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Jen >> Science of BJJ article Part 1

3/8/09 4:43 PM
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What makes good technique? We hear it all the time in jiu-jitsu training— “he has good technique” or “he’s very technical”. The answer you get may vary from person to person. However, one of the most common responses is “good technique means not using a lot of strength”. While that may be true, I want to examine the definition of this term in closer detail as it relates to you and your training.

The idea of not using a lot of strength is subjective. For example, a very large and muscular man may pick up a heavy object with extremely poor form, yet feel that he is using very little strength. However, a smaller, weaker man may attempt to pick up the same heavy object in the same manner (or better form) and feel as if he is using every ounce of his strength. Just because the larger man felt as if he used less strength does not mean he picked up the heavy object with better technique. Therefore, with this idea in mind, we cannot really define having good technique in jiu-jitsu solely based on how much strength a person feels they are exerting when executing a movement.

In addition, it is extremely common for those who lack good technique—but do not have the strength to compensate—to use other physical attributes such as speed, flexibility, and/or endurance to compensate. With that being said, let us make it clear that there is no such thing as a technique that requires no strength, no speed, no flexibility, or no endurance. A person who is completely void of physical attributes is either sleeping, dead, or in a coma.

In my opinion, having good technique is about placing your body in the strongest biomechanical position while placing your opponent in the weakest biomechanical position at the exact same time.

Note, while it is possible for both people to be in suboptimal biomechanical positions, the only way for both bodies to be in their respective strongest biomechanical positions, is if there was no physical contact (but in that case you wouldn’t actually be grappling).

This is because the law of physics states that two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. Since jiu-jitsu is a grappling art that involves full body contact, we can apply this law. If one person’s body is in its strongest biomechanical position in relation to his opponent, it is impossible for the other person to also be in his strongest biomechanical position. If a particular part of your body needs to be at a certain point in space in order to be in its biomechanically strongest position, however, a part of my body occupies that exact point in space instead, that particular part of your body must now occupy some other position—one that is suboptimal.

Now here’s the beauty of physics and its application towards simplifying jiu-jitsu: rather than thinking about how to manipulate your opponent’s body into its weakest biomechanical position, simply pay attention to placing your body in it’s strongest biomechanical position. As long as your body is in the strongest position possible in relation to your opponent (and there is physical contact), your opponent will automatically be in a weaker biomechanical position.

Especially if you are a beginner, it’s much easier to pay attention to what is going on with your own body than figuring out what is going on with someone else’s. Rather than thinking about two things, you only really need to think about one.

When an opponent’s body is in a biomechanically weak position, the amount of force they are capable of exerting decreases, his body moves slower, and it requires more effort energy to move. If you just think about the effect on the body when it comes to the difference in picking up a heavy object with good form versus poor form, especially if you had to do it over and over again, this should make immediate sense.

Therefore, placing your body in its biomechanically strongest position will automatically decrease the amount of strength, flexibility, and endurance you need to apply, not only because the obvious fact that you are in a strong position, but also because it puts your opponent in a position that minimizes his ability to apply the full potential of his attributes. This means you do not need to be playing a game that attempts to constantly match your opponent’s physical attributes. Isn’t that the idea of good technique?

Similarly, remember that if you are in a position that does not significantly decrease your opponent’s ability to use their attributes, you have not found the position that is truly strongest for your body. This idea is important in all aspects of jiu-jitsu, but especially when you are on the bottom and need to deal with gravity, your opponent’s body weight, and your opponent’s attributes.

If you understand this idea, then the obvious next question is about how to put your body in its biomechanically strongest position and your opponent’s body in the weakest position. Though the idea of placing your body in its strongest biomechanical position seems glaringly obvious, for most grapplers actually doing it is not.

This brings us to the principles of postural alignment, which I will discuss this topic in the next article.

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