These old vintage pro wrestling matches contain a lot of gems from way back when, since so many of the athletes had a base in catch-as-catch-can wrestling techniques that actually worked on resisting opponents.
Lou Thesz in particular is famous as one of the all-time great legitimate grapplers in this tradition, who could nonetheless put on a fantastic scripted show to entertain crowds who were totally invested in the action.
Check out the video playlist below, where I isolate a lot of these gems and add my own analysis and commentary.
Check out the playlist below to see a bunch of techniques and sequences wherein I found legitimate catch wrestling techniques amidst a scripted match between these vintage professional wrestling legends.
Here’s another YouTube playlist wherein I isolate and analyze a bunch of legitimate catch wrestling techniques amid otherwise theatrical bits of flash, by some of the earlier pioneers of the sport / art.
I started a new podcast for some of the more intellectual / spirtual dimensions of what I do, in terms of martial arts and yoga.
This medium allows me to provide readers / listeners with a different medium, as everyone absorbs information (and even: entertainment) better in different modalities. You can check out the podcasts at the links below:
I’ve been slicing and dicing (and adding commentary to) a lot of old archival footage of classic catch wrestling matches, while mining them for the legitimate bits exhibited by the early pioneers.
To elaborate: early Professional Wrestling events were still very much rooted in realistic combative techniques performed by athletes who were used to grappling adversarially in unscripted bouts. Some of these guys were absolute legends, including Lou Thesz (one of the athletes included here).
How might one be both a student and teacher of martial arts at the same time? Even more specifically: how can one both teach and learn grappling and MMA disciplines that are “show me” arts, wherein there’s no artificial structure where the teacher is never tested, and their authority is a sacred and dogmatic presence on the mat. And why is this question even important?
At some point in your journey, many of you will find yourself in this position of simultaneous teacher / student roles, whether you willingly sought it out or the responsibility was dropped onto your lap. Sometimes you’re the blue-belt who’s asked for help teaching new students. Sometimes you’re the brown belt who is impatient to start your own school. Maybe you’re just an experienced mat-rat whom a rookie grappler attaches themselves to, and you didn’t seem to have much of a say in the matter. However it happens, most of us experience one or another version of this growth into teaching roles at some point before we even feel “finished” ourselves, the higher we go in hours of mat time logged.
Sometimes the demands for either role are a lot on their own. Meeting the dual requirements can be an even bigger challenge, and not always in just the intuitive and expected ways. You’ll have to keep the humility of a student. You’ll also have to confront your confidence levels about credibly passing along techniques even if you’re not the best combatant in the world, keeping imposter syndrome (a hindrance serving neither you nor your students) at bay. And you’ll often have to pivot between both of these situations within mere seconds of one another.
It’s hard, but here’s a dirty little secret: you should have this lifelong dichotomy of student / teacher anyway, if you’re lucky. Some of us wish we still had so much access to our own teachers, without having to cast a wider net for our own continued learning. You’ll inevitably do the same, looking everywhere for knowledge to keep yourself growing as a student and teacher of other students. So your appetite for new information should never dull; just go ahead and throw any impulse to create an illusion of all-knowingness right in the trash, and sooner rather than later.
Don’t wait for someone like me to tell you that every teacher in this art is mortal, and if they aren’t tapping to training partners, they aren’t training hard enough. Don’t wait too long to realize that this idea applies to you as well. Be prepared to have rough rolls in front of your students, wherein you don’t always come out on top. And use those rough rolls to sincerely advance your progress and fill in your weak areas. Stay rooted in the real. Don’t become the mythical teacher.
That’s mostly the secret: be as enthusiastic about serving as a teacher as you are willing to tap, and be as willing to be humbled as you are insatiable to learn new things. And if/when you’re capable enough to get to black belt, don’t believe your own hype.
Further, if you don’t fall into either of the categories I mentioned above (you sought out a teacher role, or one was thrust upon you): consider going into this split-identity willingly. It will work wonders for your own understanding of technique. It’s often said that you never truly understand a technique or principle until you have to teach it to someone else.
These seem like basic truisms, but you can actually make a lot of these concrete disciplines, to keep yourself from getting stagnant. In case you’re wondering, that is one of the biggest dangers once you’ve been in a teaching role long enough, and yes, your students’ own learning and progress will suffer from that stagnation. Make wish-lists of areas to research, and check them off systematically.
And what about serendipity? Isn’t that a key to continued growth too? Yes!
Check-in routinely with your level of openness to discovery apart from stuff you’ve already listed out. Watch grappling sports / arts lateral to your own, and be systematically curious about what’s going on in those areas; make lists of things that catch your eye from those lateral domains as well, and then chase down those lists.
Still have access to your teacher, even if not in an every-day sense? Great! Share your research activities with them, even if just in broad strokes. And be prepared that they might not align with all your curiosities and new avenues of discovery, but good teachers want you to develop in ways diverging from their own mold.
