- Using the MartialBody in Grappling-
The title of this post was said to me after rolling with a fellow Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Coach. I thought it was an amusing but accurate description of what the MartialBody can bring to the grapplers toolkit. So in this post I will be outlining some of the ways in which I have found this body development training to be useful to the grappler.
The attributes, that the various quotes from my peers in the post describe, are not the result technical knowledge or a large catalogue of technique. Instead they are products of the trained body and arise naturally when the attributes are engrained and present.
In this article, we will explore some of the ways in which the trained body helps you in the free exchange of a sparring, rolling or grappling competition. We will follow this article with one referring to striking, but here we will focus specifically on the task of Grappling.
Strength, Weight & Power
In most grappling situations the stronger, heavier person will have the distinct advantage if skillsets are equal. Therefore, we have weight classes in grappling competitions and why Larger athletes continue to dominate the ‘open class’ categories. Make no mistake, no matter what body method, no matter what power generation type you study, at some point your power will be outstripped by another person’s if you continue to use a force on force mentality. And even when body skills are the focus, the Rodolfo Vieras and Buchechas of this world would still defeat most, their combination of huge strength and weight combined with extremely refined technical knowledge is a deadly combination.
However, and it is a big however, training yourself to express the attributes of the MartialBody will give you a definitive advantage over most. Your ability to utilize your body with extremely acute efficiency, to harmonise all the muscles so as to maintain whole body power, your ability to remain connected, and your ability to feel and resolve force will make your feel vastly stronger and heavier than you are.
Every effort from me is absorbed and seems to create a tighter hold within the position where my effort was reversed and used against me. What’s fascinating is that you feel little, if not any strength, which becomes apparent when coach moves with ease and speed as soon as a space appears and uses his wealth of knowledge to execute a position or submission.”
LR GB GLoucester
This is perhaps the most common comment I get when training or sparring with my Peers in the grappling community, how heavy, strong, and connected I feel. I say this not to blow my own trumpet of course, because I am not that heavy, not that strong and really not that powerful! People often assume I am 10 KGs heavier than I am! Although my midriff may be getting a little larger than in my younger days, it is the training of body skill that creates these effects.
To take strength as an example, we usually think of strength as muscular power, however, when we examine what it means to feel ‘strong’ in a Grappling match, we are talking about the opponent’s perception of what you are doing more than the actual power output of your muscles. I have rolled with light and thin black belts who are still are able to exert enormous pressure. This pressure is not a result of their weight, or indeed their muscle, it is a result of their body mechanics.
In this work, and through dedicated developmental training we harmonise the body so that it acts as a whole in almost all movements. When we do this, if the opponent feels you pushing against them or pinning them, it is the not the muscles around the contact points that matter. Instead, it is the power of the entire body driving every motion. The opponent could perceive this as you are being extremely strong, mistakenly thinking that you are using specific muscle groups. But the truth is that even the tiniest motion is filled with power from the whole body. The whole muscle mass of the body, connected through the connective tissues and spanned over the skeleton transmits and produces a unified effort that makes most partners wince as the breath is squeezed out of them.
Looking past the whole-body power, we can also say that the opponent’s perception of strength is formed from interacting with superior mechanics. When we express methods like those found in the SpiralBody section, we never provide direct opposition to the opponent’s line of power. They are always pushing or pulling on something that is ‘slightly’ off. You appear to be somewhere, but when they touch you, their body tells them that you aren’t where they thought. It can be quite disconcerting, but moreover, it can reduce the effective strength that they can bring to bear on you. To the opponent this feels like you are much stronger than them, as their force ‘leaks away’ around your superior mechanics.
Stability & Alignments
One of the defining characteristics of the MartialBody is that it maintains dynamic stability. Even in motion or during unusual articulations, the body will continue to feel stable should a partner interact with it. This maintenance of stability proves to be extremely useful to the grappler, especially in a stand-up exchange where throwing or taking them down can prove to be very difficult.
Often, in other arts that maintain a focus on alignment and stability, this ability is manifested in the ‘immovable man’ concept where we see experts, feet planted on the spot, throwing around those that interact with them. However, for me this is a mistake and should not be sought for anything but testing and specific drills. The higher level is to maintain this stability while in a constant flow of motion (floating like the butterfly). It is in this Dynamic and ever-changing condition that the trained body creates real problems for the opponent.
