20 tips to enhance your play
If you only read and keep the teachings presented here, you’re not going anywhere with your ground techniques. The following advices – useful in tournaments with gi, grappling, MMA and for the athletes personal evolution – ought to be studied between trainings. On this case, our little script here can change everything you had been doing wrong – or simply didn’t know existed. Aiming at bringing you a large and carefully wrought guide (whether you are or not a beginner), we have asked the main masters of the sport: what would you like to have found out earlier? What’s behind the gold medals and amazing titles? What are the shortcuts? What are the secrets? Each Jiu-Jitsu exponent brought their own delicacy to this feast. Enjoy, therefore, this manual if you wish to evolve. In Jiu-Jitsu, life – everything.
1. Exercise your ears
“The first rule to perfect your Jiu-Jitsu is to never be deaf to other people’s knowledge,” says Renzo Gracie. “It’s common to see guys who deem themselves professors decline a new teaching, ignoring a pupil who shows something new. To grow better you must understand how people think and how they got to that position. Even if it’s not perfect, it’s up to you to enhance it.” A clear example was a coup with which Gracie surprised Canadian fighter Carlos Newton in the Pride Bushido 1: “I nearly submitted him on the foot lock, in a position a white-belt had taught me. Starting from the tip I perfected and developed the leg attack, from the knee lock to the foot lock.” To Renzo, it doesn’t matter whether the student is a blue-, white-belt, or someone who’s never fought: the moment they show you something, shut your mouth and pay attention. “Even if the move is not efficient, the concept might help your play. When you don’t allow yourself to accept any other form of knowledge, you become a limited professor,” he teaches.
2. Always believe in the move
If you follow Rodrigo Minotauro’s MMA bouts, you can probably figure out his tip to make your Jiu-Jitsu better. A combative athlete, always with a surprising coup at hand, he shoots: “Fight to get a grip on your opponent.” How do you do that? Well, the Brazilian Top Team star suggests that every fighter ignores the clock and the points during the combats. This measure may result in defeats in the beginning, but on the long run it’ll leave the fighter “light and loose” (Nogueira’s definition). “There is nothing better than fighting naturally and pressure-free,” he says. “The secret is to believe He’s got to believe,” adds Wallid Ismail. Carlson Gracie’s black-belt’s advice is based on three elements: stamina, attitude and will to win. “At the time of the position or the fight, the main thing is to believe. To make the move work, you’ve got to believe it will work. And it doesn’t matter who’s on the other side, because there lies the difference between winner and loser. The winner is never intimidated. He may even fear, but he must have something greater inside – the attitude.”
3. Practice an outdoor sport
Soccer, jogging, outdoor work out – there’s always a healthy activity waiting for the athlete who takes off the gi after hours of grappling in the academy. One can then dive into a commonplace sport (surf, for instance, is practised by nine in every ten fighters) or even invent their own distraction. This strategy keeps the body in shape without making the fighter stressed from the training routine. “Every physical activity, not only Jiu-Jitsu, is useful for working out heart and mind, leading the guy to thinking that, instead of smoking a joint or using drugs, he can dedicate his time to exercise,” says Royler Gracie, who has since 1999 been climbing the Rock of Gavea, at Rio de Janeiro: “It’s a workout similar to the Macacos Hill trail at Teresopolis, which I would cross with Rickson when he was preparing for MMA fights,” he recollects.
4. Repeat the moves over and over
Leaders of victorious academies in Jiu-Jitsu and MMA, Andre Pederneiras (Nova Uniao) and Sylvio Behring (Winner-Behring) don’t fear being repetitive when they assure that the motto is to persist and persist and then persist some more when it comes to position-training. “Definitely the key is the positions. In judo, the athlete makes 1,000 takedowns on every session. It’s sad to see that in the Jiu-Jitsu milieu people think it’s a waste of time. We repeat the basic positions in the warm up about 5 times before every practice”, says Pederneiras. Master Sylvio corroborates: “Every title we conquered in the last years with Mario Reis and Fabricio Werdum were due to this philosophy: repeating the basics and go through a training fight under supervision, which is the sparring game. One of the athletes executes every type of attack, arm, triangle, and the other tries to defend from the blitz”, says Marcelo Behring’s brother, who demands 90 seconds or a series of 100 repetitions after training. “Thus the athlete reaches exhaustion and lets the movement flow naturally.” After all, as professor Jean Jacques Machado puts it, it’s better to repeat a position a thousand times, working on it for a month, than learning one a day.
