This morning was the first time during the quarantine where I didn’t get up and work out first thing. I was up late doing work, and had to do finish up some things for work Friday morning. I was able to make it up later at lunch time.

Today’s anomaly made me realize that I have been on a tear with weight lifting during the quarantine, to give myself a pat on the back. I haven’t trained jiu-jitsu in weeks, and probably won’t be able to for at least another month. That leaves plenty of time for me to continue to develop strength, durability, and probably most importantly, conditioning that I have been sorely neglecting. It’s interesting, pretty much for the last year and a half or so, I bought into the adage “technique over strength”, since I was so focused on getting my purple belt. To be fair, it has served me well. Like I explained in a previous post, the difference between me at white belt and purple belt is not physicality, but my ability to apply effective technique. Unfortunately, this adage has given me wiggle room to not train my strength. Maybe it’s time for me to follow a new adage, “technique AND strength”, with a nerdy embedded meaning: logical AND.

Long, totally overthinking it post ahead.

TL;DR: maybe you should simultaneously get better at jiu-jitsu and take care of and improve the vehicle you do jiu-jitsu with.

Technique AND Strength

Think of all of your favorite competitive grapplers, and what do they look like? With exceptions like Marcelo Garcia, they’re likely all jacked, or at least, not out of shape. That is because at the highest black belt level, they are relatively close in technique, or at least are equally capable of defending submissions and can strategize within the bounds of whatever ruleset they are competing in. There is some threshold of technique that you have to have to be competitive. Once you cross that threshold, strength comes into play. That is the meaning of the logical AND. When computers evaluate an AND condition, they evaluate the left hand term (like a math equation) first, so in this case, that is “technique”. If that term is “true”, then it evaluates the right hand term, in this case, “strength”. If the left hand term does NOT evaluate to true, then it doesn’t even try to evaluate the rest of the condition, since AND requires both terms to be true to continue. An example of this is white belt Mike vs. purple belt Mike. I lifted way more weights at white belt, and I was probably in better shape conditioning-wise as well, but I would have a very small chance of beating purple belt Mike in any kind of ruleset. The technique term encapsulates many different aspects of jiu-jitsu, so let’s try to unpack that term.

The “Technique” Term

Technique can mean many things to many different people, and I think they’re all probably correct to varying degrees. The way I’ll define it here is not any more or less valid than other perspectives. It is just how I make sense of it in my own head.

I’ll define technique as “the right movement at the right time”. I noticed this most when I roll with higher belts. Black belts don’t beat me because they can out-lift me (I’m sure many do anyways), but instead, they beat me because they use the right move for slicing through my guard (or anything else) like butter at the right time. It is educational and ego-destroying to have the same move done to me over and over and I am practically helpless to stop it.

It is almost like playing Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) and timing your steps on the arrow pads to get points. At some point you might mess up your timing, and give the other player the lead. If that player is good enough, they can maintain and build that lead by not messing up themselves.

I have also heard and tend to agree that jiu-jitsu is sort of like ping pong or tennis, sometimes you just need to return the ball to stay in the game, and you won’t have an opportunity to hit a powerful attacking shot every time the ball is in your court. The idea however, is to put yourself into that attacking position over time. Another aspect of ping pong / tennis that I’ll highlight here is that there’s a limited window of opportunity to decide and act. If you miss it, you have lost by default. You can see the other player’s movement of how they’re going to play the ball, you see the ball coming across the net, and then there’s the moment of truth where you have to decide what movement you’re going to use the moment the ball strikes your side of the court. You can’t hesitate because you only have the amount of time the ball is in the air to act before it bounces again and the point is scored for your opponent.

These two analogies, DDR and tennis, make up my definition of “timing”. Even if I was a much much stronger individual with the same level of technique, the black belts I roll with would still have answers for each of the physical “problems” I posed. This is my analogy for defining “movement”: this time we’ll use rock climbing and puzzles in general. In rock climbing at a gym, when you look at the wall, you see dozens of multicolored funky shaped grips. They call each path of the same colored hand and foot grips a “problem”. Each problem has a level of difficulty and you can “decode” what movements the route-planners intended you to take to “solve” the problem. Of course, you can choose to not do those suggested encoded movements, either by naïveté because you’re so new you don’t understand them or because you’re that good and you desire a challenge. Same thing with jiu-jitsu. Each person presents one or more problems to solve while they’re trying to solve your problem(s). There are certain movements that are more correct in certain situations than others, but if you’re that good, you can YOLO it (strategically, of course) and see what happens. To further extend the rock climbing analogy, certain movements take a certain level of physical attributes to perform. You need to be dexterous enough to place your foot here, or have enough balance to maintain your footing there, or have enough strength to pull yourself up or hold on to an awkward grip.

