Category Archives: Performance

Extremity in Moderation

Having gone through a number of training camps in the lead up to competition I have had the opportunity to refine my approach. Previously I had never concerned myself too much with the amount of volume I was doing, and if the opportunity came up to train I would generally take it regardless of readiness or recovery. I remember years ago doing 3x one hour intense sessions back to back every Friday, which not so surprisingly left me somewhat wrecked. If there was a high intensity Strength & Conditioning class on at night, I would do it even though I would have a high intensity Jiu Jitsu class scheduled for the next morning. When training at Drysdale Jiu Jitsu for a camp, I would do both the two hours sessions every day that I could.

I think this approach left me in a depleted state, which is not a problem unless it is chronic. I felt that when I was supposed to be putting in my best effort at an intensive Jiu Jitsu class, too many times I would be going through the motions, but would not be putting the intensity and intent into the session I needed to get results.

I have had this conversation with Simon many times around the default medium position. When trying to have a light session, you feel like you are not working hard enough so ramp it up and it becomes a medium session. If you haven’t had sufficient recovery, or the session is too long, you can’t put the work into your session at a high enough intensity and it also becomes a medium session.

What’s so bad about medium sessions? I think that in order for you to change through adaption to stimulus (training) that you need to be approaching the limits of your capability and capacity. When this happens you will undergo physiological adaption, that will improve you over time. If you are always going medium, around 60-80% of capability, there is no stimulus to adapt.

What I have done differently this time is:

  • Reduce any non-Jiu Jitsu training to minimum
  • Any non-Jiu Jitsu activities are either recovery or intensity
  • At least half of the Jiu Jitsu sessions are high intensity sessions of an hour or less

Non-Jiu Jitsu training has included deadlift, but only a total of 10x 1RM lifts once per week. Since the beginning of the year I have increased my deadlift by 20kg with almost no cost to recovery. I have also been swimming once per week, but in keeping with intensity, the strokes per breath start at five and only goes up from there, definitely into the range for physiological adaption. Swimming also provides a form of active recovery as you spend a good proportion of the time stretching with no load on your body. Yoga has also performed a role in recovery, with one session a week of Yin yoga, which is basically holding stretch positions for a number of minutes.

For the nine weeks leading up to the departure to the US we had a Day Class on Sunday that was always an hour or less, but the intensity was kept high. A typical class would be:

  • Sweep for sweep, pass for pass, and takedown for takedown in 2 minute blocks.
  • 4x five minute rounds counting points and discussing the points at the end of the round.
  • 10x pole position drill where the head of the line would call the position, one side of the line would choose top or bottom, and the other side had to make up points in the minute round, 20 seconds to rotate positions and hit the next round.
  • 10 minutes of first points, winner stays in. Challenger has 1 minute to score first or submit to get in, rotating in increasing belt order.

A significant portion of the inspiration for the above program came from the six weeks spent with Ashley Williams at the gym earlier in the year. The format of the class was kept consistent for the nine weeks, to reduce the cognitive load of understanding the parameters of the drill. It may not have been as interesting as mixing up the program each week, but allowed people to put in their best intensive effort, rather than having any confusion around the objective of the exercise.

I have been tracking my recovery with an Oura Ring, which is good at tracking sleep and recovery but not so adept at tracking activity. A coupled of times I can see when I have made a mistake with training load and it takes days to recover from as below. You can see the increase in resting heart rate, and the decrease in the readiness score below, from a two and half hour training session.

At the same time I have been losing 10+% of my body weight to compete as a lightweight. I had done this previously in 2017 for the Pan Ams, but it was more of a last minute effort after losing significant weight during the camp. This time I have been losing weight consistently, and will be spending the last eight weeks before the competition very close to my competition weight, allowing me to be comfortable and apply any necessary adaptions to my game. It also allows me to be fully fuelled on the day I compete, rather than being depleted.