The phenomenon Nino “Elvis” Schembri also agrees on the tip: “More and more I convince myself that one should pay attention to the positions, from the white all the way to the black belt. The main thing in Jiu-Jitsu, a sport in which, I believe, the most technical player gets the advantage, is to repeat the positions. Everybody does that in boxing, judo, but in Jiu-Jitsu the guys are a little lazy. Including me.” To Nino, it’s reasonable to reserve the beginning of the practice to repeating 50 positions for each side, thrice a week. “And don’t even think of giving up”, he smiles.
5. Set goals
In the nineties, when he was among the best competitors in Jiu-Jitsu, Ze Mario Sperry had a notebook where he would right the goals to be reached in training, in a given period. The black-belt used to rip the leaves and leave them on all corners of his house. “I’d go to the bathroom to shave and would find a note glued to the mirror: ‘If you want to be a champion, you’ve got one week to do this or train that’,” he recalls. Sperry explains that setting goals helps in the evaluation and control of what is being produced in the training. “The ideal is that the fighter define what he wants. Afterwards, find ways to get there, reckoning the time necessary to reach it.” For an example, the black-belt recollects the time he set the goal of getting a perfect physical condition. To achieve it, he designed a series that focused on several exercises, such as squatting, weight lifting and running-sprints. “By keeping my heart-beat accelerated with this workout, I made progress until I conditioned my body to the rhythm of the combats.” This “note pursuit” enabled the BTT master to keep focus on his career’s objectives, being sure what he had to improve in a near future.
Black-belt Vitor Shaolin warns his students about this up to this day: “You must set up your training in such a way that you define what are the two most important competitions for you to be in that year. No matter how much you try it, you can never be 100% in all tournaments,” he guarantees. “Then you must establish the rules: ‘I want to be well in the Brazilian and World championships.’ And prepare to place well only in these tournaments, not minding whatever you win or lose in the rest of the competitions. The body is not a machine and cannot remain on a level 8 or 9 all the time, be it in Jiu-Jitsu or MMA, which is the Triathlon of fighting,” the Shooto champion concludes.
6. Be dynamic
To Amaury Bitetti, Jiu-Jitsu is like chess: you only move a piece thinking of the next move. The two-time world open champion in ’96-’97 says an attacking position during the fight must always be connected to other future positions whose objective is the submission or – just to follow the comparison – the check-mate. In order to achieve that, Amaury advises that the attack-trainings should be made in a logical progression. For instance: a takedown leads to a guard-pass, which in its turn leads us to a mount, which leads to a choke. The combinations are infinite; what matters is that your game be not static. Just as in the whiskey advertisement: keep walking. Turn your Jiu-Jitsu into a motor gear.
7. You are an athlete, not a weight-lifter
Two-time world open champion 02-03, Marcio Pe de Pano strives to convince the athletes of the fact that they don’t need to look for a superathlete’s body at any cost. To the black-belt, the secret lies, above all, in training to ally technique and good conditioning. “If you train Jiu-Jitsu, you ought to work out, but not make a monstrous physical preparation,” he comments. “If you fight MMA or wrestling, you might need such a body. In Jiu-Jitsu, physical preparation is not all: one must work to become a technical and conditional athlete.” Therefore, don’t go try anything silly.
8. Strengthen your grip
The first attitude necessary to follow this hint by Vitor Shaolin is: tighten that rope well! After all, the principle behind this task is to use a thick rope tied to the academy’s ceiling in order to strengthen the fighter’s grip on the opponent’s gi. An important detail is that this exercise is good to another very important muscle for the athlete: the abdomen.