There are three pillars that constitute every throw or take down I have seen or experienced. These are: Manipulate the structure | Lead off-balance | remove the points of support.
The combination of these three factors make a throw or take down extremely hard to stop or counter, but conversely avoiding these three factors make a throw or take down extremely hard to complete. By maintaining the stable, connected and mobile body we remove one of these three pillars – the ability for our opponent to manipulate our structure.
If the grappler is able to maintain a deep understanding of how to optimise their posture and alignments, when external pressures act on them to disrupt this optimum state, they automatically correct and return to alignment within the flow of the exchange. Because this negates the first pillar of throwing or take downs, and aligned and stable body alone will be a great advantage.
Mobility, like that found in the Elastic & FluidBody modules will negate the ‘lead off balance’ pillar. Stable, correct and consistent footwork allows us to simply shuffle, step or move to reduce the effective off balance or Kuzushi line.
Similarly, training to keep your power and mass inside yourself, rather that leaning onto the opponent will mean that we do not provide a point of support for them to exploit. Often when we touch the partner, we inadvertently ‘lean’ on them. This is enough for some adepts to exploit. Training the StableBody, we lean to keep our mass under control, to not commit it to others, and to maintain our postural security
Sensitivity to Force
The grappler is used to a type of consistent and constant pressure. Unlike the Striker who will experience sharp and regular impact, the grappler will normally experience squeezing, pushing, and holding pressures of a continuous nature. This familiarity with pressure is a constant in the grappling world, and provides the basis for both attack and defence in many of the tactics we see high level grapplers employ.
One way in which we can deal with pressure is to tactically manipulate or manoeuvre ourselves so as to escape the line in which the pressure is most effective. This is a technical approach to escaping or using pressure in the grappling exchange, and is one bedrock of the grapplers toolkit. However, there is another way in which we can deal with these forces, one which springs from the trained body. That is the resolution and balancing of forces so as to diminish their effectiveness and increase the effectiveness of our own.
It’s very apparent that coaches understanding of absorbing pressure is at expert level. When I try to move to create space, the pressure increases and everything becomes tighter and my objective to move becomes even harder. Every effort from me is absorbed by Coach and seems to create a tighter hold within the position where my effort was reversed and used against me.
L.R – GB Gloucester
There is no strategic attacking or defensive strategy in this instance. The opponents force is balanced in our body to feel ineffective. This could mean a variety of things, it could be that as they put pressure on you, they feel it ‘leaking’ off and unable to penetrate, or that as they push one area another fills the gap. At a higher level it means that the forces they apply are redirected back into them with no gap, or break in the force. When someone is good at applying these mechanics their ‘pressure’ will feel extremely heavy, far heavier than their weight class or what the scales say! In standing work, this balance of force is often manifested in a seemingly static hold, as someones push is linked through the adepts body back into them, equalizing the ‘circiut’.
I change, they come along for the ride.
In a stand up grappling exchange it is common for the focus to be on manipulating the opponents body in order to affect your desired throw, take down or joint lock. Of course, this outlook has been a successful strategy for thousands of years and should remain a part of every grapplers tool kit. When the ‘oh shit!’ moment comes (and against good partners, it always comes) sometimes you need to use that tried and tested tactic to escape. But the trained body opens up another avenue for the grappler, that can have remarkable results.
This is the concept of prioritising changing yourself; your movement and your body in powerful and complex ways that the opponent has to constantly adapt too – I call this using the SpiralBody. The partner or opponent is essentially ‘Along for the ride’ as you change, constantly chasing your previous position and never catching up. It is fun to try this as a defensive tactic. I often ‘free wrestle’ and simply defend their every attempt by changing my body, watching as the partner shuffles around and steps constantly as they loose and regain position.
A simply analogy for this idea is that of the spinning merry go round. Imagine the merry go round spinning in front of you, when you reach out to grab one of the bars you will be spun around and taken along the merry go rounds trajectory. The same is true of the ‘changing’ body, you reach out to grip somewhere, on an arm perhaps, but their limb is already in motion and not at all where you thought. This concept creates a series of openings and is entirely predicated on the trained SpiralBody state, a state that will not retain the same position at any point. You are never where they thought, and have thrown them off balance when they touch you, but you have not don’t anything TO them.