Having arrived in Las Vegas for the training camp, I have had the best first day on the mats yet. Not feeling fatigued with the altitude, dry air, heat and jet lag, and feeling like I was putting in a pretty typical performance for myself, as opposed to other times when I have felt wrecked after the first lap of jogging around the mats.

The theme of Extremity in Moderation has persisted into the camp, whereas previously I would have done all of the available sessions (2x ~2 hour typically intense sessions), I’m now sticking to one session per day, and putting full intensity into that session. Previously I would have felt wrecked, and like I was going through the motions without putting in my best performance, until I was forced to take a break (more of an Extremity in Extremity approach). Now I feel like I have put in my best effort, or as close to it as possible by the time I walk off the mats.

How will this pay off? That is yet to be determined, but I feel that I’m in the best state possible, and expect to put in my best possible performance.

The ultimate training guide – part 1

There are many people who say they have the ultimate training techniques. In all, there is no one method of training. You really have to think about what your after from your training and work around it. Of course, training is sometimes limited by where you live and your access to coaching and equipment. I have made up some great routines with minimal equipment in some bizarre places, on barges in the middle of the ocean, jungle camps and inside deep diving chambers. I really think the best mode of training is whatever you happen to be doing. Almost everything improves you to an extent, but the real secret is you choosing what works best for you based on what you like, and what your sport requires. Over the years I have tried all sorts of regimes and equipment that was supposed to be better than the last.
However, here are my top five exercises.
1. The strict chin-up. Yes, no doubt the exercise that is the great leveller. You can either do them or not.
2. Squats. The squat rack is normally empty. For good reason too as these bad boys are the mainstay of my training. Strength is not just in the legs, but also deep core.
3. Deadlifts. Absolute must. Plenty of combos for this one and easy to do with massive strength gains.
4. Kettle-bells. Little packets of pain. Multiple uses with great core results. These are a must for anyone keen on BJJ
5. Spin class / RPM. This is maximal aerobic / strength work where you can smash yourself into the next life and really find your level of pain.
So over the coming weeks I will tease out the best parts for me of these wicked ways to train. My focus is on a high power to weight ratio and short endurance of 1-2hrs with maximal strength.Again, my tips will likely make no great difference, but might offer a few different options. So if you are just starting out, just watch some youtubes, or find someone on you mat to help you out. See you on the mats!!

Practice makes perfect…or does it?

What a great day back on the mats. Spent some time rolling  with Jamie, one of my mentors, competitor and friend . Certainly no quater given.  A man who lives by the adage that you will be tested each and every time you step on the mat.

Spent not a great deal of time on the mats this year. Sadly life interrupted my BJJ. Though I was told early on in my journey that a day a week for life beats a bunch of days a week for a short time. BJJ has always been my refuge from the world. A place om the mats with people I trust and admire. I live for the roll, I have no favorite positions, submissions or competitors. I dont care for win, loose or draw. I feel safe from intentional injury and I know my friends will push me with their best. I am submitted often but never  feel like I have lost. I admire my warrior friends and their courage to get on the mat, day after day. Sweating and bleeding in the pursuit of a higher goal. I look forward to a year of more time on the mat.


A question I often get is “What can I do to improve my Jiu Jitsu?”. The question usually comes from someone looking for some previously unknown path to success. Sure, I swim and do Yoga for recovery, and I deadlift and squat for strength, but these are not the answer. The somewhat less than magic answer is more Jiu Jitsu. Not kettle bells, not Cross Fit, not gymnastics, not Yabusame. Jiu Jitsu. These other things will help your general physical preparation, but we’re talking Jiu Jitsu here.

For the extra curricular activities I do, it is never at the expense of time spent on the mat. If I am heading into over-reaching/over-training territory, then I’ll drop the other activities first, followed by the more intense Jiu Jitsu sessions if I’m still not recovering.

But what do you get from more Jiu Jitsu? As I have said many times before, you have to be a very special case to keep turning up consistently and not get better. Not better immediately, not immediate success, but one day you’ll realise you have achieved a goal you previously thought beyond you.


