BJJ Perfomance Characteristics Part 1 of 2.

| February 1, 2016 | 0 Comments



Jiu Jitsu, more particularly the combative and competitive branch of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), has become increasingly popular in the U.S. and around the world. While there are many associations, gyms, clubs, coaches, and athletes in this sport, we all have at least one common goal: figuring out the best ways to get better.

That’s where sport science can come in handy, or as I like to call it, JitscienZe! The scientific approach to sport performance won’t teach us techniques or motivate us to train harder, but it can outline the most important elements that make better practitioners and can help us organize training to be productive.



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In any sport, there are only three categories of ability (characteristics of the athlete) that determine performance in the here-and-now:

Psychological characteristics (mental toughness, emotional calm, knowing when to tap)
Technical characteristics (knowledge of moves, proper execution, and tactical usage)
Fitness characteristics (strength, power, speed, endurance, and my favorite, pressure)

In BJJ, there are four dominant characteristics that determine most of the differences in performance between any two practitioners. One each of psychological and technical characteristics and two fitness characteristics. Here they are, in order of their importance and with a rough percentage magnitude of their important to best performance on the mat: (Recall immediately that this is an opinion of personal philosophy, not that or proven fact.)

1.) 70% technique (including strategy)
2a.) 5-10% strength-power, speed
2b.) 5-10% endurance and stamina
2c.) 10% psychological attributes


First, this estimate is based only on Gi BJJ, as there are some meaningful differences with No-Gi. Secondly, there is a giant tie for second place between three characteristics. Lastly, this priority list may change you move up in the belt ranks and acquire more experience. The present list is likely most applicable to Blue, Purple, and Brown belt competitors. Yes, I excluded white belts, due to the factors that being a white belt in itself, a test of RETENTION more so than any breakdown of science.

First, let’s take a look at each characteristic individually and define it.


1.) Technique


Accounting for a whopping 70% of BJJ ability is technique. Talk to most experienced or even novice grapplers and they’ll agree without quesitons tha basics and knowledge on technique’s are the ATOM in importance to BJJ performance. In fact, many will argue that technique deserves even MORE of an emphasis.

The importance of technique in BJJ is not difficult to illustrate. BJJ is largely about leveraging your strongest muscle groups against an opponent’s weaker ones. Properly done techniques are so powerful, you’d have to be superhuman to be strong enough to fight back against a perfectly locked technique. For example, an Americana pits your entire pushing complex (chest, shoulders, triceps) against an opponent’s rotator cuff, made up of 4 muscles that are no thicker then a couple of pencils put together, or the SITS (Superspinatus, Subscapularis, Impraspinatus and Teres Minor). How strong do you have to be to rotate more than your opponent can push? Something like 5x as strong – more or less out of the human realm (Weight differential and athletic extent can be a significant alteration to this particular characteristic… Look on youtube for Rener Gracies “Williams System”.

Not only can technique get you submissions, it is required to put you in the right places to set them up. A proper knee shield is essentially impossible to pass with strength alone, unless you plan on breaking right through your opponent’s shin. You need technique to position yourself, technique to run submissions, technique to avoid them, and so on down the line. We’ll leave it at this: If you think technique is overrated, get a powerlifter buddy of yours to challenge a local black belt in BJJ. The results will be highly predictable and entertaining. Believe me, I myself, compete in both.

Technique is not JUST about knowing the right moves and when to use them, it’s also about stringing moves together in the most productive way.  This move connection process eventually evolves into strategy with the higher-ranking belts. For those who are highly skilled, knowing MORE moves or pulling them off with incredible precision may not be as important as knowing WHEN to use them and how to set up the game to exploit an opponent’s weaknesses. But you gotta know the moves SUPER WELL before you can strategize with them. In that sense, strategy is an extension of good and elaborate technique. The simplest way to say this entire paragraph is in one word : CHAINING!

2.) Strength-power


HA-HA, My world right here. Strength-power describes both a practitioners ability to generate force and to do so quickly and explosively. Technique is KING, but everyone makes mistakes (better practitionerss just make them less often). As soon as your opponent makes a mistake, strength can become a decisive advantage. If your opponent doesn’t place his weight down correctly in a Kimura, you can alter into a position where you can push your hand free, and the stronger you are, the more likely you are to succeed.

Strength-power also works in offense. If you get a sloppy single-leg (lord knows the moves in competition are rarely perfect), you have a much higher chance of grinding it out and getting the take down the stronger and faster you are. In fact, being powerful is a HUGE element in the take down and throw game. Strength-power is no good on its own, but it can essentially expand the effective window of your techniques beyond what it would be if you were weaker and slower. Because no one has perfect technique, strength-power is beneficial for all levels, and if you’re matched on technique with your opponent, you had better hope you’re stronger and more powerful. Even the Black belts that have nearly perfect technique need strength-power. A take down executed perfectly must also have velocity and force behind it; the more velocity and force, the more likely the take down is, even if it’s executed AND defended perfectly. This applies to all other moves, including throws, passes, sweeps, and submissions. In any BJJ move, strength-power helps.