Did I mention to stay humble? And rooted in a never-ending awareness of your own mortality as the student/teacher embodied in one? Yes, I think I mentioned that in several different ways, but its worth repeating. Make this a journey you start early, so you rarely have to re-situate yourself in an awareness of your own vulnerabilities. Get as much of the cognitive dissonance pre-confronted as you can at blue-belt, purple belt, brown belt, and so on. If you become a teacher once you’re already supposed to be “the guy to beat” in the room, you may have a much harder time learning the balance it takes to be a lifelong student while also teaching.
As a bonus bit of advice, nurture the ability to see your students as your occasional teachers too. This will often become literally true the moment you notice they learned a technique (out of all the nearly endless supply of techniques out there) that you haven’t learned yet. It can be a big honor and confidence booster for your students when you show this willingness to learn from them, and they also feel just a bit more connected to you as a human being rather than an unapproachable mentor figure.
On that note, do your part to nurture a healthy culture of peer-reinforced learning, while still being careful to manage the well-known phenomenon of the white belt in the room who constantly tries teaching literally everyone in the room a bunch of stuff they don’t know themselves. Which, yes: you will definitely have to confront this challenge at some point too.
On the note of dojo-cultures to nurture, that’s a great part of it: a sense of appreciation for students investing in one another’s learning. Set that example as both a fellow student and a teacher. Make it about the school, not about you. In fact, that last bit can serve as a skeleton key for just about every other aspect of advice listed above.
This is one of those tricky “junk-jitsu” submissions that actually requires you to do something we’re strongly discouraged to do in BJJ: expose your back to your opponent. Somewhat related to the way we manage the threat when we do knee-bars or toe-holds, we focus our weight toward the break rather than towards the choke. We threaten a break on a long bone (the shin) rather than a joint. When breaks do occur, it is VERY QUICK. So a great deal of caution and non-ego has to be used when training these. Not super high-percentage per se, but definitely a tool for the toolset.
BJJ is a voluntary ordeal by which you expand your notions of self and your capabilities. It serves as a catalyst to your physical body’s evolution. It deepens and adds to the types of relationships you have in your life, with a room full of training partners and mentors. It thus also magnifies the extent to which you can identify your own concerns and dreams with those of your teammates, teachers, students, and maybe even your fans if you reach some sort of athletic or instructional celebrity.
You’re likely to help others grow too, implicitly, unless you’re in the wrong environment. You and all those in your dojo are on a trajectory with a beginning, middle, and an end, even if there are several plot twists and narrative confusions. Not everyone’s story arc will be the same; many drop off at different stages of the journey, and perhaps you’ll outlast many alongside whom you began your journey. Your circle of student-peers at the end looks quite different than it did at the beginning, should you make it that far.
You’ll have long dark nights of the soul, doubting yourself, when you hit seemingly insurmountable plateaus or challenges to your improvement; sets of crises that you need to dig deep and take hard looks at the deepest parts of yourself to resolve. You’ll need to expand your notions of “faith” to include expanded belief in yourself, your teachers, and the efficacy of the techniques and the learning process as a whole.
Put succinctly: you’re not the same person as when you began your journey, after enough time has passed.
Now that those initial observations are out of the way, I need to mention one thing right off the bat: this is not a religious piece, at all. I’m not offering anything in that department. You would not have a clear idea whether I’m an “atheist” or a “believer” whether we had a long conversation or a short one about it. That’s because I don’t personally have such a simple answer for such a complex universe. My own viewpoint is not crucial to yours in that sense though. Be whatever kind of believer or non-believer you want to be, and once we establish some workable terms, we’ll probably discover some useful enough common ground for the topic at hand.
“Spiritual” is a word that makes my skin crawl at least as often as I find myself jiving with someone else about it, like we’re on the same page about such a wide-ranging term. I mentioned above several aspects of human experience that we can fold into a communicable experience of the “spiritual.” I’ll take it from the categorical to the specific, however, just to make it even clearer. For convenience, place a “perhaps” at the beginning of each of the following examples, as everyone’s mileage may vary.
You’ll find yourself anchoring onto one or two very specific sayings or maxims your teacher often repeats about a BJJ principal. You’ll find yourself eventually applying it to other areas of your life. For example: “basic doesn’t mean simple”, as a maxim about the deep and rich complexity inherent in the fundamentals, and how far you can take them.
You’ll find yourself seeing the agony or the victory of a teammate, and experiencing it as your own; suddenly, in that moment, the distinction between “you” and “them” collapses just a little bit; in mystical terms, this is something like a metaphysical union of spirits and identities, even in miniature. You’ll see just how much deeper this experience can run once you see a teammate injured badly; perhaps you almost even feel like you personally feel the pain of that torn knee, even if just in an echo of your imagination.
