Analysis of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (Part 2): Physical Attributes

This article was written by BJJ.Org featured contributor Roy Harris. Harris is a black belt Brazilian jiu-jitsu instructor in San Diego. This article was originally published on his PFS web site.Attributes are those qualities that fuel your techniques. They give meaning and substance to your techniques. Physical attributes like speed, power, strength, explosiveness, body mechanics, timing, sensitivity, awareness, accuracy, footwork, distancing, agility, line familiarization, flexibility, balance, coordination and endurance are what bring life and vibrancy to your techniques.

There are several physical attributes that play a major role in the development of your overall skill in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. The first two that come to mind are sensitivity and timing. These are the two most important attributes to develop and maintain over the years.

Let’s first talk about sensitivity. Sensitivity could best be described as having the ability to feel and read pressure. During a grappling match, there is a constant barrage of pushing and pulling motions every millisecond. If one were to repeatedly engage force against force, they would soon tire. The competitor with the most strength, power and endurance would more than likely win the match. (That is, taking into account that the two competitors are equally skilled.) However, if one person had the attribute of sensitivity working for them, they would immediately recognize a pushing motions on the part of their opponent and use this motion (pressure) against him by pulling him off balance. Sensitivity is a great attribute to develop. You can use and develop it you entire life.

Sensitivity has helped me so much in my own grappling experience. I have used it many times against much larger and stronger opponents. For example, I have a student who is a body builder. He stands 6’2″ tall and weighs a hefty 325 lbs. (by comparison, I am 6’2″ and weigh 205 lbs.) He bench presses 500 lbs and bicep curls 120 lbs with what appears to be the greatest of ease. Now, he has been a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu student of mine for a year. You know and I know that there is no way in hell that I am going to overpower him. So how is it that I man-handle him like a little baby? How is it that I toss him to and fro with an arm lock here and a leg lock there? Well, I’ll tell you. It is a combination of technical skills mixed with the attribute of sensitivity. Now give him another year or two of training under me and he will become a nightmare.

Some may ask, “How did you develop such a high degree of sensitivity?” Well, I spent most of my grappling time (9 years) with my eyes closed. Whenever I grappled with someone who was not as experienced as I was, I used it as an opportunity to train sensitivity. This was a safe, fun and easy way to develop my sense of feel. I would grapple people my own skill level with my eyes closed as a barometer to feel how much energy I was using to control them or escape from certain positions. Plus, when I’d grapple my instructor, I would close my eyes to feel the subtlety of certain moves he would apply. Black belts have a different kind of pressure that is unique to them. As a result of this kind of training, I can now grapple with just about anyone and feel their intentions. (Please don’t put any extra meanings into my words. I am not saying I am the world’s best grappler, or anything like that. I am just making a point about the development of sensitivity in my own personal training.)

Now let’s talk about timing. Timing can best be described as the ability to know when to perform a specific technique at the appropriate time. It goes way beyond just knowing a technique. Timing means you know when to employ a technique. It means you have the ability to see a very small, fast approaching window of opportunity to employ a specific technique and you confidently take that opportunity to boldly employ the technique like you were destined to take it. That is great timing.

Let me give you an example of poor timing. Most of us know the scissors sweep from the guard. However, we sometimes don’t see the window of opportunity to employ it. And if we do see it, it seems to either be approaching so frickin’ fast that it feels like we will never quite get the opportunity to perform the technique, or we see it after it has already past. Maybe we get it once in awhile, but it always seems so difficult to perform, and we end up expending so much energy doing it. Does this sound familiar? Well, it’s not because we don’t know how to perform the technique. It’s because we don’t know when to perform it, or we haven’t taken the time necessary to develop the timing needed to employ the technique. Either way, poor timing is the culprit.

Usually, a lack of timing boils down to one of three things: One, your instructor has not taught you properly in the timing and use of a specific technique, or two, he did teach it to you and you didn’t pay attention while he was teaching, or three, he did teach you and you haven’t taken the time to properly train and develop the timing you need to employ the technique. Regardless of whose fault it is, you need to take the time to develop a sense of timing with that specific technique. You need to do the hundreds of repetitions necessary to make this technique your own. Doing so will make it an ace up your sleeve. One that you will employ again and again with the greatest of ease.

When you combine the attribute of sensitivity with the attribute of timing, you get an explosive combination. Sensitivity and timing will almost always beat speed, power and strength. (That is, unless you have a strong opponent who is knowledgeable, cautious and defensive, and doesn’t want to fight, but rather, he wants to see how long he can last with you; you may not make him tap.) Now combine sensitivity, timing, speed, power, strength and endurance along with a good coach, good instruction in solid, fundamental skills, and what do you get? You get an animal!

Now keep this in mind, there are a lot of strong people out there. There are a lot of fast people out there. And, there are a lot of people who have very high levels of endurance. However, these attributes tend to be associated with youth. As you get older, you will find that more people are stronger than you, faster than you, and have a helluva lot more endurance than you have ever had. However, if you consistently develop and maintain a high level of sensitivity and timing, you will be able to compete with them for quite some time after your prime.

Sensitivity and timing are much easier to maintain than other attributes. So work on those two attributes and I guarantee you that it will pay off. Maybe one day in the distant future, you will make your 18 year old son or grandson tap with a choke, arm lock or leg lock and will be reminded of this article!

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About the author

Roy Harris