Is Athleticism the Alpha Attribute?

img01I’ve written about athleticism before and its place in the martial athletics. In review, athleticism has to do with movement. More specifically, it has to do with a high degree of motor quantities including but not limited to:


In the previous article, we examined whether athleticism or technical ability wins. In this article I want to further examine when technique can overcome athleticism. And, of course, when athleticism trumps technical ability.

Technical ability has to do with highly developed movement quantities through the martial ranges of motion. But, like all movement disciplines, moving in martial arts, doesn’t move you through all possible ranges of motion. This is where athleticism comes in.

Someone who is considered athletic has more available movement quantities than the average practitioner in that specific sport. It’s likely they are not as technical in that sport. This is likely because practicing a limited set of motions limits other motions.

“Going With” and “Stopping” are our two prime metaphors in Movement Martial Arts. These metaphors are very useful in predicting the outcome between the technician and athlete. And the outcome is easily predicted.

In many cases, a contest is determined either by the “going with” or the “stopping.” In the case of this contest between the technician and athlete, it is a contest of stops. If the technician can stop the athlete’s superior motion, the technician wins. But if the athlete can evade/outmaneuver the
technician’s stops, the athlete will win. I think this should inform martial practice.

As you become more an more technical, your feel, or your ability to feel will naturally improve. But your “stops” must improve commensurately. The accuracy and speed by which you apply your stops must get better and better. Otherwise, athleticism wins. Be athletic, but prioritize technical skills…especially stopping and the athlete will not be the alpha.


“Kaizen (改善), Japanese for “improvement” or “change for the best”, refers to philosophy or practices that focus upon continuous improvement…”

The Japanese Arts and Philosophies pervade the American experience of the Martial Arts. At some point, I expect Kaizen to make its way into the Martial Arts as it has in many American businesses. The Martial Art I expect to see it in the most is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

I can’t roll with a group of Blue or Purple Belts without one of them telling me they are stuck on a plateau, meaning, they aren’t improving. I remember when I was approaching this Martial Art more traditionally, I too, would find myself on a plateau. The question is, how can we continually improve in the Martial Arts? Where is the Kaizen?

With my background, I can’t help but think of it in terms of anatomy and physiology. the functional unit of the body is the sensorimotor loop. It has to do with how we feel (not just emotionally) and how we move. I believe sensorimotion to be the key to Kaizen in the Martial Arts.

Success within the Martial Arts is largely predicated upon how well someone moves and how well someone perceives (seeing, feeling, etc). So if you find yourself on a plateau, ask yourself – is this a problem in how I’m moving my body, how I’m perceiving my opponent’s movement, or both? Once you have the answer to that, it’s time to Drill it. Questioning and Drilling is the way out of a Plateau…and a way to Kaizen.

Tips for the Banged Up Grappler

Anatomy-of-a-Black-BeltI am a banged up grappler.  Before I came to grappling, I had a laundry list of issues not the least of which being a chronic (pain) hip issue.  Having that issue opened me to have other issues…but not nearly as many as others who started around the time I did.
What’s my “secret?”

I don’t have secrets, but there is a lot to what has left me more resilient than most while being more disadvantaged than most.  I can’t tell you all of it here, in fact, its so voluminous that I have a certification course all about it…but let me get you started with some general principles.

Know Your Limits
In a macho sport where it’s all about pushing beyond limits,
let me recommend another approach: Work within them.
How?  By listening to your body.

  • If something hurts, don’t do it.
  • If you start to get tired, take a break.
  • If you want to be real conservative, stop whenever you start to slow down.

You might be thinking…
Well, how am I supposed to get better if I don’t do those things?
By doing what you can.

Work Within Your Limits
Ask yourself these questions:

  • If something hurts, can you do some part of it comfortably?
  • Now that I’ve taken a break from being tired or slowing down, how soon again can I start?
  • Can I come to class earlier?
  • Can I stay later?
  • Can I work within my limits more?
  • Can I work more?