You’ll find yourself reading books or watching interviews by people in totally unrelated fields of study or practice, observing the lessons of mastery that they’ve gained along the way. You’ll (consciously, or otherwise) begin applying that to your own practice. You may even communicate it to students one day, as a teacher. This is nothing short of an act of consciousness expanding, which becomes a communal act of the same sort, once you’ve taken on a teacher role.
You’ll be the person who pivots someone’s life forever, in one or another context. You’ll be the opponent that crushes them in a match, after which they vow to never endure such a defeat again; suddenly, they become driven mat-monsters. Or maybe you’re the one who says one simple and profound bit of consolation to a frustrated teammate; whatever you said, at that right time or place, suddenly makes sense to them in a way nothing else had; even if it seemed an obvious insight in your own mind.
You’ll be the one who introduced someone to the sport; perhaps even kept them involved when they felt like quitting; perhaps this person tells you, in a heart-felt moment, that you are someone who helped you to not commit suicide; I’ve had this said to me several times as a coach.
The things you taught (or helped another train) literally saved someone’s life. I’ve had at least one person definitively say this to me, and one or two others imply it; that their lives were saved, and also that they weren’t raped. This is not just a casual hobby, it has martial (defensive, offensive) application in real-world settings.
You’ll experience the burning regret of having introduced someone with soul-sickness of one kind or another to this hobby, and they misused the gift. Maybe they hurt and dominated people with the “gentle art,” breaking the trust of all their teachers. That knowledge never quite leaves you, and you’ll have reminders along the way.
You’ll experience a sense of time stopping as you see someone execute a technique so perfectly that it almost doesn’t seem real; maybe this person executing this technique is you, in another case, and the imperturbable sense of “flow” while executing it made you feel almost as if you were not even piloting your own body as you did it. You’ll have an aesthetic experience of beauty creep up on you, in the context of a combat sport.
Maybe, if you are religious, you find yourself in one or another negotiation with your god; pleading for help and support in an athletic quest that you’ve come to identify so deeply with your sense of character, worth, accomplishment, and so on. Maybe later in your life, you feel differently about those moments wherein you asked God to get involved. Or maybe you just assume your God was involved in both your successes and victories, and that your portion was doled out according to some necessity.
The resiliency and grit you learned from jiu-jitsu helped you endure through other great life challenges. Maybe those other challenges were a thousand times more dangerous and threatening, but nonetheless were approached with the same courage and mindset with which you approached your training.
Along your training journey, you finally begin to understand some of the statements of old martial arts masters (or even masters of other disciplines) which before seemed like cryptic nonsense. Suddenly you have a rich experience to draw from, and it begins to decode old wisdoms that have surrounded you for your entire life.
There will come a moment, if you’re lucky, where you understand that you and your competitive adversary are one and the same instrument of one another’s mutual growth. The simultaneous competitive zeal is somehow equally braided with regard, respect, concern, and admiration for the adversary who made the self-expansion possible.
You’ll learn the focus and discipline of the zen-buddhist samurais who day in, day out, honed their skills, until all they could see (literally, it seems) was the bullseye at which they aimed, as the rest of the world literally faded away. You’ll suddenly realize how much sense the old meditation practices of these warriors now makes sense to you, as it is all only ever the same practice of archery whether on the battlefield, the practice-field, or sitting cross-legged with only the image of the bullseye in the silence of your own mind.
You’ll contribute to the growth of children, if you’re around a kids program. The sense of contribution here is about as primal to our species as possible, short of rearing your own children, and your lessons and mentoring will become part of these children’s souls forever. When you realize this, and when you realize that you’re repaying the same contribution you received (at some point, from some mentoring adult), that might stretch all the way back before history, in an endless unbroken line. Your notion of “self” again expands, radically.
Those, my friends, are just some quick examples.
But: wasn’t this labeled as a “how to” article?
“How” to have a spiritual experience in this art barely needs any external instruction. So many of these things will simply happen to you along the way. However, your receptivity to it all, and your ability to put language to the experience, will increase if you also make yourself a student of other disciplines.
The works of poets, philosophers, saints, mystics, artists; these should all be part of your diet if you wish to have the deepest possible experience of something you’re already doing. Give yourself as many contexts to understand your experience as you can. Read books, listen to audio lectures, take courses, find mentors in these areas as well as BJJ coaches. Your soul, your spirit, your mind, your heart will have room for nearly all of it. And any of its quantity that overflows is likely to spill into your neighbor’s cup. So be greedy.
I hate to be the one to break it to you, but there’s already nothing “pure” about whatever flavor of BJJ you’re training. All any of these bodies of techniques, systems, philosophies etc. are: hybrids, bastardized arts, constantly evolving. They all also assuredly have several points of dubious “authenticity” in their mythic lineages, just as often containing several crucial moments of cross-pollination with other surrounding (or even competing) arts.