Strength-power varies between 5% and 10% percent of the total determination of BJJ performance. This range is dependent on the kind of game a particular practitioner plays. If you play a slow and steady “barnacle game,” or a “set up and pop” explosive game, strength-power can account for roughly up to 10% of your abilities. On the other hand, if you play a constantly dynamic “TOP” game, strength-power can mean much less, and endurance may not become as much of an issue then those who are consistently on the lower aspect of the BJJ hierarchy.

3.) Endurance


First, let’s define what we DON’T mean by endurance. I definitely don’t mean the ability to run a marathon so you can forget about keeping up with your local Shihan (It’s a Derry, NH thing). What we mean is the “less than 10 minutes” performance required for most BJJ divisions and belt ranks. What does that convert to in miles run? More like two. In fact, because BJJ is not a continuous endeavor (even the most dynamic matches have stops and starts), endurance is not a DIRECT element in BJJ performance. Rather, endurance in BJJ really means your ability to recover between bouts of strength-power uses.

In other words, how many explosive or high-force moves can you string together before you lose most of your strength-power ability, or how much rest do you need before explosive or high-force moves done in isolation.

Why is this type of endurance so important? You can be the strongest guy ever to step on a mat, but if you gas out after two or three powerful moves, you’re going to be in a lot of trouble very, very quickly. And because (especially at higher levels), many of your moves will be countered and stuffed, having low endurance can put you in a bad way. The practitioners that can continue to attack and defend vigorously without getting too tired to move are the ones with a serious advantage.

Just as in strength-power, the importance of endurance is strategy-dependent. In Gi, it’s not terribly difficult to hold an opponent in place, be it in guard, in side control, or even in standing. If you play the e game, you don’t have to have crazy endurance, because with each advance or defense, you can hunker down and hold your new position until your regain your strength-power for another set of moves. Of course a minimal level of endurance is needed, but you can get by with a smaller amount (5% or so) if you’re strong and powerful enough and if you play the right game. However, if you play a dynamic attack game, having high endurance is a MUST. Kind of tough to keep attacking if you’re not packing a punch anymore; at that point, you’re just going through the motions and needlessly exposing yourself to possible counterattack.


4.) Psychology


Psychology is only last on this list because one of the three tying variables had to be! In reality, it’s every bit as important as strength-power and endurance.

The most important element of psychology in BJJ is best summed up as a “persistently aggressive yet open-minded calm.” In order to win, you MUST be aggressive for the simple reason that BJJ matches don’t win themselves. You don’t have to be pushing the limits all the time, but the best practitioners push most of the time, in their own style, of course. If you don’t want to win and beat the other guy, you’re going to be limited in BJJ; at some point, rolling in competition is not just “playing” and aggression is a must.

While the best practitioners are aggressive in their execution of powerful techniques, they are also open-minded and aware. Tunnel vision in BJJ can be a disaster, as your opponent may be setting you up for a major sweep, pass, or submission if you’re too focused on your own moves. Additionally, you could be missing a great opportunity to capitalize on an opponent’s mistakes in movement if your focus is only on getting the next pass or the next submission.

VERY related to the element of open-mindedness is the element of calm. Good practitioners almost never freak out. As soon as you freak out, you start feeling instead of thinking. This is usually common in new students and white belts who sometimes have never been introduced to an intermediate, advanced or expert technique and the flail begins to take place to they can attempt to successfully get out of the bear trap you just sprung on them As soon as you’re not thinking, you’re not able to be aware of moves, nor are you best prepared to execute your own. Calm is the very psychological foundation on which technical and physical BJJ rests. As soon as your opponent begins to freak out, even just a little, you know good things are coming your way so long as you’re pushing your game hard. Because without calm, they are going to be executing moves in a more sloppy fashion, getting tired faster, and failing to see your strategic advances as clearly.

One thing is worth saying to slightly reign-in the importance of the psychological factors. Some practitioners repeat the often-heard “it’s all mental” line of BS!. While the mental (or psychological) components ARE important, there is no questioning the dominance of technique and the roughly equal importance of the fitness characteristics. It doesn’t matter how “zen” your average White belt is – a Black belt is going to embarrass him 99 times out of 100; the white belt will just be zen all the way into a submission! YES, psychology matters, but technique matters much more and the fitness characters matter equally. If BJJ was really “all mental” or “90% mental” or whatever, we might not need mats or GIs!

Now that we have the terminology somewhat grounded, let’s examine what having these characteristics as priorities can mean for the way we go about training to improve our BJJ game the most.

Up next in J3 will be the Four Factors and their MEANING for Training!.

Oss and good skill to you all.



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Category: Fireside Chat, J3 "Just Jiu Jitsu", News

About the Author ()

I'm a born and raised New Englander, I've been around the MMA and BJJ circuits for years dating back to 2005. A Maine native, BJJ brown belt, and ABC certified MMA referee. I'm a grammatical nightmare but hey, you'll get the point. Being a dump truck physically and a blunt object mentally allows me to see the finer points within the sport of BJJ, without being compromised via politics, biased, racism, sexism or negativity. I've been around the country, as a medic, referee, setup crew, breakdown crew, driver, and everything in between that a promotion has needed in order to gain the inside intel on today's world of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

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