Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Martial Arts As Strength

By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here

I was fortunate enough to take a class with the legendary "Cobrinha" Rubens Charles Macial the other day. In watching him teach and move, I got a small glimpse into why he is as good as he is. It's impossible for me not to look for efficiency issues everywhere. So I am going to break down Cobrinha as an athlete and his ability to generate strength.

The Athlete


Cobrinha is not just a great BJJ player, he's also a great athlete who could have excelled at many sports. All BJJ (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu) is, is a series of movement patterns. No matter the physical activity or sport, all movement patterns obey the same laws of physics and biomechanics.

I mentioned in an earlier post about the importance of proper movement, energy leakage, and BJJ technique. Better aligned and straighter movements can create more force. Misaligned and rounded movements leak energy, and you can lose 50% of your strength and feel overpowered. Or with proper movement, feel that much stronger.

For you to constantly stay aligned, you also need great flexibility and body control. 99% of the BJJ players out there look like this when they bend over to pass the guard.

Us Mere Mortals




Not to throw my buddy Budo Jake under the bus here but this is how most of us do it. Look at his back, it's round. Any lifter would tell you, you will not be able to get to your maximum deadlift or squat with a rounded back like that. You are leaking 30%-50% of your energy. Not only that, you are more likely to tire your back out and also cause injury to yourself. But our posture is poor anyway. We sit at a desk all day, we are rounded forward, and this is what is comfortable and what we know. If I told someone to flatten their back and bring it to a neutral position, they may not know how to send those signals to their body.

World Champion Level


As I was searching for images, almost every competitor at black belt in the worlds could maintain a neutral spine now matter how bent over they were or how squatted they were.



As bent over as Cobrinha gets to show a move, his back stayed neutral. He can generate a lot of strength for lifting or driving here, while keeping his back from getting tired and relying on his main muscle driver, his glutes.

Probably at this level of competition, if YouTube videos are any indicator, the guys who do this full-time also have access to strength coaches who can show them how to generate more power and assess them for functional movement pattern distortions.

Same Move In the Strength World




In the example shown above, it looks a lot like this technique that Pavel Tsatsouline is showing. A variation of the Zercher squat, called the Zercher dead-lift. Pavel is generating a lot of force here, enough so that they are studying how he is able to manage such strength in that awkward position.

But look at his back, how neutral he can maintain his back. Observe his neck, he is looking at the floor, so his cervical is also more in lined with his spine. As opposed to looking off to the horizon.

Putting It All Together


Now look back at Cobrinha. He is also looking down and keeping his thoracic, cervical, and lumbar spine in alignment. An athlete of Pavel and Cobrinha's level who are already gifted, who are aligned, can generate a lot of force here. In Pavel's case he can lift a lot of weight. In Cobrinha's case he is generating a lot of pounds per squat inch pressure onto his opponent.

How We Train


It reminds me of all the terrible conditioning I see at strength camps and martial arts academies where everything is misaligned, and it's hackneyed strong man moves with none of the proper technique. You end up with some decent cardio and strength, but your energy leakages also get strengthened that much more.

Strength is definitely also a skill, like BJJ, that needs to be drilled perfectly over and over and over.
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Sam Yang from an early age has been obsessed with connecting the dots between martial arts and efficiency, health, mindset, business, science, and habits to improve optimal well-being. For more info, join his newsletter. You can also connect to All Out Effort on Facebook and Twitter.

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