How do you get better just with more time? You face the same problem more times. You subconsciously start to internalise the things that work, even a little, when you face the problem multiple times. You get the opportunity to visit that problem with multiple different opponents, all with their own specific attributes. Bigger/smaller, faster/slower, heavier/lighter, stronger/weaker, you get to adjust your response to each of these unique situations consolidating your technique to work in more situations.

You will also almost certainly be exposed to more training partners, and this is key to getting variation and inspiration into your game. When your partner does that unexpected thing, and you don’t even know where you went wrong, but are now doing your best impersonation of a pretzel, that’s a new problem for you to solve. What was it? How do I do it? How do I defend or counter it?


And by stronger, I don’t mean bench double your body weight strong. I mean Jiu Jitsu strong. All the muscles you need will be continually worked, improving the attributes needed for Jiu Jitsu. As you progress in Jiu Jitsu, I believe you move from generating power through individual limbs, and move to generating power with your whole body. It is this core strength that allows you to attack your opponents arm, not with your arm, but to attack your opponents arm with the strength of all the major muscle groups in your body. In addition, all the stabiliser muscles will also strengthen with more time on the mat, improving your control and ability to escape.


When you have been training more, it feels like you are faster, and being faster can be the difference between being on the bottom and being on the top.

Earlier this year, due to a change in circumstances where I took on more responsibility at the gym, I started training Jiu Jitsu 6-8 times a week. I regularly track a number of parameters including Central Nervous System score, reaction time, resting heart rate, weight and sleep using an iPhone app. From the graph of reaction times, you can see the trend line and the obvious decrease in reaction time.


This one came as a bit of a surprise to me. Not only do you feel faster, but you are faster.

So what increases reaction time? Alcohol, is one thing, so easy on the booze.

Final Thoughts

There is an interesting article here on the Sport Science of BJJ:

“Accounting for a whopping 70% of BJJ ability is technique.”

To hijack the quote from Henk Kraaijenhof, Olympic track coach:

“Do as little as needed, not as much as possible. Except when it comes to Jiu Jitsu, do as much as possible.”

Go Train! More!

Grateful rolling

Had a top night on the mats. You know, nothing special, just rolling with some fun fighters. Now today was one of those days where there is plenty of bad going on at work and in general, just plain shitty! But interestingly I was listening to a podcast on the way to BJJ  by Tim Ferris (author of the 4hr body) chatting with Tim Robbins. Tim Robbins specialises in getting the best out of people and has worked with many leaders in all fields of life. I have never really followed him or listened to him before but he was interesting.

One thing that stuck out was that he spends 10 mins in the morning just being grateful. Just of small things like the wind in his face, the sunshine on his back and then he works up to family, friends and job ect. He says that when your grateful its hard to be angry, jealous of sad.

I applied this tonight. Just like he said though, you need to train yourself to think this way and it took some effort. I started off just being grateful walking in to the gym. I was grateful to feel my no-gi gear on (mmm… not the biggest no-gi fan : ) and then just continued this theme with every thing I did.

Still got my shit rolled up!!!! Struggled but was grateful for the wristlock (sort of!!) I don’t know if I felt any different but it sure made me realise just how grateful I actually am for just all that we have at the Arena.

Anyway, give it a try. Be grateful for just one thing in the morning, then just one aspect of every activity or encounter each day. Will it make a difference? I don’t know-but I do know it certainly wont be a negative. Training your mind in BJJ is the ultimate goal. Enjoy and roll safe, and remember – my gratefulness may not extend to too many more submissions ; )

The art of learning

Really interesting previous post on competition v self defence. It leads into my thoughts today on learning on the mat. last night we trained an escape technique that was taught by two instructors. Both showed similar techniques, but we left the teaching just at the base level. What I mean by this is we taught the bottom of the pyramid, giving out just the information to provide a solid base to work from. We learned, tweaked and then drilled this and then went live at the end of the session.

