Updated: Jan 16, 2020
I like sports, all different kinds of them. The biomechanics, techniques, strategy that is specific to, but also shared between, sports are super intriguing. I have all ready written about hockey, which is near and dear to my heart, and how certain aspects of it can be related to triathlon. Now that many of us are going into the off season I feel it may be time to talk about another sport that I enjoy, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
A little background
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) is a grappling-focused martial art, meaning that it is based on controlling an opponent through large joint manipulation and holds rather than striking. BJJ is a fairly new martial art, tracing its roots to the early 1900s when Jiu Jitsu and Judo were introduced to Brazil. Long story short, between Judo rule changes and a Brazilian desire for a national sport, BJJ was born.
As stated earlier, BJJ is a grappling martial art so there is no punching or kicking. One of the major concepts of the sport is to allow for technique to be more important than size of the athlete in a match. The other defining characteristic if BJJ is the emphasis on ground fighting (this is why term “rolling” is used for sparing), opposed to Judo in which throws are emphasized. The whole goal of a BJJ practitioner is to control their opponent through body position, and submitting the opponent with either large joint lock (i.e. knee rather than toe) or holds (i.e. rear naked choke)
Like any sport, BJJ has competitions. There are two types of tournaments in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu:
Points based, where a winner is determined by points accrued during a match, or a submission.
Submission-only, where a competitor can only win by submission
How Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Relates to Endurance sport
The first and most easily recognized way to relate BJJ to endurance sports is that there are “submission only” tournaments with no time limit. If there are two evenly paired competitors, a match can last for hours.
BJJ utilizes a constant drilling of technique. Anyone who knows me as a coach knows that I am a big fan of drills. The warm up before a BJJ class consists of movements directly related to techniques involved in BJJ. Then the instructor goes through a single move with the class (just an example, a single easy move can have 7 separate components), and the class buddies up and drills through the move for a several minutes.
One of my absolute favorite things to hear during class was “Go slow, speed comes with time." This is something I have said many times. It just goes to show that certain certain concepts transcend their individual sport. If you want to become proficient at any movement (whether it be running or a scissor sweep) you have to have patience and work through it slowly before it can be done quickly and seamlessly. The more we drill movements, the stronger the neuromuscular pathway becomes and movement becomes more natural.
The second aspect of BJJ that is very relevant to endurance sports is the incredible amount of body control and proprioception that is required. I have taken video of swimmers, asked them what their body is doing in the water, and they are surprised by how what they think they are doing is so different from what the video shows. I have also asked a BJJ practitioner where their opponents ankle was during a specific point in a match and they can tell me exactly where it was. Knowing where one’s body is in space is very important to an endurance athlete. Not only does it lead to greater efficiency in the movement, but it also protects against overuse injury. BJJ is great for this because not only do you need to know where your body is in space to avoid being locked or choked, but you need to know where your opponent's body is in space.
So, that is a little bit about Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Don’t be afraid to give it is a try. Remember, while you might think sweaty, aggressive hugging is strange, others might think swimming, biking and running in row is strange.
Note: We asked Coach Adam about how he first came to know about BJJ and he responded with this: "I have been a fan of BJJ fo a long time now. I had done a (bike) fit on a Black Belt a few years back and became very interested in the sport. Cut to a few months ago, I made a snarky remark to friend who does BJJ while passing on a climb during a ride. After the ride he invited me to a beginner class at his gym. I jumped at the opportunity because I have been wanting to for a few years and finally had a reason." (cool!)