As Shaolin demonstrates, there are three ways of climbing, each of which improves a specific group of moves. In the first exercise (picture A), the athlete uses short grips to get to the top, which helps in the chokes executed with the hands near and the arms bent. As he shows, the climb can be made with the hand reversed (picture B). In the following task (picture C) he goes upwards with wider grips, ideal to strengthen a pull from the ground with a hip escape (bottom picture) or any position that demands a strong grip with the arms stretched. The detail is to keep the legs always elevated, which toughens the abs. “You go up, stop for a few seconds with the legs stretched, and then descend in the same fashion,” explains the Nova Uniao professor. “The wider grip is the hardest, so I do it only once a day, five times a week. The other one, easier, I repeat ten times a week, twice on one day, thrice on the next, then twice… Always after training, when the arms are more tired.”
9. Strive to be complete
What good is it to get an A+ in guard-passing but flunk attack-from-the-back? To stand out in Jiu-Jitsu, the fighter can’t excel at one or two moves. He must play in the eleven, as we say in football. Black-belt Saulo Ribeiro teaches a simple way of reaching versatility: “Many people despises the warm-up before practising. Well, dedicate the first 15 minutes in the academy to doing the basic: escape from the back, from the mount, and side-mount. In the next 15, practise submission from the back, the mount and the side-mount. Do this every day in your Jiu-Jitsu career. It may be boring, but it’ll make you complete. No matter what belt. I am a black-belt and still discipline myself into doing it till today. Oh, I nearly missed it. Practise judo at least twice a week. Knowing how to fight standing is also fundamental. That it my formula for becoming complete.”
10. Posture is everything
By training Jiu-Jitsu frequently, three or four times a week, our physical preparation specialist Martin Rooney’s attention was caught by a simple, though essential, tip. “It was something that changed the way I looked at workout itself: whether on the mat or with the dumb-bells, always pay attention to your posture. That is the most important, both if you are trying pass a guard or lifting tremendous weight. Without the adequate posture you don’t spare moves, you worsen the strike’s execution and augment the health hazards – or loss hazards.” In case the reader suspects on Martin for the fact that he isn’t a great BJJ star, remember that is one of the aspects Rickson Gracie stresses the most while training. So, straight neck, lined-up shoulders, firm back and off you go.
11. Learn from defeat
Many fighters absorb but negativity from losses. They get depressed, blame God and the world for the result and, sometimes, deem their careers finished. Leonardo Vieira does the exact opposite. He uses the defeats (preferably in practices, of course) to reflect on what he can do better. “I’m convinced that everybody who submits all of their opponents in the trainings is actually learning nothing,” says Leo. Like the child, who only learns how to walk by stumbling, it’s by tapping that the Jiu-Jitsu practitioner improves their art. Therefore, the Brasa black-belt advises that the masters mix athletes of different graduations in the trainings. Thus the fights aren’t too even, leaving room for adversities. Martin Rooney agrees: “The athlete who reacts with bad feelings to the defeats isn’t learning the incredible lessons that have been taught him, and that would make his chances of losing again much smaller. There’s no such thing as winning and losing, but only winning and learning,” says Renzo’s and Ricardo Cachorrao’s trainer. “Only you can your reaction and spirits to grow as an athlete. I believe the person that has been submitted the most is the toughest to beat. That’s what a tough guy is made of. That’s of a black-belt is made of,” he summarizes. Leo Vieira calls the attention to the fact that the losses out of the mats are just as fundamental to form a champion, above all in what concerns character. “When there was a dissidence at the first formation of the Alliance team and I was alone in Sao Paulo, I went through one of the most difficult moments of my life. However, I became a much stronger person and learned a lot about life. I wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t gone through that,” he evaluates.