So you’re a mutt. Whether you like it or not. And being a mutt is great! Even from a genetic standpoint, if we use animal husbandry as a (terrible) analogy: cross-breeding tends to breed resiliency, whereas focused breeding “programs” usually produce exaggerated features at the expense of all kinds of other deficiencies and disadvantages. Just look at a pug and tell me otherwise; it is designed for maximum ugly-cute effect, not much else.
Back to the direct topic at hand (cross-training), you should 100% do it. If you have a professor or sensei that says you shouldn’t — if you’re an adult — you should probably ignore them. Yes, I said that.
I see the argument of keeping a streamlined and focused set of priorities; learning a defined set of related “fundamentals” before going crazy learning fringe techniques. Valuable, crucial, and understood. I have to tell several white belts a year to try to resist the urge to spend all their time learning rubber guard instead of non-10th Planet fundamentals.
However, at a certain point in your development: please indeed ignore that advice not to cross-train. If you train at a BJJ school, and you have access to practitioners of other arts (wrestling, judo, sambo, sumo, akido, catch, and so on) you should definitely pick their brains. Sometimes the fundamental goals and suppositions of these arts do not match up 100%, but there is almost always a common core of cross-applicable function. And that place of overlap, from different angles, is an extremely fertile space… once you have enough context to know when and how to deviate from your own given set of BJJ fundamentals.
Some of you might be clutching your pearls and holding your breath at this advice. That’s because there is a widespread issue of cult-thinking and related issues in a lot of BJJ gyms in America, probably elsewhere. And in this environment, experienced (but dogmatic) teachers exert an incredible influence, while warning against cross-training. But the history of BJJ itself makes it abundantly clear that the entire art is nothing other than the output of innovative cross-training and bastardization.
Let me start with the obvious: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu already began its life by deviating specifically from its inherited Japanese Jiu-Jitsu (and Judo) assumptions. It took an established system, honed in on it, focused on the ne waza (ground) aspect and self-defense aspect. It then pressure-tested these innovations (and bastardizations), in the milieu of an honor culture where everyone literally fought each other to prove their legitimacy — and whatever else they were trying to prove.
This part usually shocks people: there are times in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu’s history where playing the closed guard wasn’t much of a thing. At best, it was not a priority, and a bit earlier than that, may have even been scorned. Hard to imagine now, but it’s true; the closed guard was a specialization that eventually came to define the sport, whereas before it’s rise to prevalence, it was considered a hazardous and disadvantageous position; like you were already losing a match if you found yourself there.
Nowadays, its about as difficult to imagine BJJ without a guard (if not specifically a “closed” guard) as it would be difficult to imagine the absence of single-leg takedowns and double-leg takedowns… which, incidentally: BJJ also did not always teach.
Schools generally do include these crucial takedowns as a fundamental now, even though we’ve now seen a plunge into butt-scooting (and schools that seem not to start matches standing, at all). BJJ has a gravity in which its priorities tend to fall closer and closer to the ground, and what happens on that ground. So this shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, however regrettable. It’s why the closed guard got its innovation-moment in the first place.
In Japan, parallel to this evolution, a brand of “Kosen Judo” players found many of these same insights, very much counter to the orthodoxy all the way at the top of their already distinctly “new” and “modern” mashup art of Judo. They focused on mat work (ne waza) including guard submissions, and are actually credited as the creators of triangle chokes (sankaku jime) as well knee bars (hiza juji gatame), among other moves we now take for granted as BJJ contributions.
Judo’s founder, Jigoro Kano, certainly included ground techniques in the Kodokan Judo curriculum. Go look through the textbook if you haven’t already; you’ll get a humbling lesson on exactly how much has been borrowed from Judo. However, he found extended ne waza “undignified” and mostly rejected the value of focusing on these ground-innovations, even as the Kosen Judo players absolutely swept tournaments against non-Kosen Judoka. He only reluctantly relented, but certainly never shifted the focus of Judo as a whole to reflect this change of heart.
It bears reminding that this was also the period of time where high-level Judoka were being absolutely dominated by more than one catch-wrestler challenges without the gi, whose groundwork (among other aspects) was superior. Kano borrowed many of the standing techniques, less (but not zero) of the ground techniques, just because Kano was far more interested in the battle on the feet. He never seemed to completely abandon this bias either, despite its evident efficacy.
The other grappling students and athletes seeing these innovations, in very different parts of the world (and at the roughly equivalent times) had a choice: would they stick with their old set of fundamentals, or would they borrow and adapt effective techniques from elsewhere? Would they move in the direction of adopting innovations more widely? Many made the choice to stick to their defined art’s focus, if not all. Even as Kano selectively incorporated (and re-contextualized) many other “ethnic” styles’ techniques into the Judo cannon, many others under his influence showed less willingness to do the same spirit of adaptation, in favor of obeying Kano’s particular adaptions. But not all judoka or jiu-jitsukas followed suit.
