The no-gi (BJJ) class that I teach on Saturday mornings at BETA Academy had fewer people on August 17 due to the US Grappling tournament that took place in Rockville, MD (the BETA team put up a great performance at the tournament, by the way). My first tournament was a US Grappling tournament where I won some, lost more and mostly learned a lot about BJJ and myself in the process. Remembering this made me think of something that my instructor, BJJ black belt Leo Dalla, said during Vitor “Shaolin” Ribeiro’s seminar at Dalla’s school. Dalla was talking about Ribeiro’s outstanding physical conditioning and how, until Shaolin came along, most competitors thought that they were ready for tournaments if they had just been training a lot in their academy. Unfortunately for many competitors that is not always the case, as I have learned the hard way.
I love the “caveman”-style of conditioning, which uses kettlebells, battle ropes and other old-school tools mixed with bodyweight exercises performed in circuits. I thought that this style of conditioning, along with the BJJ training that I was doing, would have me prepared for any tournament. I was training BJJ 4-5 times a week and doing this conditioning training 3-4 times. I would feel great in my first match, but when I would have to wait for my second match (as is typical of IBJJF tournaments) I would get tired and have a very hard time doing what I need to do on the mat.
Everything changed when I started training for a Tough Mudder event. Tough Mudder events are 10-12 mile runs that include a series of obstacles and physical challenges. These events take a long time to complete and test you mentally and physically. They test your endurance, your strength, your mobility and your mental fortitude to keep going. In other words, they are very similar to a BJJ tournament in terms of the challenge that they represent.
The only thing I did differently to prepare for the Tough Mudder from my BJJ tournament preparations was to run for distance. I still did my “caveman” training and hit the mats 3-4 times per week. I added 3-4 mile runs two times a week. As the event got closer, I increased the distance in my runs to 5-6 miles. I felt great during the Tough Mudder, at least until the unexpectedly cold weather got a hold of me. My endurance held up just fine though.
This training had an unexpected and unintended consequence, which was that my endurance in BJJ improved dramatically. I was able to roll every round in class at the same pace when I was never able to do that before. I just never got tired. As a 41-year old, that was a great feeling. I have continued running on a regular basis and my endurance has remained high. Running like this will definitely be a part of my training regimen when it is time for me to compete again.
It is for this reason that I recommend everyone who is interested in doing BJJ tournaments add running to their training regimen. There is a reason that all of the old-school boxers ran every morning: it works. Next to good technique, endurance is the single most important attribute that a BJJ player can have. You do not have to run fast or even run a particularly long distance. As I mentioned, the 3-4 mile runs made all the difference for me. I highly recommend that you give it a try and see how much your endurance improves.