I once flew in through the mountains in a helicopter with my friend Kevin at the controls. He was not only a commercial pilot but also fellow whitewater paddler.
We had commandeered a helicopter for ‘a maintenance flight’, but the real reason we were airborne was to scout a remote river in northern British Columbia, almost at the Yukon border.
The idea was to fly over the river and down its many canyons to see if it was navigable by kayak. If it looked good then we hoped to go paddle it later in the summer.
Anyhow, as we whizzed along, I was asking Kevin about the dials and gauges in front of us, the windspeed, altimeter, compass, bank indicators and so on.
Then I asked him about an RPM gauge (apparently called the ‘dual tachometer’) and why there was a red line marked on the dial.
He pointed to the section below the red line. “This is for the paying jobs…“, he said.
Then he pointed to the section above the red line, “…and this is for the wife and kids.”
In other words, there were the regular speeds that the engine and rotor blades could operate at safely.
And then there were speeds that he could maybe get the engine to go up to, but only for emergencies. Those situations where pushing into the red might just save his life and bring him back to his family.
If he flew his bird above the redline on every trip then his million dollar machine would soon get damaged and maybe drop out of the sky unexpectedly.
Jiu-jitsu is much the same way.
When you’re training normally then yes, you should be pushing yourself hard.
You should sweat, struggle, and get tired.
But you shouldn’t balls-to-the-wall every single time.
Operating at do-or-die levels of intensity every time you train you train means that the chances of something going catastrophically wrong go up hugely!
Either you’re going to injure your training partner or yourself.
If you’re injured then you can’t train. And if you can’t train then you’re not going to get better.
Part of the problem is that we respect all-out training. We’re in awe of the intensity with which Dan Gable pushed his Iowa wrestlers, and forget that these were already elite and genetically gifted athletes who only had a few years to be turned into Big Ten and National champions.
So there’s a lot of survivor bias in situations like that…
We only hear about the winners this program produced, and never about that forgotten guy who dropped out of the program after 9 months with herniated cervical disks, a destroyed rotator cuff or a completely jacked knee.
Of course to get to the top of the heap you do need to push it to the max occasionally.
If you’ve got a decent chance of medalling at the next Mundials then yes, you’d better train really hard once in a while.
And if you made it into the finals of the Mundials then I give you permission to go 100% berserk, and use every ounce of strength and athleticism you have while still continuing to use your brain to focus that energy in the right direction.
(Or if you have to use your stuff in a self defense situation.)
But those are exceptions, not the rule. For the safety of yourself and your training partners, keep it mostly below the red line.
Like Kevin told me, the red zone is for the wife and kids. Those are special situations.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again now: jiu-jitsu is a marathon, not a sprint. So play the long game!