Longevity in Jiu Jitsu

Longevity in Jiu Jitsu is something that I think a lot about.

I know I’ll be doing Jiu Jitsu for a long time but I also recognize that many of the moves that younger practitioners take for granted like rolling inverted or speed passing might not carry over well into the masters division.

Not only does your technical ability and focus change the longer you train, but also your mindset and approach changes as well.

While a younger athlete might be solely focused on winning tournaments.

An older athlete might focus more on fitness and maintaining health.

When I look at the demographic of many academies. It’s easy to see that the average student is a late 20’s or early 30’s working professional. Training for fitness and fun, not championships or titles.

Not to knock my older athletes out there. But typically at this point, Jiu Jitsu is more of an exciting hobby or a part of your daily routine that you do in addition to your career, your relationships, children, etc.

Depending on where you are in life. Your priorities will be different.

I’m going to cover a few topics that have allowed me to keep training at a high level despite injuries and other setbacks for many years.

When you’re doing Jiu Jitsu it helps to think long term. Because everything takes so long. It takes time to develop the proper movement skills, fundamental techniques, and conditioning that you will even need before you can fully dive into your practice.

I love the saying, “Jiu Jitsu is a marathon and not a sprint”.

If you really want to get better at Jiu Jitsu then it will help to…

Diet

The more I train, the more I realize how important diet is to your performance on and off of the mat.

It doesn’t take a scientist to know that eating the wrong foods before training, or not allowing yourself enough time after eating to digest can negatively effect your rolling.

Rather than focusing on the word “diet”.
Instead, focus on nutrition–eating high quality proteins, carbs, and fats and most importantly, not starving yourself. The major difference between dieting and nutrition is the sustainability. You can maintain a diet for a few weeks, but nutrition is a lifestyle.

For my non-diet experts out there, you want to avoid most sugary drinks and foods including: soda, fruit drinks, fancy starbucks lattes, and all things processed (if it doesn’t have an expiration date, leave it alone).

Here is a general list of foods to avoid:
Dairy (grassfed is an exception)
Refined sugars
Modern vegetable oils
Processed foods

Knowing what not to eat is the first step in nutrition and it will take time to implement. Nothing is harder than not being able to eat a familiar comfort food (ex. pizza) or not being able to grab a meal with your teammates after a grueling practice.

You just have to find the right balance.

Quitting cold turkey works if you’re experienced in following diet plans or have a lot of self restraint, but for most people, it’s best to wean yourself off all processed stuff slowly.

Quality

Of course, the quality of the meats and vegetables that you get matter. If you have access to grass fed, locally grown items then go for it.

You can find quality ingredients from any grocery store nowadays, but the ones that I personally use include:

Whole Foods
Costco
Trader Joe’s
Fresh Market
Local Farmers Market

For the cash-strapped up-and-comers, get the best quality that you can afford, even if that means looking for deals using coupons, sales, or buying in bulk. A great way to save money is by shopping online through sites like Amazon, US Wellness Meats, and Tropical Traditions.

Sleep

It doesn’t matter how good you are. If you don’t get a proper amount of sleep. You’re going to be off.

Sleep is the single most important part of your overall health. During sleep, your body goes through a lot of integral processes including tissue repair and growth, as well as memory consolidation.

So if you’re training a lot, more than anything else you do, sleep could make the difference in your performance. .

Aim for 7-9 hours nightly if you can. There are apps out there (such as Sleep Cycle) that can help you monitor how much time you sleep and measure the quality of your sleep as well.

Training Partner Selectivity

There are some training partners that you have to be careful rolling with. There’s no shame in avoiding them. Especially, if they have a history of injuring others.

There is nothing worse than worrying about someone injuring you while you’re training with them. There’s a good chance that you won’t get anything out of the training anyway. So you should probably not roll with them or if you can’t get out of it. Focus on rolling conservatively. Being careful not to leave any body parts exposed or in vulnerable positions.

You have to develop a hyper awareness almost like a “spidey sense” because a lot of times your partner might do something crazy or something you don’t see coming.

