Going Back: Teaching White Belt Me

Published on by Samantha Faulhaber

A fun concept. What would I go back and teach myself and how can I apply these thoughts to the people I teach today? My bias towards long-term health shows up strong in this journal entry. My priorities are on making a better, more durable body that will support any technique you show it. And some techniques too.

Framing –

I touch on this in my article about BJJ Principles. I didn’t have a good frame for most of the 14 years I’ve been practicing. I turned it around in what felt like overnight by shifting the way I thought about it. One cue can change everything. Forever I had been thinking of putting my hands in some specific spots, bridging, framing, and hip escaping. By no means is this instruction wrong. But for some reason I never really “got” what framing meant exactly. I started thinking a little more abstractly and my self-coached cue is now to hold someone in one place while I move myself. Or push them away while I change our relative positions. I also mostly focus on wherever I need to push that will affect the position of their pelvis. Occasionally it will focus on another corner of their body, but mostly I think about people’s pelvises all class. Hmm.

I would also include a dedication to bridging in this advice column. Early, often, and committed to full force and extension.

Joint care –

Your joints are made to withstand millions of movements if not billions. Why so many injuries then? BJJ is very helpful in a lot of ways to long-term joint longevity simply because it makes your joints do what they need to be healthy – move a lot. Even Jiu-Jitsu doesn’t take your body through its full ranges of motion though, so I take care of that by doing full-range joint movements every day to make sure all angles are familiar to my brain and can therefore operate more smoothly.

Joint care with load –

Injuries are whenever force exceeds the capacity of a tissue. Even though I’m batting a really high percentage of joint lubrication, I don’t always load the tissue. This means even if I’m ready to experience a range of motion, the tissues there might not be strong enough to withstand what’s being thrown at it/on it on the mats or in life in general. The more all angles of my body are trained to withstand force, the stronger the cellular connections my body will build there. More resiliency at more angles = fewer times load/force can exceed the capacity of the tissue. Doing movements with internal resistance or weights, even if that weight is a partner in a controlled environment, will engage the tissue in the way you need to build stronger ones.

Grip training/progressive loading –

Hands are one of the first places people seem to feel things in their joints. I’ve only brushed the surface of studying grip training, but I do know that progressive loading applies to everything in life. Tissue, psychology, everything needs time to adapt in order to maintain a healthy response that rides ahead of injury instead of slowly breaking down. The more vascularized the tissue (meaning there is more blood flow going through it), the faster things heal. This means, in a way, that you would rather injure your muscles or bones than ligaments, tendons, or cartilage if you’re looking to get back on the mat quickly. This also means the mechanisms it takes to build more of the tissue and strengthen it take more time than you might realize. I would recommend looking up Steven Low’s book Overcoming Gravity, 2nd edition for some really wonderful work on progressive training that can apply to anything you do.

Tangential to this is the concept of recovery, which I’m happy to see growing in momentum throughout all communities I’m involved in and track. If your body doesn’t have adequate time and input to heal it will ride on borrowed time until it breaks to a point you have to stop via pain or injury. Sleep, stress management, and active rest (meaning movement but not in a way that provides enough force to break down the tissue further) are all part of this. Food intake and hydration cannot be compensated for when seeking great performance long term either.

Consistency –

This applies to anything you really want to get good at. If you don’t practice a lot you won’t get a lot better at it. It’s very easy to get sucked into whatever the newest technique is but in reality sticking with a few things and waiting until you have a high success rate with them before moving on to new ones will get you farther. It can be frustrating to go through the stages it takes to become proficient. Eventually the work will pay off, and you can always ask for guidance from your instructor to help speed it along. If you know that you’re trying the same thing frequently you’ll be better able to articulate where it starts to go wrong and in what directions most often. This makes your instructor’s job a lot easier. Once you feel confident in a move and want to move on you should make sure to include your old techniques in regular training goals if you don’t want to lose their integrity. Some of the best math books out there are so because the practice problems include things from previous chapters so the students don’t learn to immediately compartmentalize and forget what came before.

Build a foundation in your body that can handle anything and then do anything you want with that body. It’s a constant ebb and flow. Stay consistent and work on distance management (framing and bridging) a ton and you’ll see results in your training AND be able to enjoy them.