As a powerlifter strength was king. It was all about getting bigger and bigger numbers for me and once I accomplished a big number then I have to get an even bigger number. A powerlifting competition consists of three lifts, the bench, the squat and the dead lift. You get three attempts at each lift. The largest successful amount of weight that you lift in each one of the lifts gives you something called a total. So your largest squat plus your largest bench plus your largest dead lift equals you total for that meet. Your opponent is gravity. This is the jist of strength sports. You compete to lift the most amount of weight that you can possibly lift at your bodyweight. This is what I did and this is how I trained. My sole focus was getting bigger and stronger. My food budget was ridiculous because you have to eat to get bigger and stronger. Such emphasis was placed on strength that in my mind strength was king above everything else. My ideas on strength have now taken a new turn or shall we say that they have evolved.
When I first started training, all I had was strength. My cardio was crap (I could not even make it through the warm-ups), I was as flexible as the Tin-man, and I was as fast as molasses. Even still I had a level of arrogance that was unmatched solely on the fact that I was bigger and “stronger” than most everyone there. It wasn’t until after a while that I realized that “strength” is no what I initially thought it to be. Sure I could smash the smaller guys and some of the lesser experience people with strength alone but when I would roll with someone who had technique and timing I would find myself tapping and not really knowing what just happened. Now looking back I saw that my reliance on my strength gave me a false sense of security and it was then that the value of strength in my mind began to evolve.
The first moment that I gained an immense respect for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and my professor at the same time was when I was being throw threw the air and felt weightless. In that moment time stopped. I had never been thrown like that in my life before and I was still weighing 300 lbs at the time. It was a Seoi Nage Judo throw. My professor weighed less than 200lbs (probably 180) and executed a beautiful throw that required little to no energy on his part and here I was flying through the air and then I hit the mat. I was stunned. I have never been thrown like that before. Ever. This moment has stood out in my mind since that day and made me realize that skill, technique and experience will trump strength or at least his skill, technique and experience trumped my size and strength.
The realization that I have developed was that I am now in a different sport and that the strength that I had from powerlifting was as important as I had once thought it to be. Remember to me strength was king and I put a lot of value on being strong in the weight room but my Jiu Jitsu was not strong. One of my coaches mentioned to me a few times that his Jiu Jitsu was a lot stronger than mine and I did not grasp the concept of what he meant because my perception of strength was limited to how much I could bench press or squat. What the heck was he talking about? My understanding now isn’t limited to that one sided perception that I had on strength previously. Jiu Jitsu strength isn’t about how much you can bench press, it is more of a testament to ability to apply pressure, secure grips, maintain a solid base from all positions and redirect the force of your opponent to your advantage. This is how I was getting beat by guys would did not possess the amount of physical strength that I had.
Now it is all starting to come together. In the beginning when I was “bull rush” my opponent they would easily pull guard, redirect my force and sweep me into an inferior position. This didn’t happen because they were stronger than me. It happened because they have technique, timing and Jiu Jitsu strength. Even bull rushing an opponent from standing opens you to a guillotine choke or a Sumi Gaeshi type throw. So what happened? I started to let go of the importance of having my old meat head strength though that does not mean that physical strength is not important, it is just that I am seeing that Jiu Jitsu strength is more important. No I haven’t left the iron alone, it is just that chasing that 1 rep max is no longer important for me because it does not have a direct correlation or application to my training for Jiu Jitsu.
Is strength not important? Of course not. Don’t be silly. You don’t want to embarrass yourself by asking your girlfriend to open the pickle jar for you do you? For me it was the realization that powerlifting strength ie 1-rep max strength is not as important as having a consistent baseline of strength. Throughout the course of a match against a fully resisting opponent, you will have to perform movements over and over again not just for one rep and take a 5 to 10 minute rest. When I first started, after 30 seconds I had such a muscle pump that I could not move effectively and would be completely gassed out. Even during my first competition, it looked like I was going to have a heart attack because all I had really was size and strength.
So what is Jiu Jitsu strength? Haha, I am still learning this one. There are a lot of guys that I train with who have Jiu Jitsu strength and I look up to them. If I did have to try to explain what Jiu Jitsu strength is all I would be able to do is point to examples from my experience like being tapped out every 60 seconds by a 180 lb 4 stripe brown belt or being thrown through the air by a second degree black belt or being tossed around by a 155 lb Judo black belt at last weekends seminar. That is Jiu Jitsu Strong and Judo Strong.
Does this mean that strength is not important? No it just means that strength has a different meaning in Judo and Jiu Jitsu. It isn’t just about how much you can bench press or the size of your biceps. Strength now means so much more.