Expect Your Limits to Increase
As you get better at listening to your body,
expect your body to reward you with more ability.
Periodically, you’re going to be able to do more of something. That may be:

  • A more complex movement
  • Being stronger in a position
  • Rolling Faster
  • Rolling Longer

I’ll go so far as to say if going to BJJ is actually beneficial to your body on that day, expect to do more in some area than ever before.  But doing BJJ isn’t enough to be healthy.  You have to…

Do What You’re Not Doing
Our body reshapes itself after what it does making it easier to do what we do.  That’s good.  But this reshaping makes it harder to do what we don’t.  That can be bad.

If we don’t want to lose the ability to move, we have to practice moving in all directions.
Unfortunately, no Martial Art moves the body in all directions it can move.  So what can we do?  Go to the gym.

Unfortunately, other fitness routines have move in ways we already do in our sport, which just compounds the issue and makes us more susceptible to injury. So what should we do in the gym? Do in the gym what we don’t do in the dojo.  That’s what THE MASTERPLAN is all about.

THE MASTERPLAN isn’t another Strength & Conditioning routine to add in to what you do….Because I don’t recommend adding in another routine, I recommend that you:

Eliminate Routine
Routine can be useful in starting a habit but can be progression’s worst enemy.  Progression has to allow for regression.  Doing the same old thing can only get you so much better, but…If you know your limits, work within your limits, expect your limits to increase, do what you don’t do, the only thing routine in your life will be getting better.

Try these tips out and let me know how much better you are getting!

Against Martial Arts Bodyweight Drills

Fitness are Martial Arts are inextricably linked.
Martial Artists focus on fitness
perhaps more so than in any other sport
because their very life may depend on it.

To that end, fitness for many martial artists is extreme…
it eases a psychological burden.
If they have a fight,
they want to know that they did everything possible…
including pushing themselves to the limit
in their physical fitness.

If you look in many Martial Arts classes,
you’ll see as much fitness trained as fighting.
One of the hallmarks you’ll see is bodyweight training.

Predictably enough,
you’ll see things like pushups, situps, squats, burpees,
shuffling, running, running backwards, sprinting…
and any other number of calisthenics…
but not when I run a class.

I am a fan of specificity in training.
Beginners work on the fundamental movements
they will be drilling that day.
Veterans? Not so much.
Their focus will be focused more on drilling and rolling.

I focus on fitness for two reasons with fighters:

  • When they don’t train fighting enough
  • When they have been training fighting for a while

If a fighter can’t train enough, fitness is of the utmost importance…
but the movements trained are fundamental to fighting
and not just bodyweight drills that look “Martial.”

Beyond specific,
these are movements that test well
and address a weakness in the fighter’s game.

For a veteran,
the movements he trains will be somewhat dissimilar to fighting…
training Ranges of Motion he doesn’t use in martial arts.

In The Movement, we consider these movements trained to be non specific and contra specific to the Martial Movements.

the end result is making for a more well rounded fighter:
* more athletic
* more injury resistant

So if you a new Martial Artist wanting to be more fit,
think specifically:
work your weaknesses

If you have been a martial artist for a while,
then work your weaknesses, too…
but those weaknesses will be in movements other than martial arts.

Be well rounded…not just as a martial artist
but as a collection of movements.

Wanna find out more about this revolutionary strength and conditioning approach for the Martial Arts?
Check out THE MASTERPLAN now!

Martial Arts Practice, Postures & Pain

Jiu-Jitsu and wrestling enthusiast, Ken Primola, posed a question on Facebook the other day. The way I understood it was he was trying to get input on the relationship between the practice of the sport, posture and pain. It inspired this post, so if you like this, thank Ken.

Practice, Posture & Pain
What is the relationship between practice, posture and pain?
As a fitness educator, I deal with this in quite a bit of depth.
Let me see if I can give you the short version here.

