Sunday, May 12, 2013

Physical attributes and jiu jitsu

The nice thing about jiu jitsu is that it's for everybody. Regardless of your physical attributes, you can find techniques that work for you. That being said, there are certain physical attributes that are advantageous for competition jiu jitsu. I am in training for the Mundials and while I am putting a heavy emphasis on technique, I am paying equal attention to my conditioning.

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a Crossfit Endurance training. The seminar listed the following general physical skills of an athlete:

  • cardiorespiratory endurance
  • strength
  • flexibility
  • power
  • speed 
  • coordination
  • agility
  • balance
  • accuracy
Unless you are superwoman, you probably are not great at every element listed. And I'm not either. I decided to rate myself in each of these areas, on a scale of 1-4 (1 = terrible; 2 = fair; 3 = good; 4 = great). Here's what I came up with:

  • cardiorespiratory endurance - 4
  • strength - 4
  • flexibility - 2.5
  • power - 3
  • speed  -1.5
  • coordination - 2
  • agility - 2
  • balance - 3
  • accuracy - (1 for throwing a ball but 3 for throwing a triangle. I'm accurate at movements that I train).
When I look at this list, I see clear strengths and clear weaknesses. And I notice something else that's striking - I  spend the bulk of my conditioning time training what I am good at and very little time training what I am not. My crosstraining is composed of cardio circuits, power and Olympic lifting, and running, with some stretching thrown into the  mix. I spend almost no time training the things that I am worst at.

I wasn't always this way. The reason that I started doing Crossfit in the first place was to improve a perceived weakness - strength. While training for last year's Mundials, I was told that a lot of women in my weight class would be stronger than me because they lifted and I didn't. I was also frustrated because I was constantly losing battles of strength during training. So, I started Crossfit to improve this weakness.

Looking back, I see that I had it backward. I was a pretty strong lady to begin with and lifting only served to strengthen a competitive edge that I already had against other women. But after more than a year of Crossfit, I am still weaker than most of my training partners for the simple fact that they are grown men. No amount of lifting will get me to a point where I can use strength to kamura my buddy JoJo. Comparing myself to the guys in this realm was unrealistic. Instead, I am now learning to develop jiu jitsu techniques to enable me to survive and sometimes win against folks who are stronger than me.

Right now, my perceived weakness is my lack of speed. I am slow and deliberate in my movements, which makes me no good in a scramble. When something fast, sudden, or unexpected happens, I am slow to react and by the time I do, I have already lost position.

There certainly are ways to develop speed and explosiveness. But you know what? I'm not that interested. Maybe I'm becoming wiser with age or maybe I'm just getting lazy. But frankly I don't have the time or motivation to add another element to my physical conditioning. I am ready to accept that quick bursts of speed will never be my forte. So instead of training my physical attributes to improve my jiu jitsu, this time I am ready to adapt my jiu jitsu to match my physical attributes.

To summarize:
Problem: I am too slow to react in scrambles
Solutions: 1) get faster 2) develop jiu jitsu that forces my opponent to slow down in these spots. 

In the past, I would have chosen solution 1 all the way. But ain't nobody got time for dat. Instead, I want to build my jiu jitsu game around what I am naturally good at. And I think it makes sense for me to focus my conditioning on these areas as well. I am confident that if I train long enough, jiu jitsu itself will be enough to compensate for my physical weaknesses.

What about you? Do you prefer to use conditioning to enhance your strengths or to develop your weaknesses? Do you benefit more from working your 1s or your 4s?


  1. I have actually been thinking (or struggling to think) along the same lines lately! Every time I start to think I need to be stronger to to better against the guys, I remind myself that I'll never be as strong. So I switch to the improving-technique track instead. It's much more beneficial so far.