We avoided teaching the fine points, the tricky tips and the sneaky moves. I am a massive fan that at each session, there is always a lynch-pin move. The move in the whole technique that matters. This lynch-pin move gets you to the position that matters, usually where the technique begins to branch into the individuals preference, or more importantly what the individual feels on the mat, determining the final sequence.

What has this to do with competition or self defence? Well what BJJ should teach you is building blocks of information that allow you to overcome instinct of movement. You all know this, when I push you, you push back!! What BJJ doesn’t teach if it remains too structured is your own application. Whether you turn left, right or pop out the back. If its on the mat or in a dark street, only you can decide on application. We see many early belts desire the submission, and forget the crux of BJJ is control of yourself and your maximise your opponent’s instinct.

Summarising, learning BJJ should be about solid platforms of concepts that work and can be applied and built on. BJJ is a ‘spiral’ martial art. There is a finite amount of things you can do i.e. back, side, 1/2 guard but a multitude of actions to paste onto the base actions if you get them right. So when your rolling, learn. Think of the base move, the lynch-pin and get that right. It may take 10, 20, 50 attempts but you will secure the skill. Then add. It is then when you can do this you will be more successful in the most important thing in BJJ (whatever that is?).

It’s Only Natural

It was quite some experience, being a part of the Telethon Adventurers Rollin’ for a Reason with the Arena crew. 24 hours of Jiu-jitsu. Getting ready to leave for the venue, the feeling was a little excited, but also a little nervous.

The experience really underwent a transformation as the time went on. The pace was high, particularly initially, practically a competition pace. There was a level of nervousness before each fight, as there is with competition.

But after a while, in the wee small hours when only the core crew was on, it changed. The perception of time was warped, hours turned into weeks. Fighting began to feel natural, to feel normal. The immersion of the same activity over and over, the non-thinking because you have been awake for 20 hours and you are getting beyond conscious thought.

It was a similar when I was competing recently. In the training leading up to the event I had been using a regime of high intensity, low duration, short rest periods of alternating rolling and circuit. When it came to the actual fights, it seemed familiar and easy. I wasn’t getting caught up in a game I wasn’t familiar with, and a ten minute rest period for the final was a holiday compared to the 45 seconds between rounds in training.

Flow. This is Jiu-jitsu at it’s best.

Unfortunately it is not easily achieved. We come onto the mat with expectations, with a game plan, we try to focus on an area, we invoke conscious thought to solve the problems we are presented with.

Macronutrient Evolution

Fuel. What do you need to power you to your best performance, particularly for competition?

I started off thinking the carb loading of endurance events had something to recommend it. After all, if you can run a marathon, why shouldn’t that be good fuels for a few rounds of fighting? After seeing Tim Ferriss post on the Slow Carb Diet, and subsequently publish The Four Hour Body, I started to see that a diet high in carbs probably wasn’t going to be the best thing to make weight.

So then I was more focused on protein and low carb vegetables, like cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower etc) and lefty greens, salads and such.

From there I started to hear about gluconeogenesis, from Ben Greenfield’s podcast, and also from the book Keto Clarity by Jimmy Moore. Basically if you eat too much protein, it gets turned into carbohydrate. Back to the same problem.

Now I’m working on a ketogenic diet. Eating about as much fat as possible, and minimising carbohydrate. A smoothie I make involves a can of coconut cream and an avocado. I have a blood glucose monitor, to regularly check the impact of the meals I eat. I’m also looking to get a device to measure breath ketones. A ketogenic diet also helps with intermittent fasting, sometimes inadvertently, because I’m not overly hungry.

For further reading check out Ketogenic Diets and Physical Performance by Stephen D Phinney.

Red wine ramblings…

So, as I sit here sipping on a glass of red, nursing my sore, arthritic knuckles from a hard day’s training, I have to wonder, what makes any Barossa Shiraz so awesome?….. The producer, the geography, the climate, the soil… ahhh, that’s right, the Terroir!!!!