Prehab and Physical Therapy

I’m a big believer in doing conditioning outside of just training Jiu Jitsu.

For some people this might mean lifting weights, doing yoga, or cross training in other sports.

I make it a habit to really focus on mobility and strengthening those injury prone joints.

You know the ones I’m talking about.

Those knees and shoulders.

Keeping these joints strong makes it harder to injure them and will decrease the time it will take to get them up and running if they do get injured.

Injuries are a part of this martial art. There’s no way to completely safe guard yourself from them. I’m sure everyone has something nagging them.

Just don’t let that keep you from training. But if it’s a serious injury that prevention function and range of motion, then you need to take a break. A lot of Jiu Jitsu practitioners are hard headed in that reguard. They get hurt but they continue training and actually make the injury worse.

This is when you need that long term training mindset.

Take time off when your injury is not serious and let it heal instead of doing more damage.

Of course, consult a physical therapist or doctor and take steps from there.

“Some good habits to develop early on in jiu-jitsu career that will help increase longevity is to work on muscle imbalances and joint restrictions, allow for adequate rest and recovery, and to train smart with no ego.

Evidence shows that the biggest predictor of future injuries (aside from a previous injury), is asymmetry in strength or flexibility. If you only learn to pass going to one side, or only play guard on one side you are over using one muscle group and neglecting another.

When preparing for a tournament we tend to focus on increasing the intensity of our training, or adding a strength and conditioning program but rarely schedule set times or days focused on recovery. To help prevent burnout, we need to make sure we’re getting adequate sleep, having a healthy, well balanced diet and, most importantly, listen to our bodies when we are exhibiting signs of overtraining. These include persistent fatigue and muscle soreness (beyond what’s expected from the workout), difficulty sleeping, irritability, depression and malaise.

Lastly, we have to train smart with no ego. This seems obvious, but in the heat of the moment during an intense roll our competitive nature can get the better of us. Training with no ego doesn’t only mean tapping when a submission is locked in, it is also about knowing when to give up on a position. Twisting your knee that extra bit to help create an angle for the knee cut pass, muscling your way out of the folders pass when your hips are pinned and your back is twisted, or exploding out of a stacked pass to create a scramble will all have a cumulative effect and something is going to give.”

Clinton Gouveia, PT, DPT

Proper Movement

Knowing how to move, and knowing how your body, and your partner’s bodies are supposed to move will keep you healthy and training hard for many years to come.

Does your knee feel weird while knee cutting? Maybe don’t knee cut on that side or try a different passing technique.

Proper movement dynamics is something that you will see in a lot of high level athletes. Having that proper alignment, not forcing techniques, and knowing when to let go or give up a position comes with experience.

I’ve seen so many people put themselves into a bad position and then try to force their way out. It’s scary.

Again, you need to develop that body awareness or grappling “sense” that will keep you from doing anything to injure yourself.

Technique over physical attributes

This is probably one of the biggest factors in determining how long you will be able to enjoy your training.

When you’re young or healthy your physical attributes can and do cover for a lot of your technical holes in your game.

We all know those students that get away with a lot in training because they are phenomenally strong.

There’re practically a superhero in a gi (or rashguard).

But their strength can become a crutch for them. Because of it, they don’t have to rely on as much technique. And this works for while. At least until, they come across someone even stronger than themselves.

There’s always going to be someone stronger, or faster, or more flexible.

We only have so much wiggle room in how far we can push ourselves physically.

But there is no limit to your technique. It can continue to get better the more time and work you put into it.

There is so much that goes into to training Jiu Jitsu. Especially, for a decade or more. But I do think that taking care of yourself, your body. Is what’s going to keep you in the game.

No matter how much you love Jiu Jitsu. If your body is ruined or you abused your body, then you’re going to limit yourself in your training.

All the older guys I train with treat their bodies like a temple. Of course, enjoy life and everything. But it’s important to find balance and to maintain yourself as well.

Networking in Jiu Jitsu

Networking in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is one of the most underutilized benefits of training with such a diverse group.

