Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Does it come down to strength?

So, today I had the opportunity to roll with a professional athlete who's interested in crossing over to do MMA. In his "former life" he was a professional cyclist, so he's in amazing shape, cardio and strength-wise. Think zero bodyfat, wiry and lean, and he never gasses. I like to think I have solid cardio and endurance for jits-- I rolled a solid 4.5 hours on Easter Sunday afternoon-- but he might have me beat.

He's not too much bigger than me-- maybe 15 lbs?-- and he is relatively new to grappling. You'd think (I thought) I should have been able to school him. Instead, I found myself struggling just as much: fight to maintain or regain guard, fight for armbars from guard, struggle for sweeps, defend armbars, try to escape side or mount. Mostly I felt like my offense was inadequate; my defense seemed to fall prey to his unconventional, unexpected "newbie" attacks. I felt like I was being muscled.

So I wonder-- is it really a strength issue? It's very frustrating to consider that as a possibility. I don't want to be a whiner (Some girls say *everything* is muscling) and I want to make sure I'm not giving up when it's my technique that's the problem. Because it was nogi, I had a very hard time controlling his arms. I broke down his posture pretty well, but couldn't dig his m... f... arms out of my thighs... tried to play open guard and got lifted, tossed, dragged, stacked and ultimately squashed. Managed a sweep or two but only because he's totally green; of course from mount in nogi I'm stuck thinking of all the chokes I like if only I had some lapels to work with... I'd love to do an armbar but (again-- is it really a strength issue?) felt like I just couldn't pry his arms into place. I know- bait the choke, trick the arms out, but somehow it wasn't working.

I need more drilling and more mat time. Seriously, how does ANYONE get any better any faster at this sport? I probably spend 20-25 hrs a week on the mats. It's gotta be a question of working smarter because I don't see how I can work any harder or longer.


Anonymous said...

A lot of it DOES come down to strength. At least you learn that in BJJ, you may never learn it in traditional martial arts where you are untested by more realistic sparring (for safety reasons it's hard to go 100% with a striking art but you can generally go 100% in grappling).

You say your training partner was only 15 pounds heavier than you - but wiry and athletic. Due to the difference in body fat indices, I'd say the "effective" weight difference is more like 25 pounds. Then, you have to count boy strength vs. girl strength.

Yeah, he was muscling you, and very effectively, because he has a LOT more and more effective muscle to work with.

The fact that after 9 months or so of training and an early blue belt promotion, you can even survive, speaks highly of your skill level.

The good news is you might be able to read between the lines and figure out that he really was going hard against you, not cutting you "girl slack," but conversely some of your other training partners may be taking it relatively easy on you, so you both can have some fun. (That's not a bad thing, so don't get ego-crushed.)

Yes, at the end of the day, truly superior - orders of magnitude superior - skill can make up for a lot of the strength and muscle difference - you should now certainly appreciate smaller people who do well in Absolute category competitions.

On the other hand, there is a real reason why MOST competitors diet to fight in the lightest weight category they can (diet to change the BMI not to lose muscle). And a real reason why it's bigger guys who usually win absolute, and why you SELDOM put women into the men's division.

In short, welcome to my short weak male world. Not as bad as yours, but still pretty shitty.

Elyse said...

Yes, strength, for now...
The new/unconventional are always difficult to deal with...

Also, a man of the same weight and lifestyle as a woman will naturally be almost twice as strong.

Strength is always an issue when your skill differential is less than a certain amount (I estimate like... 3 years)

Food for thought.

leslie said...

Even though it wasn't my post, I'm saying thanks to Anonymous and Elyse. So skill can beat strength... I'm just gonna need a lot more skill and more perfect technique to do it. Which means the problem is with me, which means I can fix it. One of these days, fellas, one of these days...

Jeff Kudo said...

Hi Georgette,
Very nice post and I've been in this situation many times before. There have been times when I'm rolling with guys I call "super athletes", like the ex-pro cyclist you rolled with.

These guys illustrate the value of pure athletisism, speed and conditioning. We hear so much about how technique is everything and I think it is everything when you have an otherwise even matchup. So much of BJJ (esp in the beginning) is about "winning the scramble" when neither player has a solidified position. When I'm starting to gas, that's when the "super athlete" has the energy and the quickness to move at that critical moment.

I also agree with what Elyse said about how technique can make up for lack of size and strength when the difference approaches about 3 years or more.

The upshot for me is that these guys force me to spend a little more time on my strength and conditioning regimine which I typically hate doing!

Great blog I'll be back often!

Scott said...

Strength makes things harder to deal with but skill will overcome. It's only when skill on both sides is high level does it come down to size and strength.

You're still new to the game, and you don't know how to flow yet. You'll learn, and when you do you'll never feel out-muscled again.

HomeImprovementNinja said...

Karl Gotch said that conditioning is the best hold. That 15 lbs can be a big deal if he's lean (a fatter guy might be stronger than you, but on his back he is stuck).

THat said, your technique gets better all the time so will be able to counter the strength better and better over time. Last night I rolled with a an ex wrestler who's only been doing jits for a couple of months. He got my back and tapped me the first time, the second time I went for an armbar and he defended by locking hands and holding on with freakish wrestler strength, so I transitioned to a bicep crush and tapped him.