Get in Shape to Do Jiu-Jitsu, or Do Jiu-Jitsu to Get in Shape?

Get in shape to do jiu-jitsu, or do jiu-jitsu to get in shape?

Back in the 90’s when I started jiu-jitsu, I attended a Royce Gracie seminar. At the end, Royce opened the seminar up for questions. One of the questions asked was what do you do outside of jiu-jitsu to help your jiu-jitsu? Do you swim, run, lift weights, etc? I will never forget Royce’s answer. He answered with a question of his own.“Do you play football to get good at basketball? If you want to get good at jiu-jitsu, then do jiu-jitsu.”
I’m not going to say that all those other activities are irrelevant to jiu-jitsu, of course they are not and if done properly are great for your overall health and will definitely help your jiu-jitsu improve. Fighting for your life will be the most physical thing you will ever do. Better physical attributes will always enhance your martial capability. Competitors especially will benefit from outside strength and conditioning activities. But for the person who is thinking of getting into jiu-jitsu I hear this statement all the time. “I would love to do jiu-jitsu but I need to get in shape first.” I think the reason most people believe this is because they are afraid to look stupid in the class or feel as if they would hold the class back. Most well established academies have a beginners program. You will learn the basic positions and movements and be challenged physically at the same time. The more advanced you get the more you will become physically capable to perform the movements and eventually use less and less energy.
Any time you perform a new physical activity your body will adjust to fit the needs of that activity. If you lift heavy weights your muscle will break down and rebuild itself stronger. If you run for long distances your body will adjust your and cardiovascular endurance will improve. The same will happen with jiu-jitsu but it can be much more involved because when you spar it can be mentally taxing as well as physical. I have seen marathon runners gas out in 5 minutes training jiu-jitsu. There are many reasons for this but one major reason is that there are so many things happening at once a lot of people forget to breathe during moments of strain in grappling. If you run you can focus on your breathing, it becomes almost automatic. You can think about your problems or errands you have to do that day, listen to music or just try to clear your mind all together. When you are sparring jiu-jitsu you have one problem, the person who is trying to choke you, hit you or stretch your joints. You will truly be in the moment. There is no other way to prepare for combat than by practicing combat while balancing highest possible realism with the lowest risk of injury.
If you are interested in learning jiu-jitsu but you feel as if you are too out of shape, worry no longer. Find a reputable school and instructor and get started. Most of the instructors I know are eager to help people make a difference in their lives. What you are eventually going to find is that you will probably enjoy jiu-jitsu so much that getting in shape will just be a byproduct of training. You will get in shape at the same time you will be learning something of extreme value that will have more positive benefits in your life than pushing yourself to go to the gym to run on a treadmill.

-Robin Gieseler