12. Look for the best version of the move for you
Master Osvaldo Alves says that up until the nineteen-seventies one only gave and armbar-in-guard by uncrossing and wide-opening the legs. “I realized this coup was vulnerable, for it enabled the opponent to flee and pass the guard easily. So I invented the climbing-armbar,” recalls the red-and-black-belt. As you can see on the image, this armlock version makes it a lot harder for the adversary to escape. “The thing is to not lock the opponent’s arm, but his/her shoulder,” clears up the master, who uses his own calf against the sparring’s shoulder, stopping him from getting up. Summarizing: if you don’t get along with a certain move, try to perfect it, adapt it to your physical and technical traits, always searching new versions for it. That’s what makes Jiu-Jitsu evolve continuously.
13. The best strategy is the attack
“I always try to attack. While I’m on the offensive, my opponent can think of nothing but defending, that is, I’m protected,” Marcelo Garcia teaches. As an example, the Alliance black-belt recalls the time when he didn’t know to keep an open guard. He would cross the legs on the opponent’s back and pray for the time to elapse. “I was afraid of attacking,” he evaluates. After noticing the deficiency Marcelo started uncrossing the feet and practising sweeps. He realised that, if he went right onto the adversary, he’d run a much smaller risk of being submitted than if he played defending, applying but rare counter-strikes. Garcia also realised that, by being the first to attack, he would make his opponents abandon their former plan. If he prolonged the blitz, Marcelo also prolonged this “untouchable” state. But there are those who say that repeated attacks tend to tire the athlete. “What really tires is to hold the fight back the whole time,” Marcelo argues. Notwithstanding, the black-belt gives some advice on physical preparation for those who agree that the best defense is the attack: “Climbing stairs and ramps is the best option for an amazing guard,” he reveals.
14. Don’t forget to enhance your defense
Despite liking the attacking strategy suggested by Marcelo Garcia, Rillion Gracie stresses the importance of training submission-escapes (remembering that the other guy may attack first). “Look at Roger Gracie’s performances in the last World Championship. He suffered fulminating attacks right in the beginning of the battles but was able to defend like a master to then counter-attack,” Rillion recalls. The Gracie Leblon Master says that, while practising defense, the competitor learns exactly what the opponent feels like in situations of adversity. “Learning defense improves the attack. I f the lion knows how the prey can escape, it’ll capture it in a much more precise way,” he ponders. To practise defense in Jiu-Jitsu, Rillion advises the reader into forgetting s/he is strong. “Exercise your patience. Use the weight and the force of the levers,” he explains. “Start practising defense as soon as possible, to awake just as soon the survival instinct in your fighter’s soul.”
Ever since he was a kid, Antonio Schembri has been used to stretching daily. And he never complained, unlike his opponents, whom, in time and practice, he began to submit in the most varied ways. “I’m very flexible, so I always take a strong session before and after training. Some people are stiffer, they don’t like it, but stretching is essential, especially the bottom half, legs, spine and lumbar,” says the Chute Boxe athlete. According to “Elvis,” stretching is vital even for improving the guard. “What I realize in competitions, even black-belts’, is that everybody gets along well on top, but not everyone can keep a good guard. So besides stretching, which improves the de-passing, the athlete must set up a schedule and program himself and persist in training every single variation, butterfly guard, closed guard, with inside hooks… You can’t let the guy cross the knee line, or else you’ll have to pull something out of your ass to stop the guy from passing,” Schembri teaches.
16. Develop self-knowledge
According to Fabio Gurgel, competition-Jiu-Jitsu is so leveled nowadays that the small details can make the difference in the fight’s result. Considering that you, fearless reader, have already looked after the technique and physical preparation, the Alliance general calls the attention to a “detail” that can turn you into a giant of the mats: self-knowledge. “I advise my students to talk to themselves. Self-evaluation makes the athlete know himself better, finding out his true virtues and weaknesses. He starts being conscious of his own instincts, develops self-confidence and doesn’t chiken out. Thus the athlete can design an ideal fighting plan,” Gurgel analyses, and then describes the state of mind with which one should enter the ring: “The fighter’s self-knowledge must turn the battler into something pleasant. The Jiu-Jitsu practitioner must have fun in the championships. That way, it all becomes easy.”