A Limited Set of Movements
In THE MOVEMENT’s BioMechanics Level 2 course, we use a Mel Siff inspired definition of sports,
“A limited set of movements…”

Wrestling and BJJ, like all sports, are limited sets of movements…
and that means wrestlers and BJJ players practice of limited sets of movements. There’s good and bad to that.

The good is that they generally get better at that they practice. So what’s the bad? Keep reading.

An Average of Movements
Walk onto any BJJ mat and I’ll bet you can pick out who are the top players and who are the bottom players. My teacher, Carlos Machado, is a bottom player, and it shows. His brother, Rigan, is more of a top player, and it shows, too. Bottom Playing involves a lot of flexion while top playing involves more extension.

In the beginning of a movement practice, we make our movement. Over time, our movements make us. As we say in fitness, “Form follows function.” And so, posture can be thought of as the average of all of our movements.

Carlos flexes a lot so his posture is stooped. Rigan extends a lot so his posture is tall. And that difference can make all of the difference.

A Lack of Movement
In BioMechanics Level 3, we examine the nature of pain. Just as pain is correlated to injury and damage, it is also correlated to lack of function. So someone, can have no injury, no damage, but if they lack movements, they may very well have pain…and that is where sports practice can do the most harm.

Muscle Memory Brain Body
When people look at how sports practice changes the body, they often focus more so on how it changes the brain, but they use the strangest term, “muscle memory.” Practice does, in fact, change the brain. What once took a lot of “brain power,” now takes very little. While memory may be consolidated, it is the “muscle” portion of the equation that athletes should pay a bit more attention to.

When I refer to “muscle,” consider that a gross generalization. It would be better to think of it as the rest of the body (other than the brain). Just as practice changes the brain, practice changes the rest of the body. This is intuitive for most of us because we have seen the effects weights has on the body, especially the bodies of bodybuilders. But the resistances we encounter as grapplers are just as substantial.

They are so substantial that they change everything. It makes Carlos stooped and Rigan tall. But understand the consequences…it makes it harder for Carlos to be tall and Rigan to be stooped. The practice of movement in one direction makes it harder to move in other directions. And a lack of movement in one direction starts us on the path towards pain.

So what can we, as both top and bottom players, do to stay off the path to pain? Practice less BJJ? Nope, but I’ve already given you a hint.

S&C & Specificity
On a whole, strength and conditioning for Martial Arts is bastardization of specificity. On one end, you’ll see Martial Movements being trained as exercise (with numerous studies demonstrating clear contraindications) and on the other end, you’ll see conditioning, aka energy system training, trying to mimic a specific physiological state with movements non-specific to the sport.

What if Strength & Conditioning weren’t about specificity at all?
What if the key to longevity in a sport has nothing to do with the sport?
That is exactly what we’ve found.

Cross Training
This approach has been been presaged by the practice of Cross Training which UFC champ, GSP, has made so popular (without calling it that). I think that’s better than the solitary practice of any one thing, but that doesn’t mean there is a better way.

With everyone, even professional Martial Artists (athletes), the limiting factor is time. These athletes can only do as much as they can recover from…they have to recover from a lot…including S&C. But S&C doesn’t have to be something to recover from…it can be a method to recover with.

Recovery is one of those nebulous terms that remains unquestioned. No longer. In recovery, what exactly are we recovering? If sports practice depletes us, what does recovery recover?

While we could approach this from a physiological perspective and talk about energy reserves, nutrition and sleep, that’s been done quite a bit. I think the far more important perspective is the anatomical one.

Many athletes favorite recovery methods include the manual interventions of physical therapy, chiropractic, massage and stretching so that therapists can move them in ways they aren’t moving…But there is another way to recover movement.

S&C as PT
Let’s review:
Practicing Martial Arts not only helps us get better at Martial Movement but limits our non-martial movements.
This shows up in everything, most evidently in our posture.
Pain can occur not only with injury but also with the precursor: a loss of function.

So how can we stave off the negative effects, the negative transfer of specific practice? How can we regain function?