The normal clientele of a Jiu Jitsu academy can consists of: doctors, lawyers, businessmen, etc. All willing to lend you a hand.

Looking for a new job? Hit up your Jiu Jitsu network to see if anyone is hiring.

Need a good accountant? Ask around the academy to see if someone has a great one on speed dial.

The same can be said about acquiring a sponsorship.

Often, your best bet will be your immediate circle of instructor(s) and training partners. If you’re lucky, someone that you know might be in contact with the owner of company looking to sponsor.

Having an “in” is a big advantage in getting sponsored.

Knowing someone who is already sponsored by a company that you are interested in can make a big difference.

Even if you haven’t quite made a name for yourself or you haven’t been picked up by major Jiu Jitsu news networks and streaming sites like flowgrappling.

Having someone vouch for you as a reference for your skill and ability. Can be a game changer.

Many of the sponsorships that I’ve landed have been through my relationship with a third party. Either an instructor that was already sponsored or a friend that put me in contact with someone of influence with a sponsoring company.

But what if you’re in a position where you don’t know anyone?

Then you’ll have to hustle.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

One lesson that Jiu Jitsu teaches us all is how to persevere through tough times and situations.

If you want something bad enough. You will find a way.

Step outside of your comfort zone

I know the average Jiu Jitsu athlete believes that winning on the mat is all they need to do In order to be successful. Sure there are some outliers that do exactly this.

However, you have to realize that they are the exception, and not the rule.

If you look at many of the top competitors and athletes in our sport.

Yes, their techniques are great, and they win big tournaments.

But they’re also more than that.

They are people that you look up to.

They are people you want to emulate.

They are people that you want to hangout with outside of the academy.

They have that “it” factor and that is exactly what sponsors, professional grappling events, and academies are looking for.

Even if you aren’t where you want to be now in your Jiu jitsu career. You should always be looking ahead and have an idea of what goals you want to achieve.

Personality

I’ve talked a lot about personality before but it’s so important that I have to keep bringing it up.

You need to have some personality if you want people to follow you and companies to sponsor you. Your personality is what keeps people interested in you and wanting more. As much as you want the support of a brand. You need to realize that you are your own brand.

Style of Jiu Jitsu

I hate to say this but your style is important.

No, not the way you dress off of the mats.

But the actual techniques that you use. Your style of Jiu Jitsu.

Winning is important. But also how you win is important.

If your game is to win on advantages or by stalling. There’s a good chance that most sponsors will overlook you and I’m sure most academies will pass on hosting you for a seminar.

I’m not saying that you should change your style to be more marketable.

But realize that a lot of success is based on how people perceive you and your style of Jiu Jitsu.

Is your style super reliant on physical attributes like power and conditioning or is it more based on technique and timing?

Do you have a style that others would like to emulate?

Networking

Networking in Jiu Jitsu is no different than networking in any other type of business or community.

It can mean forming new (business) relationships or strengthening old ones.

Sharing information on techniques, business opportunities.

And everything in between.

It’s what you make of it that counts.

If you want to stay ahead of the new cutting edge techniques.

Or if you want to learn about a new event looking for athletes.

Or you’re interested in academies looking for instructors.

You’re going to have to network and make those connections so that you can get access to that inside knowledge

Reaching out

Make an effort to network not only with the people and companies that you want to sponsor you but everyone else as well.

Tournaments
Seminars
Fundraisers
Open mats
Belt graduations

Are all great opportunities to expand your Jiu Jitsu network.

Network with other athletes.

Network with the tournament staff.

Network with academy owners

Network with fans.

Hell, even network with your haters.

The Jiu Jitsu community is so small and intimate that you never know when an opportunity will reveal itself. That’s why you have to continually keep putting yourself out there. Keep competing. Keep posting on social media. Keep networking and building relationships.

Personality and Social Media

Now more than ever, social media is a tool that allows you to promote yourself directly to sponsor companies, your fans, and the larger Jiu Jitsu community.