These adapters became practitioners of “bastard” arts at that time, which at least opened the doors to more hybridization with other arts. Mitsuyo Maeda, dubiously credited as one of BJJ’s root-lineage founders — was definitely one of these hybrid-fighters. And he was certainly not the only one. Sambo’s creation by Russian judoka — fusing ethnic Eastern European wrestling styles with Kodokan Judo — is only one of the most prominent examples.
Less well-known catch-wrestlers and judoka were certainly influencing one another, trading techniques, at several points in history. There have been several other less-immediately recognized hybrids, and at least one or two other recognizable strains that persist to this day, and their blend of catch-wrestling and Judo was usually a common theme. There is a rich written historical record making this very clear, in addition to the living practitioners sharing their oral histories to support this narrative.
Gene LeBelle’s grappling lineage is certainly an example of one of these parallel cross-fertilizations; typically lost on most, because of his overshadowing involvement in professional wrestling. As a champion judoka, he also cross-trained with the (arguably last) authentic generation of catch-as-catch-can wrestlers in the US; his books are filled with material gleaned from this process, and is very obviously rooted in both traditions.
The entirety of the Lancashire Catch Wrestling tradition in England, as just one example, is very obviously a product of this cross-fertilization process, without ever having been the beneficiary of the same creative branding and marketing as BJJ. One or two of The Snakepit’s Billy Robinson’s peers (one of whom began as a competitive judoka) are still teaching young students today. The other primary icons further back in Catch-Wrestling’s history, in their text materials, constantly address the inclusion (or adaptation, or counters against) specifically Japanese techniques; from Farmer Burns, Earle Liederman, and others.
This happened in already-hybrid, already-bastard-art world of BJJ as well; deviations from the norm proved effective here and there, even if the majority of practitioners didn’t always adopt each innovation.
Oswaldo Fadda and his BJJ school included many leglock submissions found in earlier Ryu of pre-Judo Jiu-Jitsu lineages, and also (assuredly) borrowed more besides from nearby Lute Livre (Brazilian Catch-Wrestling, essentially) athletes. They even demonstrated their dominance with these leglocks in a school vs. school challenge tournament against the Gracie Academy, though leglocks did not (despite their effectiveness) become more widely adopted following this event. They remained shrouded in disdain by many lineages, just as in the case of Kodokan Judo forbidding them — despite many of their highest-profile Judoka, like Mifune, both using them in randori and including instructions for leglocks in his textbook.
Toward the middle of the 20th century, Rolls Gracie started cross-training with wrestlers, including Bob Ray, for whom the “Americana” submission nickname was named. His takedown repetoire was suddenly a quite innovative blend of judo takedowns and wrestling takedowns, and his grappling style grew more generally to include the benefits of of this hybridized style. Until his early death in an ultralight accident, he was considered the “best of all time” before Rickson Gracie (or more recently: Roger Gracie) earned that designation. And speaking of Rickson, he (as well as a few other prominent Gracies) certainly also entered wrestling and sambo matches, which implies at least a degree of specifically adapted training even if they were to remain within the BJJ lexicon.
The current explosion in leglocks shows a defacto return to this cross-pollination phenomenon, as the BJJ repetoire for leglocks was certainly not a self-contained, self-sufficient set of techniques (let alone: systems to tie them together) on its own. Catch wrestling, sambo, and other related arts have been using these leglocks for years while most BJJ schools handled them like contaminated materials. Now John Danaher and his athletes stand on the shoulders of these giants, binding together the vocabulary they’ve established into a new kind of grammar, and instantly dominate their chosen arenas of competition (ADCC, EBI, etc).
In the modern era of MMA, we see so clearly that cross-training in that sport is not only advantageous, but is necessary these days to do well. And yet, for some reason, we in the BJJ world are so much more reluctant to accept as a fact that cross-training becomes a crucial step in a grappler’s development. At the time of this article’s writing, Kabib Nurmagomedov — a Sambo fighter, who clearly benefited from a great deal of cross-training — is typically being mentioned as the new greatest-of-all-time fighter. Not a BJJ fighter; not a stylist from the art for which the UFC began as a marketing gimmick. And Kabib is just one in another very long line of fighters with a specific stylistic focus whose cross-training is nonetheless a bullet-proof, self-evident aspect of their dominance.
Hybridization works. So make it work for you.
You should mostly listen to your professor / sensei when they tell you to focus on the fundamentals for a while. But be prepared to disobey them, and sooner than you’d think. By the time you’re a white belt with 2-4 stripes (blue belt at the latest) you should definitely seek out a parallel path of development. By this time, you have almost certainly gotten a broad enough exposure to the fundamentals, if not mastery of all of them. You’ve almost certainly had the principles drilled into your head long enough by now that you should be able to more judiciously know when to experiment with deviating from those fundamentals.
One of the cheekiest examples I like to mention is choking people out from inside their guard. When you’re first beginning your BJJ journey: don’t do it! You’ll get arm-barred, triangled, oma-platad, and everything else… more often than not, that is; when you try that on suficiently experienced grapplers.