Generalize your practice. Practice those movements that you aren’t doing in the dojo. The Yang of Specificity requires the Yin of Non-Specificity.

And there is a place tailor made for it: the gym.  The gym is not only a place to tear one’s self down, it can also be a place to build one’s self up.

At BioMechanics Level 2, we teach our coaches to tailor S&C programs specifically for their athletes’ bodies that address movements not trained in sport. Guess what happens?

Pain goes down.
Body composition improves.
Sports Performance improves.

And you can do the same for yourself.
I’ve developed a S&C program for all combat athletes called THE MASTERPLAN. It’s unlike any other Martial Arts S&C program you’ve seen. Click here now to find out more.

Get Faster…Faster

and I see the #1 seed lose.
At least one of the reasons is that
his opponent is faster than him.
Speed Kills.
(which happens to be the very first article I wrote for this site)

Speed is probably one of the least trained faculties in sports.
I think I know why.
Some guys are strong.
Some guys are fast.
Some guys have good endurance.
That’s true…

but I think we sometimes forget that these are all trainable…
certainly if we know how to train them.

I recommend two ways:
The first way is directly
through a protocol which is very simple
and is something I have had my Martial Artists
do for quite some time.

If you do it right,
go faster.
If you do it wrong,
go slower.

Another way to train speed is to do so is indirectly.
When you are lifting,
if you lose speed, stop.
Start again when your speed returns.

When you are conditioning,
if you lose speed, stop.
Start again when your speed returns.

If you will do these things,you can be
the guy who seems to consistently get
and more conditioned.

If you keep at it,
you may end up being the most of all of those.

Martial Artist to Medical Artist?

I don’t often talk about traditional, apochcryphal Martial Arts.
But I think something has been lost, left out of the Martial Arts
that used to be there
that no longer remains…

And that is when the Martial Arts turn into the Medical Arts
The hurter becomes the healer.

When you think of the ancient Occidental Master,
You not only see him with weapons,
you see him with medicine.

He is the living embodiment of Yin-Yang.
As Martial Artists,
we study how to keep ourselves from getting hurt
while learning how to hurt our opponents.

We do damage.
We strike at muscles, nerves and organs,
extend and rotate joints beyond their limits.

That is our Yang.
We are missing our Yin.

We are missing how to make
muscles, nerves, organs, bones, joints…
our bodies
not just stronger, but healthier.

Not just our bodies…
but also those of our peers and our students.

The main way in which we as Martial Artists
can improve our health
is to move.

Yes, I understand you already do
alot of that in your MA training.

But I want you to move your body,
your joints, your muscles, your organs
in ways you don’t in your Martial Training.
That is your first step towards becoming a Healer.

If you need help with that first step, check out
The Masterplan.

A Champion’s Qualities

For the most part, I don’t watch sports…
but two sports I watch fairly consistently are
mixed martial arts and tennis.

And this past weekend I watched
two amazing champions compete in these sports.

One was Anderson Silva,
long time Middle Weight Champion of the UFC
who successfully defended his title for the 10th time
and won his 15th straight fight.



The other was Roger Federer, my favorite tennis player,
who won his 17th major title, breaking his own record,
tying with Pete Sampras (another favorite of mine)
for most Wimbledon titles and regaining his
number one ranking and will soon overtake that record
for the longest cumulative time as number one.

Both of these athletes are considered the best,
perhaps the best of all time.
Neither of them are the best in all areas.
Silva’s takedown defense hasn’t evolved enough to stop the very first takedown attempt of his last fight.
Federer is consistently beaten by the upstart Nadal
who will likely never own the records Federer does.

But the records, the numbers, don’t lie. They are the best.
So what makes them the best?
How are Anderson Silva and Roger Federer the same?

When we look at champions in different sports,
we often examine how similar their psychologies are.

I’m sure there are some common traits
betwixt these two champions:
attitude, motivation, fortitude among them I’m sure.

I don’t focus on their mentalities,
I want to focus on their physicalities.
Specifically, their movement.