Being good on the mat is no longer enough.

If you’re not regularly posting on social media and building your own “brand” then you’re doing yourself a big disservice.

Winning and competing are only parts of the equation. It’s what happens afterwards that’s important. When your fame starts to spread, and being able to translate that success into sponsorships, private lessons, seminars, product creation, etc.

In the past, your accolades alone would speak for themselves.

But now you have to actively work to stay relevant and in the public eye. You see this with many of the top competitors today. They’re investing hours every week in crafting their posts and videos. In addition to their training.

Even if you don’t compete or have aspirations of being a world champion. It’s important to realize that you have something to offer. Maybe your unique experience will relate better to the average Jiu Jitsu practitioner or maybe you have great insight into a particular topic that people want to hear your opinion on.

Whatever the case, there really are no rules. There is no wrong or right way to go about handling your social media. It’s something that you will have to cultivate consistently and try to bring value to your fans.

By building up your brand and gaining more followers. You become more attractive to sponsor companies, professional events, and the major Jiu Jitsu news sites. And from there it grows upon itself much like a snowball rolling down a mountain covered in snow. It might start off small and take a lot of time, but it has the potential to grow into something much more.

From a business perspective. If I were choosing between two athletes with similar competition resumes to represent my company. It makes more logical sense to pick the athlete with the bigger, higher quality social media following. That athlete is going to have more influence over his fans. Who are more likely to buy when that athlete endorses my product.

So don’t wait for sponsors to come looking for you. It’s much better to be proactive and start putting in the work now building your follower count and a large portfolio of content. Eventually, sponsor companies will see you rising up and decide to keep their eyes on you or they might even make you an offer to join their sponsor program.

“If you build it, they will come”

Personality Sells

I won’t lie. You do need to have some personality if you want people to follow you. It doesn’t matter the platform. You’re going to have to interact with people.

People like someone that they can relate to.

Someone that they look up to.

Someone that they could hang out with after training.

That means that if you’re extremely socially awkward. You have to be even more social and outgoing. Being cordial in communication and not coming off like an asshole.

I’ve seen this so often that I have to include this. Just because you’re good at Jiu Jitsu doesn’t mean that you can treat people poorly. Especially, your fans (online and offline).

Controversy Sells

If you’re on social media now, you know that there are two major schools of thought on promoting yourself online.

One is more old school. Let your results speak for themselves.

The other has existed forever but it comes in and out of style. This is the outlook that you see with younger athletes, where they make a scene by calling out more well known (and credentialed) competitors in order to promote themselves through that competitors fans and followers.

It doesn’t even matter if they compete against each other or not. More people become interested in the challenging athlete and begin to follow them in order to keep watching their antics and to see what they will do next.

I can’t deny that controversy does sell, but whatever you say or post online. Just know that you should be prepared to back it up. If you call someone out and they accept your challenge. You’re going to have to go through with the match.

The more success in tournaments that you achieve.

The more well known you become.

The more followers you get on social media.

The faster you will gain access to high profile events, sponsorships, and seminars.

Putting in work

Being sponsored isn’t just about getting free gear, doing cool interviews, and being on magazines. At the end of the day, you are promoting a company and its brand.

I’m sure you have seen sponsored athletes on Facebook. Commonly, you will see them posting on social media plugging a coupon code or special hashtag. Notifying all their followers and friends on sales and discounts from their sponsor company.

In fact, many sponsors will require that you post on social media with their hashtag at least once a week. Wear their gear in all of your photos and most competition events.

Next major consumer holiday, just keep an eye out for the onslaught of athlete posts pushing their discounts.

Again, the more followers you have. The more influence you’ll have in getting your fans to purchase from your sponsor. For example, If you have 100,000 followers you could be potentially driving tens of thousands of dollars worth of sales. Just from one post.

Now think about all the different ways that you could monetize your social media following.

Crazy right?

The game is always changing. But if you take just one thing from this post it should be that you have so much potential now.

It might take a while to find your outlet and your target demographic. But once you do, your imagination is your limit.