And yet: when people try to tell my old judoka black belt friends that they “shouldn’t” do this: they just smile, nod, and damn near choke their partner unconscious; they’ve developed enough sensitivity to know how and when to take that risk. From a pure BJJ perspective, this breaks a lot of “good funamentals” rules, and yet, I personally do it all the time; certainly because I’ve cross-trained with those old judokas who taught me the trick to do it well without getting caught in a submission.
There are so many more examples of the benefits of cross-training, but I really like that one explicitly because it “breaks a rule”. Another less “rule-breaking” (but delightful) example includes cross-training in Akido for wristlocks; when you adapt them with some BJJ-pinning and leverage principles, they suddenly become less a set of fantasy dance-moves and more a set of sneaky (and brutal) solutions to all kinds of problems.
The benefits of training Judo and Wrestling for takedowns should be self-evident, but what may be less obvious is the alternative takes on pinning they both offer.
BJJ likes to drill all their students, near-absolutely, for a preference to take the back while attacking turtle and so on. However, I know many athletes for whom back-taking is just not their best option, whether for physiological body-type reasons or others. Wrestling turns, tilts, rides, and other transitions being excellent options for these athletes, because the BJJ players they use them against lack responses most of the time.
Pinning an athlete against their back is still an absolutely excellent way to win fights, grappling matches, and more. Wrestling’s single-minded insistence on getting that pin is its own very rewarding cross-training adventure to engage; its benefits for MMA should be quite obvious by now, but they also translate to pure grappling in my opinion. The explosiveness of wrestling transitions, all on its own, is a great alternative option to have to the slowy-and-flowy BJJ pace; depending on your opponent, you suddenly have a choice who gets to push the pace.
And while we’re on the subject of pinning, have you ever been pinned on your back by an experienced judoka who was trained to keep you there for twenty or so seconds? It should have felt very different than a lot of BJJ top positions where people are often relaxing while blocking out your transitions, and waiting for submission opportunities. My old Judo sensei’s kesa gatame (scarf-hold; or a wrestling head-and-arm pin) felt absolutely death-inducing. He could very reliably finish experienced BJJ guys once he got past their guards into that spot.
There is absolutely a distinct difference in the advantages of these different takes on pining, and yet I’m not prepared to call one better than the other. I prefer to have the choice of which pinning philosophy to use, depending on who’s across from me on the mat. I might need to grind the fight and breath out of a stronger opponent with a judo pin, while I might need to have craftier (and more relaxed, responsive) pins for more tactical opponents. It varies by the individual.
If we’re going to mention Sambo, which we should: let’s just say that they are already such a beautifully balanced product of cross-training priorities. That’s why their athletes are able to transition so smoothly to different rulesets and formats. That’s why (among other reasons) Kabib ended on top as a G.O.A.T..
Another example which should be self-evident by now, but isn’t: BJJ guys who never train takedowns and fall to their butts every single time in a match… it’s as incomplete a solution as it looks. Don’t do that in any real life situation, ever. Don’t do it in MMA either, for your sake. I don’t want to read a viral story about your beat-down, or watch it on YouTube.
Think of all this like a college plan, if that helps; you’ve picked your major, now pick a minor (or two) to support it. No system in and of itself is both perfectly complete and perfectly adaptable. If you’ve chosen BJJ as your framework, and given yourself enough time to absorb that framework intuitively, pick your left-hand option to make it that much more versatile. Be subtle if you have to, if cross-training annoys your teacher (and you deem such a school worth sticking around), but do get the cross-training in progress, and feed it little detours from time to time.
I once polled a bunch of my friends within a few cross-sections of my social media demographics about why more of them didn’t try training BJJ. The answers varied, and many would be the excellent cause for another post or ten, but I can address at least one simple answer here: the cost factor. More than one of my friends from very different walks of life immediately identified the prohibitive membership fees and gear prices, and I couldn’t argue with them. In fact, one friend in particular called it a “luxury hobby”. I think he was right.
Now, many of you will immediately rattle off your “someone motivated enough will find ways to make it happen” line. And its not that you’re wrong, it’s just that we’re forgetting about a window of time where people are even figuring out whether its a hobby they’d be interested in doing several times a week. Just as many of you will maintain the previous line, and insist that it’s a sort of in-built filter to weed everyone out but those with disposable income or else those who already know they really want to do it.
Sorry, but that’s really pretty silly in my opinion. Not everyone has to be immediately rabid about doing BJJ for it to have value in their lives. In fact, the vast majority of casuals and family-oriented students make up the actual segment of customers keeping most dojos open. Those students probably should not come with the same obsessive mat-rat attitude as the obsessed students; it will not, on average, be sustainable with everything else they have going on in their lives. Or, worse: that level of zeal will end up injuring them out of practice prematurely anyway.