And how does this relate to Jiu Jitsu? Well, I’m not sure…. but then when it comes to BJJ, there is a lot I’m not sure about… for instance, what would make sane, intelligent people step onto a mat and choke each other for fun.  What possesses us, day after day, to commit to the acid test that is an open mat, where everyday your ego is checked, when, in every session you can and will be tested. Why, when off injured, you compromise your recovery to just ‘play’. The enjoyment as 2 grown men stand, drenched in sweat, bruised and sometimes bloodied, after sparring for 10 minutes, face each other and smile a genuine smile and then… hug! What about the frustration that comes with trying to explain this martial art, sport, hobby, past time, religion, obsession, life style, family, to someone who doesn’t train. It truly is a conundrum.

People talk about it being an emotional roller coaster, the highs, the lows and everything in between. But in the 15 or so years that I have been training in BJJ, it has never got any easier. In so many ways it gets harder, especially once you get that coveted black belt strapped around your waist… Thanks for that Mr. Robert Drysdale!

Harder in what way? Well, dealing with the responsibility that comes with the rank is a huge one for me. As a person of integrity, I truly want to represent the honour that has been bestowed upon me and on a daily basis I strive to live up to my belt, even having had it for about 4 years…

Another is continuing to try and improve my game, an area I have struggled with for the last year or so, but that will come again… For me, as cliched as it sounds, this is a lifelong pursuit, so a year of marking time is a drop in the bucket. So I won’t let myself get too frustrated, I will deal with my injuries, regain my focus and continue forward…

Then there is the responsibility for students, furthering their education, assessing methods and techniques, adjusting what you do and teach, motivating, leading, inspiring, consoling, learning, listening, reflecting… trying not to let the bad days show, maintaining the daily running of the school… etc, etc…

Anyway, I digress, this blog is about the journey. I am blessed with the people I have around me, the friends that teach, test and mould me, the gym that is my church, and BJJ that is my religion.

As we progress with it, I am going to try and relate what I have learnt, mistakes I have made as well as progression, positives and negatives, ups and downs. In this I hope to impart some knowledge, stimulate some thought and modify some concepts…

So lets try and figure out the essence of why we do this, lets talk about what works and what doesn’t and why, let us observe and report on training methodology (both conventional and un-orthodox), lets throw in health, fitness, performance, nutrition and technique, lets try and work out the terroir that makes Jiu-jits so special to us all….







Quantify Me

If you want to track your overall health and performance, and in particular avoid over-training, what should you measure? What device should you buy to give you insight into when you should push harder, and when you should really just rest up.

Over the years I have tried tracking a number of metrics. Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is a popular metric, that is supposed to give you a good overall picture of your readiness to train. I have also tracked CNS score, reaction times, resting heart rate, weight, sleep quantity and quality.

After tracking HRV with a dedicated OmegaWave device, and other heart rate monitors such as the Polar H7 in conjunction with various apps, I am yet to be convinced the results are consistent with my ability to perform.

I think one of the  worst metrics is weight. If you are competing in a sport that you must fit into a weigh category, then it is obviously important, but as to your general health lighter is not always better.  It is easily affected by hydration levels and glycogen depletion.

I have been between 73 and 90 odd kilograms. When I was at 73 kilograms, I was thrashing my body with long arduous training sessions in excess of two hours, and restricting my calorie intake significantly. This lead to an extended period of 12 to 18 months to recovery from the over-trained state I had put myself in. This morning I’m 77.3 kilograms after six weeks of high fat, low carb diet with no calorie restriction and trying to keep additional training outside of Jiu-jitsu to high intensity, low duration to minimise the amount of recovery needed.

The two metrics that I see reflect the progress of my training are reaction times, and resting heart rate. As my Jiu-jitsu volume and intensity increases in preparation for competition, I see my reaction times generally trend downward. When you feel faster, it’s because you are faster.

For me, resting heart rate is the key metric that shows me the state of my recovery. When it starts going up, I start backing off. When it stays low, I know I’m good to keep pushing. I try to maintain the integrity of the measurement, by using an accurate measurement device, and having a consistent environment to take the measurement.