Now, it is important for those with wishful minds to understand that against a trained grappler, a ‘win’ may be to make them shuffle a little or simply go into their toes. Thoughts of making them hop about, fly through the air and take easy Ukemi for you are a myth. These effects can be recreated on the untrained, during a drill, a demonstration or testing method … but in free sparring exchange?
The concept of Non-Opposition
We are hard wired to ‘oppose’ forces that can upset our stability. When something pushes on us we naturally and subconsciously form up behind the direction of force and oppose it so as to retain our balance. This is a completely natural response and one which has stopped us falling over and cracking our skulls for millennia.
There is another way in which we can deal with direction however, and this is to use various methods to change the angle at which the force is applied. This is what I call the non-opposition concept. When a force is applied to a surface (our body) the optimal direction is at 90degrees to the surface. This produces the maximum penetration and effect, and as we will see later in striking this is an important point! However, the more we are able to deviate from the 90 degree optimum the less apparent effect a direction of force has. Eventually, the surface and force are aligned in such a way that the force simply passes off the surface. We can also use circular and spiral paths to create complex surfaces that the force will have to rapidly adapt too in order to maintain an advantageous angle.
The work is so subtle you don’t even know your about to be engulfed by a wave. You feel as though your floating on it, being supported by it, only to discover that in reality you are encircled and trapped by it. Unable to move from the pressure of the grip and the force. You try shift away, he follows, you try to push against him, you feel nothing to resist against.”
Bruce - Shinkido Martial Arts
This theory is all well and good, but in the heat of an exchange, during the attack or in the quagmire of a defence how does it help us? Firstly, again, it is important to understand that the principle of non-opposition is only one part of the puzzle and sometimes you will want to 100% oppose a directional force. Often you will use this opposition to set up a reversal or a reaction from the partner.
But when the time is right, changing the angles of your position is very useful. I like to use this work in both standing and ground fighting, most commonly on first contact in the hand or grip fight or to resolve someone trying to apply pinning or directional grips on the ground. As the forces roll off you, you unbalance the partner and are able to fill the gaps or take advantage.
However, there is another interesting use of this idea. This is in its use to tear, shear or squash the opponent! When you are in a top position during ground fighting, if you do not apply a direct 90degree angle of attack, if you ‘split’ your own structure Taring the partner, or shear them against the mat, you will see some interesting faces and strange noises emanating from them as they try to figure out why they are suddenly so uncomfortable! The No-opposition concept is not simply for defensive strategy, it is highly effective at making someone wince in Pain!
The greatest grapplers in the world are masters of adaption. Watch Marcello Garcia ply his craft and you will see him succeeding inside the transitions in a way uncommon to most.
Similarly watch any high-level Push Hands master and you will notice their ability to change and flow with the feeling and force of their partner to tie them into unstable positions. The Greats of all Grappling arts have this ability, but it is not the realm of god given talent and we shouldn’t resign ourselves to a thought that we will not be able create this skill for ourselves.
Fluidity and the ability to change and adapt are facets of the nervous system and the mind. They manifest when we are sensitive to situations and pressures and can adapt accordingly. If we focus on training the minds ability to be aware and in the moment, and in the sensitivity of our bodies to changing pressures we will enhance our ability to flow and change.
The important point here is that the adept of fluidity is not in a constant state of following and change isn’t only in adaption to the partners attacks. Change and fluidity is also able to be used as we impose our game on the opponent, every time they think they stop us they are under attack again from a different angle.
Training fluidity is perhaps the most tricky part of the martial artists training, however, for the grappler it is perhaps one of the most important attributes. Tapping into this ability can be achieved through a combination of mind training methods, environment awareness skills and mindful movement practices. These combine to allow us to change on a dime and adjust the movements we perform to make them smooth and continuous.
I hope this provides some interesting pointers to the Grapplers out there. Everything that I teach is framed through the lens of non-cooperative work and grappling is one of the safest and most fun arenas in which can use to test your development.
See you on the Mat! 😊