With that in mind, let’s consider a few ways to make it that much more affordable for newbies, who might otherwise represent a group of students adding unique value, viewpoints, talents, and so on… when they might be getting priced out unnecessarily in many cases. Let’s at least review cost-saving things to make it easier on these potential students!
Aside from membership costs, this is nearly always the cost-objection raised by casuals. They are shocked when they find out the price of a nice gi (most crucially: one that actually fits them reasonably well, and that won’t disintegrate after a handful of grapples).
Some academies offer you a basic gi when you sign up… which is great! Some actually make you buy one of their branded gis… which might not be great! One will get you started, but many students, due to varying laundry bandwidths, will need at least one more. Additionally, if they plan to compete, some organizations (like IBJJF) will actually require them to have two different color gis with them.
When I very first started training, the standard-issue beginner gi was the unbleached oat-colored Tiger Claw Judo gi. Those are still around (and still cheap, at $30-$50 a pop) but they also fit loosely. There are also some great Fuji basic judo / BJJ gis that fit just a little bit better, but are about as bulky; also for about $40-$60. Either one of these will at least give you that second gi to rotate in.
Hack: Tailor Your Entry-Level Gis
As an experiment, I actually bought one of those standard-issue Tiger Claw gis (a larger size, so the sleeves wouldn’t be too short) much later in my BJJ career, and had it altered. I hired a tailor slim it down for about $20, so that the top would be less baggy and the sleeves would still be IBJJF-compliant for competitions.
The tailoring process for me was extra-useful because I’m already a tall lanky guy who has a hard time finding ideally-fitted gis. In my case, I did this as a trial run to see what would happen if I had a more expensive gi put through the same process; which I did later. The results were about the same. It worked!
For those budgeting their purchases paycheck to paycheck, this tailoring option can be really helpful. It lets you wear the baggy gi enough times that the laundry eventually shrinks it much more snugly than out-of-the-bag use. The tailoring you pay for later (maybe about a month or two in) can then dial in the size just right.
I might be one of the only people I know who did this inexpensive-gi tailoring hack, even just as an experiment, but again: the results worked perfectly for me. Your mileage may vary.
Look for Deals
I voluntarily sign up for e-newsletters from a few BJJ-related eCommerce websites which sell discounted gear; including gis. Several of the very best gis I’ve gotten have been from very aggressive deals run by these sites. It’s spammy email that I actually willingly seek out, because the deals are that good, every once in a while. BJJHQ is a great example, FightersMarket.com has run a decent deal or two I’ve noticed as well, though there are others.
Wait for Your Dojo’s Branded Gis
Again, a lot of dojos do at least limited productions of their own custom-branded Gis, with embroidery or otherwise. The template of gis for this can often be surprisingly good, and the reason is simple: many of the manufacturers overseas reach out directly (quite aggressively) to dojo owners even and other non-business black belts to try to get them running heavily discounted custom orders.
Assuming your dojo is not one of those aforementioned environments that make you buy a branded gi (usually heavily marked up for some profit), this can be a great opportunity for a great gi at a reasonable cost.
Ask your professor / sensei if they do this from time to time, and if so: ask how much they charge for it. I’ve had professors quite happily pass the savings onto their students just to encourage their branding to be all over the mat, on the student’s backs, etc.. You can definitely make do with an entry-level gi or two (or even, one tailored as mentioned above) until this cost-saving moment arrives.
Don’t Fall For The Expensive No-Gi Gear
There are quite steep diminishing returns for the extra dollars you spend for the best no-gi gear. There are definitely quite feasible alternatives for any who don’t want the simplicity of a high-school wrestling room’s typical array of t-shirts on top and basketball shorts (or board shorts, or swim trunks) on bottom.
So what are you actually paying for, in gear?
What you’re mostly paying for in rash-guards is a rapidly-drying compression gear that won’t catch toes and fingers in it, that will help prevent mat-borne skin infections. It also provides a layer of clothing which won’t be easily ripped like a t-shirt can be. It also won’t ride up your flesh as easily (and, for example: expose your butt-crack, or worse). It will endure just a bit of friction that cotton clothing will not withstand anywhere near as well.
Leggings are mostly to protect your flesh from infections, while still enabling flexibility in the lower body. Secondarily: it alleviates those moments when shorts get pulled all the way up your inner hip-lines. They come in handy for a lot of guard work requiring wide range of motion. People definitely use sweat-pants instead from time to time (again, like a high-school wrestling room sometimes does) but they will definitely not endure as well, and can have the same toe-and-finger-catching issues as cotton t-shirts do.
Shorts are basically just what you’re wearing if you don’t only want to wear leggings and underwear underneath the leggings. So the value they provide besides cosmetic concerns is mostly enduring the wear and tear when you scoot around on your hips and butt. And if you’re a guy, you can also wear a cup without it looking quite as ridiculous.
All those functions are definitely quite valuable, and worth the purchase sometimes. But every extra dollar beyond that is for the flashy design and for the company to make a profit. There are a few alternatives for almost as functional solutions.
