting weights.”   Heck, once upon a time I thought this way.  And these wishes are good and it is okay to seek this. But lets get real…a 6′ 3″, 240 lbs. man is not going to move as quickly as 5′ 6″, 140 lbs. one!  Right?  Now there are things the larger man can do to be quicker…but there are limits.  There is no escaping physics.  Similarly, some people are just made with inherently flexible joints, and some are stiff as a board.  Genetics plays a role.  Simply put, there are various body-types and they all have pros and cons.  Stereotyping for simplicity here, but little guys are weak and big guys are slow…right?  Some people are flexible and some are not.  Rarely is there a Superman who possesses speed, power and flexibility.


Increasing your physical attributes can be a good thing, as long as it is secondary!  The danger is when students put it first.  Thinking success in Jiu Jitsu depends on how fast they are or how much weight they can lift.  Don’t get me wrong, there can be short term success by being steroided out…but only at the entry levels of Jiu Jitsu.  Against novices who don’t have much a technical repertoire.  Even if a power-lifter learns enough technique to reach purple belt, he will have a far less sophisticated game than he would have had otherwise.  Students who focus on the need to increase strength, speed or flexibility instead of increasing technique short change themselves and their Jiu Jitsu!

Ok, enough on that. we get it, right?  But lets dive into what TECHNIQUE actually is.  Is it simply learning new moves?  A new way to choke people or pass a guard?  not quite.  Technique (from my current understanding) means a few things:

  1. Mechanical Movements of the body

Put my leg here. Shift my hips this way. Grab my opponent there.  The A-B-C’s of a technique. I do A, then B, then C…etc.  These “Mechanics” were developed over centuries utilizing leverage, weak vs strong muscle groups, and angles designed for off-balancing an opponent.  It is the PHYSICAL steps we must move to in relation to our opponent.

2.  Cue Recognition

A cue is an indicator.  A green light that signals what move should be done. The opponent is in a certain position relative to you that allows the move to physically work.  The “Mechanics” of a technique are DEPENDANT on the cue!  You can’t fit a square peg in a round hole!  If you recognize the hole is round, then select the round peg.  Cue recognition comes mainly through experience. With repetition and frequent failures we gain awareness.  At first, this awareness is conscious…we see it! then our brain processes it.  This “thinking” makes our call to action delayed resulting in frequent failure.  That’s an essential part of the process, get used to it. Better yet, enjoy it!  Each failure is naturally error-correcting.  Like a sculptor taking away the non-essential parts to his masterpiece.  Eventually, this awareness (or cue recognition) will become subconscious.  Beneath the surface where we are not seeing or thinking…just being and doing.  This take time.  The time it takes depends on how willing the student is to take risks.  The more you risk, the more you’ll experience (good or bad), the more aware you will become.

3.  Take Action

When you recognize the cue, GO! This can be evident to us as proper timing.  Don’t let your inner critic place doubts in you.  The conscious (thinking) brain has a way of stalling us.  It says, “hold on a minute, wait wait  wait. Let’s think about this.”  This is evident when people struggle to flow or transition from one move to another and pause after each failed technique. Too much thinking!  The conscious part of our brain is either in the past or the future…NEVER IN THE MOMENT.  The eventual goal is to shut this part of our brain completely off and be of “no mind.”  Allowing the subconscious to do its thing.  Then there is no hesitancy. No inner critic.  We are just PRESENT. Now, we are all human and cannot remain completely  in the “no mind” state forever.  But if you realize that you are thinking way too much, my suggestion is to trick that part of your brain.  I do this occasionally by audibly breathing or humming.  It distracts my conscious brain from interfering with the dynamic action of the roll and just allows me to “be.”  I should also emphasize the action of a technique doesn’t need to be fast.  The goal should not be fast.  The aim is for movement to be smoothFast has a tendency to be rushed, choppy and ugly.  Making it energy inefficient and prone to error.  Smooth, on the other hand, is graceful, efficient and effective.

In summary:  No need to be the fastest, the strongest or the most flexible. Focus instead on PROPER MECHANICS, CUE RECOGNITION, and being of NO MIND (ie, Technique).  Now, shut up and train!