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Holistic Martial Training

Jiu-jitsu is a curious balance of holding on and letting go. The grappling neophyte, or newbie, is easy to spot. They are the one on the mat, fighting tooth and nail for every little grip, not giving an inch, and truly believing that they this is the surefire path to martial excellence.

The "jiujiteiro" (practitioner of jiu-jitsu) will have to look a little closer to see the characteristics of the more refined and experienced grappler. With more time under their belt, the mat samurai knows there is a time to hold on and a time to let go.

Yes, sometimes you need to grit your teeth and hang out with all the ferocity of a hungry, rabid dog on a scrap of meat. But, there are instances when hanging on for too long means self-sabotage. Never let go of the collar and you may find yourself in an armbar. Sometimes you hold on. Sometimes you let go.  

It takes time to accumulate the knowledge of techniques. It takes even longer to cultivate the wisdom of knowing when to use what technique. 

Now, letting go does not mean giving up, or walking away from the fight. In a life lived to its fullest, you do not have that luxury. No, letting go is not quitting. It is merely repositioning, taking a different tack in the interest of a larger strategy.

Well, we find ourselves in a time when a grand plan is needed. It is time to practice holding on and letting go. What do you hold on to? What do you let go of?

You hold on to your training. You fight for the physical, emotional, and, perhaps, even spiritual benefits that come from training. You keep training.

You let go of the idea that there is only one way to train, only one way to improve.

This is a time to embrace a myriad, or wide array, of new and exciting paths to martial excellence. 

First, get outside and start opening up your movement patterns. In jiu-jitsu, it is easy to get locked into a fixed set of movements. This is how you drill to refine your technique. However, this is also how you increase the likelihood of overuse injuries. Performing bodyweight workouts allow you to learn functional exercises with direct transference to grappling. Not only can this offer prehab to prevent possible injuries, but it will also enable you to return to jiu-jitsu with increased speed and strength. So, follow the example of the Slavic, Dagestani, and Indian grapplers, get outside and try a TRX class or bodyweight training workout.  

Second, expand your martial arts worldview. Although boxing and kickboxing place the weight on different parts of the foot than in grappling, the footwork is similar to grappling. Perhaps more importantly, boxing and kickboxing teach you to use angles. In life and in grappling, the better you understand angles, the greater your chance of success. Plus, knowing how to throw some hands and deliver some kicks could keep you safe, if you find yourself at an empty gas station at 3 in the AM. So, try some boxing and kickboxing classes. 

Third, a common criticism of some BJJ practitioners is that they lack explosivity in their movements. Sometimes, when you train for longer rounds, you become passive. You hold positions and move at a snail’s pace. That is not inherently bad. That is a type of jiu-jitsu. Yet, you also want to cultivate a dynamic form of jiu-jitsu. Turn to judo and Greco-Roman wrestling to develop the ability to move with force and vigor. The aggressive pulling, grabbing, and throwing of these grappling arts energizes your jiu-jitsu game. So, get in some Greco and judo classes.

Now is a time to hold on to training. It is also a time to let go of the idea that there is only one way to train. Take new paths that lead to greater jiu-jitsu mastery. 

By Adam benShea, PhD, is a Paragon BJJ black belt. He teaches Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and is a college lecturer on California’s central coast. - July 15, 2020