A Brief Digression In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Devine Seminar Notes: The Kimura

A Personal Update + The Sketch of a Program

First, as many of you know (see here and here), I had a two level cervical fusion last week--which involved two "coalitions and screws" plus "bone glue/cement" (for the purposes of the fusion itself).  While they were inside, they also removed the plate and screws from my fusion at C4-5 from back in the mid 90s. Now I am fused from C4-C7 (which means I only have two cervical disks left). The recovery is going better than expected (even if it's still a daily challenge). So, while I don't feel great, I don't feel as horrible as anticipated.  I am also more hopeful about the long-term prognosis as well.  I already have relief when it comes to the nerve pain and issues I was having in my hands and elbows. So, thanks again for all of the well wishing. Because I can't spend a lot of time sitting at the computer, this post will take me a week or two to finish.

That said, I wanted to discuss something that I had in the works that has now been shelved--namely, before I decided to have the surgery, I was planning to train for and compete at the IBJJF Master Worlds next fall. As such, I had spent lots of time looking into various strength and conditioning programs as well as sport-specific training for judo, wrestling, jiu jiu jitsu, and other sports. Since we have several instructors and students at the gym who are wanting to compete, I thought it made since to share some of what I found (even if it won't be of much use to me specifically). As someone who started wrestling in the 5th grade and who attended dozens of tournaments as a child (as well as several jiu jiu jitsu tournaments as an adult), I feel like I am pretty well positioned to help design a competition program that will help people maximally prepare as efficiently as possible.

Plus, as a professional educator, I humbly like to think that I am pretty good at putting learning programs together--whether these programs are designed to make you better at logic or competition jiu jitsu. So, in this post, I wanted to share  the plan I had settled on for myself before my neck took a turn for the worst. Hopefully, some of the competitors at my gym decide to adopt some of the methods and approaches I am going to discuss below. As I transition from someone who trains and competes in jiu jitsu to someone who focuses more instead on coaching and training others, this will be my first foray into helping others achieve their own goals and dreams on the mats. So, please let me now what you think. I have tried to base the following program on solid, scientifically-informed, and competition-proved, methods and techniques.

When I began to develop what I was hoping would be my eventual training program, I started with the concepts of block and complex periodization that had been popularized by Anatoliy Pavlovych Bondarchuk (Ukrainian: Анатолій Павлович Бондарчук, born 31 May 1940).  Here is his entrance in Wikipedia:

Bondarchuk is a retired Soviet hammer thrower, who is regarded as the most accomplished hammer throw coach of all time. He is also a noted as the author of the two-volume book Transfer of Training, which was translated from Russian to English by Michael Yessis.

As an athlete, Bondarchuk accumulated numerous international awards and honors throughout a long career. Beginning the hammer throw at a late age of 24, he won his first international title at the 1969 European Championships. Near the end of the season, Bondarchuk set two world records in the event.[1] Bondarchuk continued to remain among the world's elite for several years and won the gold medal at the 1972 Summer Olympics while setting an Olympic Record of 75.50 meters.[2][3] Four years later, he earned the bronze medal at the 1976 Summer Olympics. For his Olympic achievements Bondarchuk was awarded the Order of the Badge of Honour in 1972 and the Order of the Red Banner of Labour in 1976.[4]

Despite his athletic success, Bondarchuk is better known as a coach. He began coaching while competing himself, and has since worked with medal-winning athletes at five Olympic Games. His most famous trainee is two-time Olympic champion and current hammer world record holder Yuri Sedykh

Bondarchuk is not only regarded as one of the best hammer throw coaches of all time, he is also regarded more generally as one of the best Olympic coaches of all time (regardless of discipline)--a reputation largely based on his revolutionary book, Transfer of Training in Sport. Because periodization has been used successfully in wrestling, MMA, and jiu jitsu (among other sports), it seemed like a natural foundation for my own training program.

So, here is the basic idea (you can find a bit more here--although the focus is unsurprisingly on the hammer throw): Bondarchuk developed the following taxonomy of exercises:

  1. General Preparatory Exercises (GPE)
  2. Specific Preparatory Exercises (SPE)
  3. Specific Developmental Exercises (SDE)
  4. Competition Exercises (CE)

Let's unpack these categories with specifically jiu jitsu in mind.  

GPEs are exercises that help prepare you for performance in jiu jitsu without specifically relying on any jiu jitsu-specific movement. For instance, jumping rope and jogging help you prepare for jiu jitsu. But they are not in any way jiu jitsu specific. Indeed, boxers, wrestlers, judokas, and jiu jitsu practicioners might all include running and jumping rope in their training routines in order to build cardio. GPEs should constitute the smallest % of your training time according to Bondarchuk. While they play an important role in developing cardio, they are not sport-specific enough-as such, only a fraction of one's time should be spent on these types of GPEs.