“But Mike!”, you might say, “You said the word ‘strength’! Doesn’t that defeat your / other’s point about strength being separate from technique?” Yes, I said the word “strength”, but let me define it in this context: it is the bare minimum amount of effort expended to achieve a certain goal. You could also say that good movement is “efficient” in this way. I would say if you do not have the level of strength (or any other physical attribute) to perform a movement, and go and do exercises to improve your strength (or any other physical attribute) for that movement, you are really working on your technique, not your “strength”.

Strength is what you see when two heavyweight whitebelts spaz on each other for 5 minutes in a round and then they are both exhausted afterwards. They then claim they need to work on their “cardio”. What they need is more technique. Embedded in that is more efficient movement. Efficient movement requires as little energy as possible to accomplish the goal. I am barely breathing hard when I get done with rolls with most lower belts, since I have enough of a technique advantage to be efficient in my energy management and I am consciously trying to roll anywhere from 50-70% energy expenditure. I know when I need to push the pedal to the metal and when to let off the gas. This is in comparison to white belts who have very little technique and try to make up for it in energy and using strength when they roll. This is also the same comparison to me when I roll with my belt level and higher. At my same belt level, our technique is even, so often the deciding factors are strength and conditioning. Or with higher belts, I don’t have as much technique as them, so when I start to get behind in the position game, I try to use strength to make up for it. In both cases, I end up very gassed.

The “Strength” Term

Since I borrowed some portion of “Strength” in the “Technique” section (but really broadened it to “physical attributes”), I’ll define this section as, “the ability to turn technique up to 11”. Use of strength is almost by definition “inefficient”. When you drive a car faster than about 60 mph on the freeway, you are making a tradeoff for using more gas in order to save time to get to where you are going. This is the same in competition energy management. Nobody competitive at your belt level is going to let you walk through their guard, roll over, and tap out for you. Competition is a struggle. You have a limited amount of time (in most rulesets) to prove which one of you is more dominant, and it is an all out race to the finish line.

This is the part of the sport where you have to become a savage. There is a primal reward system in our brains for fighting, and this sport is the closest we can get to it on a consistent basis without getting seriously injured. Every time you and your partner slap-bump and roll, it is a simulated fight to the death. In competition, the stakes are that much higher. How do you want to prepare for that? Do you want to go into a competition, a simulated do-or-die situation, as a “frail Helio”, or as a dynamic, robust, durable, tank of a man? See any current top jiu-jitsu competitor as an example. You want to stack as many advantages in your favor as possible.

Here’s the simple full-body template that I’m following every day for adding strength and durability during the quarantine:


Light bands and kettlebell halos for shoulders.

Planks up front because they suck and if I don’t do them here, I won’t do them otherwise.

Superset 1, 3 - 5 sets

Upper body push (push ups or dips or overhead press)

Upper body pull (rows or pull ups or chin ups)

Superset 2, 3 - 5 sets

Lower body push (a lunge variant or squat or other quad-dominant movement)

Lower body pull (nordic hamstring curls or any other hamstring-dominant movement)


Kettlebell swings x 100 (broken up into whatever sets that you can perform with good technique: 10 x 10 reps, 5 x 20 reps, 4 x 25 reps, etc)

By not going crazy on volume every day and alternating movements, I’m not sore, and I’m able to keep myself moving every day. I want to continue this program out of the quarantine in order to work on my Strength while able to still train hard at jiu-jitsu to work on my Technique.

Other perspectives?

I’m a mere purple belt. I am not a world champion or anywhere close to it. These opinions are my own and just the perspective of how I see the world. Please let me know if there’s another perspective that I may be missing or if I’m totally wrong.