17. Simulate hindrances and escapes
“Back at Carlson’s academy, I always trained with partners who would attack me full-on That’s what’s bad about training in an academy where everybody wants to fight for real: you don’t get used to the opponent that hinders the fighting in the competitions,” Ricardo de la Riva points out, stressing the hard time he had developing his game against Japanese fighter Yuki Nakai in September 2004.His hint, accordingly, is to simulate fights where the opponent neither tries to pass nor to submit; to fight against a technical sparring – or one who runs away. Marcelo Garcia also has a hint for those hard situations: stretching and breathing. “The fighter has got to know how to stretch and move all of his members, besides breathing properly, for the time when he is on the bottom, being smashed and smothered by the adversary,” says the middle-weight world champion. In order to learn how to get out of the tough situations, Garcia indicates: the good thing is to practise guard with heavier mates.
Jean Jacques Machado likes to awake his students’ creativity. The master organizes “lab sessions” during the trainings in the academy where he teaches in Los Angeles. On these moments he shows the classroom a move, asks the students to study it and to present a defense a week later. “There are many ways to get to a goal. I like my pupils to use their creativity and find out new ways to get there,” he evaluates. In other words, Jean doesn’t make his apprentices “move repeaters.” By disseminating experimentalism in his lessons, the black-bellt gives birth to classrooms full of creative and innovating athletes. Leo Vieira likes Jacques’ methodology, but presents another way of making the students open minded: “Look at the kids fighting. Notice how they’re always laughing and jumping around. That’s how I like to fight. Children invent, use unexpected moves that, if adapted to adult Jiu-Jitsu, can be fruitful. Teaching kids is a great source of knowledge to me.”
19. Regularity, always
Also to 1999 ADCC champion Jean Machado, there’s nothing more important than regularity. Not vanishing from the academy is, therefore, essential for the athlete’s evolution – s/he must avoid substituting wasted weeks with overtraining periods. Nearly every one of the gi-superstars knows that by heart, as Pe de Pano Illustrates: “The secret is regularity: training over and over and over. Twice a day if possible. As I began late, I would make it up by going to the academy in the afternoon and at night.” According to him, training regularly leads to evolving and injury-avoiding. “For the fact that you keep training, the body gets used to the effort you make. It was after I began resuming and quitting that I began to have injuries often,” he completes. A partisan to that idea, Vitor Shaolin exemplifies: “Besides training often, you must divide the trainings, understand that there is a little something called resting. So if in the afternoon the practice is slower, take the chance to rest. If your body doesn’t react all that well in the morning but you know that in the morning the training is profitable, wake up earlier to get your body prepared. Practise more heavily at night, but don’t let it go on till too late, for you might go to bed tense, thinking of training – and end up not resting at all.”
20. Respect and reflect
Respect and dedication are utterly necessary to Ricardo de la Riva. “The idea is to arrive with an open mind and to practise with pleasure, and not to simply want to win in the training. You must respect, above all, not only the dojo and the professor, but also your practice-mate, after all you need him/her,” says the master. According to Martin Rooney, the salutation can afford great benefits that sometimes can go by unnoticed. “In all sports, athletes create rituals that push the negative energy away. However, I realise that many Jiu-Jitsu beginners ignore that fact, maybe for seeing martial arts as just a way of defending, a game of win or lose,” he says. Martin refers to the simple and traditional act of bowing. Associated for centuries to martial arts, the act should not be seen as only a demonstration of respect or a sign that the fight has begun. As the American trainer explains, the time to bow is a great opportunity to concentrate. The bow is the moment when the practice begins, so any negative thought or attitude must be left aside – or out of the academy. “A salutation at the end of the practice enables the athlete to go back to his normal life,” he says. “Develop, therefore, a strong mental connection so that your mind is activated by the bow in the beginning. Just as in any sport, if your head is not ready to practise, it’s impossible to learn anything,” Rooney concludes.
Thanks to Rafael Werneck, Graciemag.com editor, for permission to use this article!
Photos by Gustavo Aragao