Trial Lessons

Longevity in Jiu-Jitsu

You can think of what goes into learning jiu-jitsu in three dimensions. The first is frequency. This is how often you go to the gym to train. The second is volume. Volume is how much time you dedicate to actually practicing jiu-jitsu while you’re at the gym. The third is intensity, which is the level of energy you expend while rolling.

For years, there was always a push to maximize all three dimensions to achieve the best results. In other words, people who wanted to really develop as jiu-jitsu fighters were expected to train at a high frequency (multiple times per day for five or six days per week), at a high volume (zero breaks during class), and at a high intensity. People took the phrase “no pain, no gain” to be self-evident. 

The conventional wisdom is changing, however. While people are still encouraged to train at a high frequency, a lot of world-class fighters have been training at a lower intensity. Many black belts who are a little older and past the prime with respect to their competitive fighting careers are also moderating the volume of training they do, as Rick Ellis of the Art of Skill explores in the below video. This is allowing them to stay on the mat, avoid injury, and improve their game.

More Frequency, Less Intensity

As Rick explains, frequency delivers nonlinear results. In other words, you will improve at an exponential rate if you’re committed to getting to the gym 5-6 times per week compared to someone who goes 2-3 times per week.

However, rather than going at 100% intensity for all that time, he recommends what he describes as “moderated intensity.” Similar to driving a car on the highway, you don’t want to keep the accelerator floored the entire time. If you’re constantly redlining the car, you’re going to burn through your gas way quicker than if you keep a moderate and steady speed. Moreover, constantly redlining your car or your body increases the risk of engine damage or injury, respectively. This is especially true as you get older.

This slowed down pace is also known as “flow rolling,” and it’s almost more like playing rather than fighting. In addition to a slower pace, there is less resistance during flow rolling, too. This means windows of opportunity are held open for longer, and an increasing number of people throughout the world of jiu-jitsu are finding that you get better faster because you develop more sensitivity to opportunity and timing rather than simply getting on the mat and fighting for your life. 

Rick is sure to note that you shouldn’t always keep things slow. In the same way that you may need to punch it to pass someone on the highway, jumps in intensity on the mat will allow you to pass guard or advance an offense. Controlling the dynamics of the fight also means slowing things down when you’re on defense to frustrate your partner and force them to make mistakes that you can then exploit.

Rick notes that wrenching up the intensity and speed comes fairly natural to people on the mat, but he says that learning to slow down a fight is just as important. It takes a lot of patience, and it can be especially hard for white belts and more inexperienced blue belts. However, if you can learn to become comfortable in bad situations, this will make you both more efficient and better overall. As Rick says, “The sooner you can figure out how to be relaxed and just okay in those positions, the better your game will be.”

Convincing Your Partner to Be Less Intense 

Of course, working at a lower intensity is easier said than done. It can be difficult to remain calm when your partner is set on coming after you like a wild animal even if you’ve told them you want to keep things more playful. Rick has three strategies for actually getting your opponent to keep it chill.

Strategy 1

If someone comes at you full steam ahead, but you’re trying to keep things more relaxed, they will tap you. Then you’ll stop, the two of you will bump fists again, and they’ll quickly tap you again. After a bit, they’ll begin to modify their behavior to match your energy. 

Strategy 2

Seek out people in your gym who you know are more at your speed. They may be your same age or just have a similar vibe. While you really should be learning from everyone in the gym and rolling with everyone from class, there’s nothing wrong with spending the majority of your time with a core crew of people who are interested in flow rolling. After all, this is what’s going to make you better prepared for the more high-intensity sessions. 

Strategy 3

If you’re newer to jiu-jitsu or just don’t have the same endurance as you once did, you can step away from the mat every once in a while, lowering the volume and giving yourself time to recover. Listen to your body. If you need to take a break, take a break. 

As Rick says, you should always leave the gym feeling as though you could have done more. It will leave you feeling excited about coming to the next class and not need to recover for several days. Conversely, if you get home and realize you can barely move because you went too hard, you will be more likely to not want to come to the next class. The key to improving quickly is consistency, so anything that keeps you coming back will ultimately make you a better fighter.



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