Obviously, Martial Arts and Tennis are different sets of movements.
But I don’t want to compare the “what” of their movements,
I want to compare the “how” of their movements.

When you watch Anderson (on his feet),
he moves effortlessly in the cage.

The commentator described Roger as
“making no noise as he glided across the court.”

Think that is a coincidence?
That neither of the athletes waste any force into the ground?

I don’t.
They are incredibly efficient as well as being effective.
To go along with it, they are effortless.


What if we trained how they are:
effectively, efficiently, and effortlessly?

How would our training be different?
How would our results be different?

Injury Interim

I’m injured.
I hate this.
I’m lucky though.
I’m very rarely injured.

This happened because of a number of reasons.
The most important one is probably because
I fought against my opponent’s forces
as opposed to yielding to them.
Ah, well.

And if I continue to go to class,
I’ll be fighting against the restrictions
my body is putting on me while I heal.

So what am I doing in the interim?
I’m training, not Jiu-Jitsu,
but I am training.
It doesn’t look anything like jiu-jitsu
because I’m not simulating or imitating Martial Arts Movement.
I’m training Movement I don’t do in Martial Arts…
and it will help my Martial Art.

When I come back,
I’ll ease into it.
I’ll make sure I can do all of my MA movement solo without pain
and then I’ll see if I can do all of my MA movement with a drilling partner.
Then I’ll roll easy, infrequently, for a short period
and I’ll keep increasing the frequency, intensity and, duration
of my training for as long as I can.

If you find yourself injured,
just because you have to stop Martial Arts,
doesn’t mean you have to stop moving.

My injury was a hip injury
so I had to stop training for a bit
(because all of jits is hips)
but I make it to the gym as often as I can.

There are a couple of lower body patterns which I’ve had to suspend,
but there are others I am doing that are helping my hip
and I’m making progress (perpetual, that is)
in the rest of my movement patterns.

Just because you cannot make progress in one direction,
like your Martial Arts,
doesn’t mean you can’t make progress in another.

And making progress in one direction
potentiates progress in other directions…
and other directions.

Wanna know what you can do in the Gym?

Should You Mix Up Your Strength & Conditioning?

Growing up, did you ever notice
how some of the best athletes
weren’t one sport athletes?

They were multisport, well-rounded, natural athletes.

Among the most athletic in MMA is Georges St. Pierre.
Check out some of his non-MMA training in this episode of UFC primetime.

He is famous for working
on different athletic disciplines
in training camps…
always mixing it up.

You may see
GSP doing any number of activities including
Gymnastics, Olympic Lifting and track

What does this have to do with MA?
Nothing really, it’s not specific

But it does help him develop as an all around athlete.

I think this helps
but not in the way most people think it does.
I hear people describe particular fighters
as explosive or athletic.
They’ll attribute success of the fighter
to his athleticism…
but I have seen athleticism
defeated by technique on a daily basis.

According to Mel Siff, all sports are
“…limited sets of movements…”
and when you only practice limited sets of movements,
your movement eventually becomes limited to those movements.

I think when people call other people athletes
they are seeing people who can move
in more directions than the non-athletes.
And I don’t know about you,
but I want to be able to move in any direction…
especially in a fight.

I think this validates GSP’s approach…
in principle.

But with time being the limiting factor in a fighter’s life,
especially an amateur fighter’s life,
there is a better way to train movements not trained in Mixed Martial Arts…
and that is what the Martial Arts Masterplan. is all about:

Moving in every direction.
This is important,
far more important than most realize…
because when you practice a limited set of movements
as every Martial Arts is
you not only lose the movements
you are not training,
you eventually lose the movements you do train, as well.

People think this is a natural by product of aging.
It’s not.
It is an unintended consequence of specialization.

So train your Martial Arts movement
but if you want longevity,
train movements that aren’t in Martial Arts, as well.

You could cross train in other sports,
but I recommend
you checking out the Martial Arts Masterplan.