"You Are Using Too Much Strength!"

What does this mean and why is it wrong?

Most of us who have trained bjj for any length of time have both given and received the advice: “You Are Using Too Much Strength!” After a few years of training, a more advanced student will realize what this means in terms of being efficient and using leverage and timing in your rolls.


But to the new student, this seems like confusing advice. “Of course I am using strength! I have someone on top of me trying to bend my arm! I have to escape!”

To further complicate the issue, we have articles on conditioning and strength building for brazilian jiu-jitsu. Many of the top bjj competitiors are extermely well conditioned and explosive. Check a conditioning blog here. 

So why is “using too much strength” wrong?

Tennis2One of the best pieces of training advice I ever got early in my study of bjj came at a seminar. The seminar instructor was himself 145lbs. and displayed dazzlingly smooth and fluid jiu-jitsu. He was demonstrating a kimura and the much heavier opponent had a strong defensive grip on their belt. The instructor mimicked trying to use muscular power and grunting in exertion to break the grip.
He turned to the students and said “This is NOT jiu-jitsu! Some of these guys have a STRONG arm! You can not beat them this way.” He then suddenly switched to a choke. The opponent, preoccupied with defending the kimura, left the neck undefended and he immediately tapped.

The seminar instructor had made his point. If the technique (or more accurately the WAY you are trying to execute the technique) required much muscle power, how would you be able to execute it against a larger, stronger opponent?

I am fond of saying that I trained jiu-jitsu in order to learn how to defeat bigger, stronger opponents – not to beat smaller, weaker opponents! One must approach all of your techniques with the underlying presumption that your opponent is stronger than you and overcoming them with physical strength is simply not going to be an option.

16374_400101996806527_6091859111012125257_nA second part of this advice is that the beginning student attempts to compensate for a lack of technique with speed and strength. That is understandable if you are in a competition or self defense situation.
But we understand that rolling in the bjj academy is for the purpose of DEVELOPING your bjj technique, not merely to prove how tough the individual is.

One student at my academy is a superior athlete. Lots of time in the weight room and natural athleticism mean that they can often overwhelm smaller, more experienced opponents. As an instructor, I caution the athlete to not be seduced by their early success in getting a tap over a more experienced student. Sure, they overwhelmed the smaller student and succeeded in getting a submission.

Jiu_Jitsu_Closed_Guard.jpBut my question to them is “Would their jiu-jitsu be effective if the opponent were the same weight and strength as you?” They would no longer have an advantage in the physical department and find out in a hurry if they had enough technique.
Perhaps more accurately, the advice should be “Try to find a technical solution to your bad position in the roll, rather than relying on athleticism.”

The person giving the advice is trying to tell you that you are using strength at the wrong time, when a technical solution is really what you need to be doing.  When you are in a difficult situation in a match, pause and ask yourself “what is the technical solution?” Is there a way to escape or pass that would work if your opponent is heavier than you? A technical solution that would work even if you were fatigued and could no longer rely on explosive power?

Credits: Mark Mullen 
Gracie Barra Black belt based in Taipei, Taiwan
Twitter: @MarkMullenBJJ