SPEs, on the other hand, involve (or include) some movements that are sport-specific even if it is somewhat limited. So, for instance, kettle bell swings and Turkish get-ups would be examples of good SPEs for the jiu jitsu competitor. They build core strength as well as grip strength, while at the same time forcing the athlete to repetitively engage in a series of movements which will translate (at least indirectly) to jiu jitsu. The animal movements of gynastica natural are similar in this respect (as are shrimping, reverse shrimping, standing up from base, etc.). While these movements provide sport-specific benefits, they, too, should still constitute a small % of one's overall training time. On some views, GPEs + SPEs should only be 1/3 of one's overall training program.

SDEs are also sport-specific, but in an even more direct manner than SPEs. They don't just recruit muscles that are directly sport-relevant, they involve elements of the sport itself. For jiu jitsu, the most obvious SDEs involving drilling technique. While there is a long-standing debate among some concerning the value of drilling, I think it's silly to think that drilling has no roll to play in one's development. At a minimum, they help develop muscle memory--especially situationally where it is most useful. And muscle memory can often be the difference between success and failure.

Finally, there are CEs, which involve direct simulation of the exercise itself--whether it be hammer throws or jiu jitsu matches. The important thing is that all of the actual elements of the competition are in place. So, if you are a black belt competitor, you should be doing live training at competition speed for ten minute matches. For blue or purple belts (or Masters competitors), the time should be adjusted accordingly. The goal with CEs is to prepare the body specifically for the physical task that constitutes the competitive task. 

Bondarchuk suggests that 2/3 of a competitive athletes training time be spent working on SDEs and CEs. Notice this doesn't make room for learning new techniques as pat of the formal program. This doesn't mean you cannot and should not be adding new techniques to your arsenal It's just to say that the formal program itself doesn't include adding new techniques. At that point, you should be dialing in what you do know for the purposes of the program. This is about developing a training program to prepare an athlete for a competitive event. Clearly, different strategies ought to be adopted between tournaments or during one's "down time." The question is how should one prepare for a competition eight weeks out. This is where Bondarchuk's principles have been proven to be effective--which is why I thought they would be suitable to jiu jitsu.

One way of implementing these principles would be in a program using so-called "block periodization," whereby each session would be a block that focused on one of these four classifications of exercises. While this might be suitable for the hammer throw, it is not suitable for jiu jitsu. Instead, the goal would be "complex block periodization"--that is, in each session, one would select exercises from each kind of classification. The goal would be to have roughly ten exercises selected (e.g., 2 GPEs, 3 SPEs, 4 SDEs, and 1 CE) for each complex block of training. Consider, for instance, the following work out:

  1. Warm Up with Mobility (10 minutes)
  2. 2 GPEs: Jumping rope + Push ups (10 minutes)
  3. 3 SPEs: Double Kettle bell swings + Turkish get ups + Animal movements (20 minutes)
  4. 4 SDEs: Triangle drills + Arm bar drills + Leg drag drills + Inversion drills (30 minutes)
  5. 1 CE: Live training (x 6 rounds of 10 minutes)

This breaks down to 40 minutes for the Warm up + GPEs + SPEs and 90 minutes for SDEs and CE.  The entire workout can be completed in just over two hours. The goal should be to have four to five of these work outs per week (in addition to other training and techniques you're working on as part of regular classes).

While the distribution of classifications does not change, the exercise selection does change. So, for instance, if you do push ups for one block, you might select jumping jacks or crunches for another block. The same goes for SPEs and SDEs. While you may have a few core exercises that are always included, you want to make sure you are selecting a variety of sport relevant and sport specfic exercises. The only category that doesn't change is the CE--since this just is a simulation of the actual event.

OK, that's it for now. Hopefully, you can see how one might develop a regimented training program for jiu jitsu based on complex periodization based on Bondarchuk's principles to maximize one's preparation for a tournament. Ideally, one would start 8-10 weeks out from the tournament in question. Obviously, there are other elements that go into being properly prepared--e.g., a good diet and a healthy weight cut, scouting individual competitors one is likely to encounter in the tournament and working on some specific techniques for these individuals, etc. But the complex Bondarchuk blocks are going to form the backbone of one's training regime--whether one is preparing for one's first white belt tournament or the black belt Pan Ams. 

At least this is what I was thinking about adopting for myself before my own competitive future gave way to health concerns. But I would still be happy to help others develop and implement a personalized program designed on solid principles and geared toward individual success.  Just let me know if you're interested. As always, if you have any suggestions or questions, please leave them in the comment threads!




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Kevin Orr

Very good concept, and I like the thought process that you have gone through for the program. I enjoyed reading it and look forward to finding the rest and the specifics.

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