Training Sport Specific Attributes in BJJ

Training Sport Specific Attributes in BJJ

(Author’s note: This is the first part of my “Embracing the Grind” series. Part 2, Part 3)

It is not the martial art style, it is the individual that matters. Each individual has a unique combination of skills, talents and sport specific attributes.

In the early days of BJJ, since the art was originally created for self-defense, everything was all about technique. The idea was that with proper technique, no matter how small or weak you were, you should be able to submit your opponents. However, as more people started to train in sport, it became apparent that certain sport specific attributes come in to play when you train in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for competition.

In my humble opinion, attribute training supersedes technique training in importance. Without strong sport-specific attributes and a solid foundation, your techniques will lack the practical application needed to achieve the proper results. Attribute training is not just overall fitness, strength or cardio training. Key attributes include speed, timing, rhythm, applying pressure, strength, flexibility, sense of balance, coordination, coachability, competitiveness, etc. We must note that these attributes are part of the individual athletes talents and abilities and can only be trained and enhanced to a certain extent.

Attribute training can significantly enhance a grappler’s ability to apply techniques and be successful in BJJ. For example, some grapplers are so flexible that they can escape from omoplatas or footlocks, these attributes allow them to get away with a broader margin of error than most people.

The battle between attribute based performance and great technique is ongoing and the more you work on your attributes the more effective your techniques will be. The more advanced your game, the more attributes come in to play. For example, have you ever seen a competitor who has just great balance and not pure technique that prevents him of being swept although his opponent also uses great technique.

There is also timing, one of the greatest attributes in BJJ and martial arts in general. Timing is the ability to know (or feel) when to apply pressure, how to catch your opponent off-guard, how to push or pull and sweep him when his balance is compromised and not miss every small window of opportunity. Timing is also known as finesse.

Coordination is another attribute that plays a major role, especially in sweeps. Drilling the techniques helps build coordination but exercises with stability balls and other drills can also help.As you get old you also need to develop attributes that will help you adapt for loss of strength and explosiveness. Balance, coordination and learning to relax and breath properly, will help you compensate along with your growing awareness of how to correctly apply a technique.

Shannon Edmonds Photography

Attributes training and Instructors

Sometimes, a great competitor, whose athletic ability relies on specific attributes such as flexibility, proper use of reach etc. will not be able to teach his favorite techniques to students that have not developed those same attributes. A friend of mine who trains with a multiple time world champion has trouble with a lot of the techniques his instructor is trying to teach him. Its seems as if they will only work for him (the instructor) because he is really tall and explosive. If you are so flexible that you can submit people using gogoplatas that does not mean that you can teach your students to have the same amount of success using this specific technique.

No matter how detailed your instructional efforts are, the student might not be able to apply the techniques the same way you do. Some chokes, for example, require a certain amount of wrist flexibility or grip strength. No matter how much the student tries, he may not be able to apply the choke and submit a resisting opponent.

I am a big fan of implementing a Jeet Kune Do concepts mind-frame to my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, my MMA training and everyday life so I strongly believe that it is not the style, it is the individual that matters, and each individual has a unique combination of skills, talents and sport specific attributes.

For example, although I would never go for rubber guard attacks as I have short legs and am not flexible enough, if one of my students possesses these attributes why not encourage him to use rubber guard? I strongly believe that body types, talent and attributes are so important that you have to have a flexible curriculum of techniques that can adapt to each student’s strengths and weaknesses.

Boxing trainers do it all the time. They teach different styles depending on the fighter. If the fighter is long they will have him jab more. If the fighter is left handed they will have him use a southpaw stance. If he has knockout power they will teach him to use more hooks and right hands. If he is not able to absorb damage the trainer will have the fighter use more footwork.

Wrestling coaches on the other hand have been using attribute building drills to enhance their wrestlers’ ability to perform in competition. Examples include agility ladder drills, bridging drills, grip strengthening exercises, sprawling drills etc.

In conclusion, learning all the details to improve your technique is great and will always be part of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training; however attribute training will enhance your ability to be successful in applying these techniques, in both competition and self-defense.


Author’s note: this article was inspired by the conceptual framework of Bruce Lee, although certain concepts and ideas were modified extensively to adapt to the game of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. 

These articles will also be elaborated on over time as part of an ongoing project that will be published in various outlets and will be archived online at This is version 1 of this article. 

It takes a lot of effort and time to write these articles, but your support is a great inspiration. Please share on social media to spread the love. Follow me on twitter to get the latest updates: @kostasfant.

I would like to thank Kris Shaw, Deb Blyth, Nicolas Gregoriades for their help and my instructor Wander Braga for patiently answering so many questions during our training sessions.

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, terms or concepts without express and written permission from Kostas Fantaousakis is strictly prohibited.

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