Big Chain Retailers, Frequent Clearance Sales
Not that Wal-Mart or Target are awesome companies from an ethical perspective, but they often sell inexpensive long-sleeve compression shirts as well as other pieces I’ll mention below. They very frequently have seasonally-transitioning clearance sales where you can get pieces of gear for $10 or less.
As inexpensive as they are, they definitely serve most of the functions mentioned above. The “don’t ride up my flesh and show my butt-crack” factor can re-appear a bit though, since the shirts aren’t always long enough to tuck in (whereas: rash-guards usually are). However, there’s a rather elegant solution for that, for most people: plain-colored yoga pants.
Yoga pants have higher waists than other leggings designed for men. They function 100% better for no-gi grappling, in my experience. And if you’re insecure about being the butt of clothing-gendering jokes or something (first of all, get over it, but also…) you can get a solid-colored design. These basic-level yoga pants made of dry-fit material are often on sale at several times a year at these same retailers, also often for like ten bucks, or even less. They hold up well, they dry rapidly, they prevent the accidental butt-crack show, and help your legs keep staph infections etc. just a bit further away.
Swim trunks and board shorts at these same retailers can often be around the $10 or less mark. Which comes in handy. They are about as durable as any fight shorts you’d need, though they don’t always accommodate quite as much flexibility in the legs as fight shorts specifically designed for that. I’ve bought swim trunks from these retailers; I just cut out the internal netting, and sliced little side-cuts into it. They then worked almost as well as any fight-shorts I’d bought elsewhere.
Go Second-Hand Shopping
If you can get over any issues of pride, you can find a lot of really amazing stuff at second-hand stores, like Goodwill or even other less recognizable thrift stores. I’ve found incredible (very expensive when new) long-sleeve compression brands. I’ve also found plenty of dry-fit yoga leggings (and also explicitly male sport leggings), and board-shorts for just a handful of dollars each. Consequently, I have a closet full of totally functional no-gear gear, much of which I personally acquired this way. Any hygienic / bio-hazard-related jitters about previous owners come up, its nothing a little diluted bleach or ammonia in the laundry cycle didn’t resolve for me.
Seek out Gear Sponsors
If you post competition photos, or just happen to be one of those photogenic Instagram models without even trying to be, sometimes sponsors actually find you. I’ve had sponsors send me free gear in exchange for tagging and posting, once or twice in exchange for a video I shared on social media. Sometimes, you can seek out these sponsorships with hashtagging, direct messaging, and so on… particularly if you already boast a sizeable following and can demonstrate same.
Work out Tuition Deals
This is the other major, major cost issue for most people, apart from gear. Again, the tuition prices can be pretty prohibitive at many dojos. Some have work-trade options for somewhat menial (but critical) dojo operations needs, and are happy to extend them to prospective students with good attitudes. Not every dojo does though; not by a long shot. But for those that do, this can be a great option.
Some dojos will need help with running the kids classes. Badly. Kids can be a handful, and if you prove to be helpful (and can pass a background check), this can be a great option. I’ve seen more than a handful of budget-challenged (but talented) students make this option a reality, to both parties’ mutual benefit.
So aside from menial work-trades and helping with kids classes, perhaps do an inventory of skilled labor or other value you can propose. There is honestly never a shortage of things a small business like a dojo needs to run successfully, so let them know what you can do, and ask with confidence. Be prepared to show your skills too.
I can think of several cases I’ve personally seen of this work-trade, in practice. Maybe you’re eligible too! Maybe you’re the graphic design, website guru, or other variety of digital guru who can help them navigate other complex technical areas they need help with. Maybe you’re the photographer or videographer they’ve been looking for. Maybe you’re the mechanical repair guy that can do all the fix-it stuff around the dojo. Maybe you can help them with construction issues. I can go on, and on, and on. It doesn’t hurt anything to ask for deals in exchange for valuable trades, whether for reduced tuition or even neutralized $0.00 membership costs.
Whatever your proposition, also just be prepared to accept rejection humbly. Dojos struggle to keep the lights on, as often as not, and they are not always in position (or at least: disposition) to extend value-exchanging deals on reduced tuition, or free tuition.
Above and beyond the ideas I’ve mentioned here, there’s no shortage of problems for which the motivated human mind cannot find solutions. I’ve done several. I’ve even hand-stitched gis that ripped, partially just to see how such a stingy hack would hold-up to a pressure test (answer: dubiously). I’ve seen people manage to pay for their training by documenting it on YouTube and generating ad revenue, when they posed it as a fitness journey.
In summary, I’ve seen students do a fair degree of other totally out-of-the-box things to help keep them looped into an otherwise expensive hobby. If they can do it, maybe you can too. Get creative; BJJ is a problem-solvers sport as it is, so you’ll be getting off to a great start to solve this particular cost problem.