The 5 Factors In Who Wins A Match

A  few black belt friends of mine talk very highly of conditioning.  When they talk about getting better, they often talk about getting in better shape.  In this post I am respectfully disagreeing with them!

I have thought alot about why one person loses a bjj match and the other wins.

When the UFCs first came out, Rorion Gracie heavily emphasized that technique is more important than size and strength.  And in the beginning, Royce Gracie beat opponents much larger and stronger than him.  As cagefighting evolved, most fighters learned at least some Jiu-jitsu and fighters like Royce lost his huge competitive advantage of having lots of technique and his opponents having close to nothing on the ground.

This is why Jiu-Jitsu is the great equalizer.  Someone could outweigh you by 200 pounds, they could be ridiculously strong, they could be in great shape, and they could really want  to take your head off.  But if you wrap your arm around their neck and they don’t defend, they will go to sleep.  All it takes is one mistake on their part and something could be broken or they could be in for a nap!

There are 5 major factors in who wins a match: size, strength, technique, will to win, and conditioning.  If 2 competitors have the same level of each of any 4 factors, but one has more of the last factor, that will be enough to win.

If 2 black belts go at it who weigh the same, and have the same level of strength, they’re technically equal, they both really want to win, but one is in better shape, the one with better conditioning will probably win.  So in that scenario, what my black belt friends say works.  Getting in better shape will help you do better.  But I believe this is only a short term solution.  You can get in good shape for a few weeks, but if you stop your conditioning, your wind reduces and you can be back where you started in no time.

I agree with Rorion Gracie.  I believe technique is king.  Your technical ability does not diminish as fast as cardiovascular conditioning.  Rigan Machado could get in great shape and lose his conditioning after a few weeks, but it would be a really long time for him to lose his technical ability.  He could take a few years off and still easily have his way with 99% of the Jiu-Jitsu practitioners in the world.

Take any of the Machados vs. one of their students.  If any of the Machado brothers were totally out of shape, they are still so technically far ahead of their students that even if the student was big, strong, in good shape, and really wanted to beat the Machado, they are going to tap nonetheless.  I can be a triathelete who lifts weights like a madman, and I could be super focused to beat Roger Machado, but it won’t matter.  I may not be tired after 20 matches, but I still have to tap.  Roger would keep putting me in positions that would result in me going to sleep or getting my arm broke if I don’t tap, no matter how strong I am, no matter how good of shape I am in.  I could lift even more weights, get even bigger, get in better shape, but it won’t change the outcome.

My black belt friends may be mainly talking about competition.  In that scenario, conditioning is really important.  Like I said, when everything else is equal, you have to increase one of the factors.  Increasing size or strength may just put you in a larger weight class, so you are left with will to win, conditioning, and technique.

Bruce Lee used to have a poster on the wall of his school of a man learning to swim.  The man would practice swimming on dry land until one day he goes into the water and nearly drowns!  Bruce was making the point that practicing traditional martial arts katas or forms (prearranged sequences you do in the air) doesn’t help your fighting ability that much.  When I think about this topic of conditioning vs. technique, I think of the same thing.  If you want to improve your Jiu-Jitsu, practice Jiu-Jitsu.   Going running will help you last longer, but you will be making the same mistakes you always make, you will just be less tired when you do it!  Or worse you won’t be tired so you will have more energy to do some escape that requires strength and lots of energy, and you get out, and you don’t improve your Jiu-Jitsu.

One thing I learned financial investing is the concept of return on investment.  And the number one way I use this concet is  in how I spend my time.  If I am interested in improving my Jiu-Jitsu,  I look at what activities will give me the best return on investment.  I believe that drilling technique, then drilling technique with resistance, and focused rolling gives me the best return on my investment of time.

3 Responses to “The 5 Factors In Who Wins A Match”

  1. Shawn King says:

    Technique is KING! (and I thought I was “The King”)

    There were times in the very beginning of my Jiu-Jitsu training (when I first came back from Hawaii training with Relson Gracie) that I rolled with everyone.

    Being that I was pretty much the only Blue Belt Jiu-Jitsu guy in all of Michigan at the time, other Martial Artists came from all over to learn some of the basic techniques that they were watching Royce beat everybody with in the UFC.

    Many times I sparred, rolled, and sometimes even signed the waiver and put on the gloves with opponents that were almost always bigger, stronger, in better shape, you name it.


    They did not have the techniques to win… And that is what it always boiled down to.

    For example, I remember a time when I went up against a guy that was almost 350 pounds… at the time I was weighing in at a whopping 150.

    That’s 200 pounds this guy had on me… Needless to say I was a bit nervous and unsure how it was going to go down… this guy was so big I couldn’t even wrap my legs around him to put him in my guard and his arms where bigger than my legs.

    Not only that, there was a room full of people that I was teaching that really wanted to see how this match would turn out. And that means the pressure was on to uphold the name of Jiu-Jitsu.

    I knew I had more technique than this opponent and I needed to use that to win.

    Once we clinched, I let him take me down, it was a bad move and made for a very rough beginning since he ended up on top… I almost had to tap from the weight of him just laying on me.

    As I started to bump and make very tiny moves to position myself and breath, we transitioned to guard position.

    Quickly, I went for an array of collar chokes in which he was very unfamiliar with at the time and sunk in a deep one within two minutes and had him tapping out.

    Everyone was completely amazed that a much, much smaller person was able to win using superior techniques. Something that was unheard of 15 years ago.

    And that is only 1 story…

    Jiu-Jitsu has more techniques than any other style I’ve ever seen… making it the most technical of all.

    In fact, when I think Jiu-Jitsu, I think TECHNIQUE…
    That is what sets this wonderful art apart from the rest…

  2. Patrick says:

    Technique is king but I focus a lot on my fitness also. Fitness allows me to stay focused while sparring and spar for longer which amounts to more experience on the mat drilling better technique. I would miss a lot of extra/better experience if I was unfit.

  3. admin says:

    Good point Patrick! One of the reasons I wrote this article is because I often hear people say “I need better cardio” and I almost never hear “I need to relax more.” If you do both, relax more and get in better shape, you’ll have a lot more options.

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