Long story short, I’m trying to put on a little bit of useful weight. Skip to the bottom for the delicious recepie I’m using to jam breakfast back into my mornings.

Unfortunately, I’m not bulking up just for the hell of it. In order to continue being competitive in higher level jiu-jitsu competitions, I need to be stronger than I am.

As it turns out, this is harder do than I thought. First of all, getting strong hurts. A lot. Which doesn’t make training jiu-jitsu any easier either.

In spite of the pain, I’ve just started the Stronglifts 5×5 workout program. A number of muscly people I trust have reccomended it as a good starting point for building the type of strength required for jiu-jitsu.

The program consists of two alternating body weight workouts, each comprised of compound free weight exercises with the intent of progressive overload.

If that was gibberish to you (like it was to me a few weeks ago), what this means is that the program has you switch between two workouts which don’t involve any machines or special equiptment. You show up, lift free weights and progressively add a tiny bit more weight each session until you can no longer complete 5 reps at a given weight in an exercise.

Avoiding machines at the gym and focussing on free weights means there is a whole lot more balance and posture involved in the lifts. Because Each exercise activates (and agitates) a big portion of your body, so you have to focus on keeping your whole body activated throughout each lift, and need to focus on less total exercises to get results.

I’ve never been one to get motivated by superficial physical incentives. Muscles are nice, but if I were desperate for them I would have started going to the gym a long time ago.

I’m going to the gym primarily to hone the tools I take to war on the mats.

But what I’ve found out is that in order for all that work to mean anything on the mats, I need to pay a lot of attention to what I eat while I’m off them.

If I want to gain muscle mass, I need to be consuming roughly 4000 more kilojules than I’m used to eating every day and a large portion of that needs to be protein. At my current size, I’m simply not putting in enough food to offset all the energy I expend exercising. Which is a good problem to have. But still…

As someone mostly disinterested in the prospect of breakfast most mornings, this was a troublesome fact to uncover.

However, I think I’ve stumbled across something which is going to solve my problem; peanut butter protein shakes.

Luke’s Peanut Butter Protein Shake

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 2 scoops vanilla flavoured protein powder (whey or plant based)
  • 1 banana
  • 2 table spoons 100% peanut butter
  • 1 table spoon chia seeds
  • 1 table spoon honey
  • 1 date
  • 3/4 cup frozen blueberries
  • 2 cups milk of choice

The best thing about this recepie is that you can prepare it ahead of time.

Just put everything except the milk into a container or zip lock bag and pop it in the freezer. When you’re ready to have it, empty the contents of a container into your blender, add your milk and blitz away!

I’ve prepared a batch of these in advance, and am now looking forward to each morning when I get to slurp down a meal which feels like a treat, even though it’s a necessity.

Jiu-Jitsu allows a smaller, weaker person to handle themselves against someone bigger and stronger, as long as that bigger person doesn’t know the intricacies of grappling.

I’m hard-pressed to think of anything more satisfying than watching a bulky new guy struggle to escape as he gets picked apart by an older 50kg lady – “Does her black belt weigh more?”

Watching this practicality in action is what sold me on the art.

In Jiu-Jitsu, knowledge is a weapon.

After about four classes I was discussing it with one of my closest friends, and of course when I was struggling to physically describe the principles we ended up wrestling in his back yard.

My friend is heavier than me by about 30 kilos. He started lifting in high school, but I never had the attention span.

Expecting to get squished, but wanting to test the effectiveness of what I’d learnt, we fought.

He couldn’t do a thing; he couldn’t get me off of him, and he couldn’t defend my attacks.

If I could neutralise a 30kg weight advantage in four classes, I needed to know what I was capable of after four hundred – and here I am.

A few medals and a bath full of deep heat later, I’ve realised that ignoring strength training has put a ceiling on my competitive performance.

Here’s the thing; knowledge is a weapon against someone who doesn’t know how to grapple as well as you do, but as soon as you’re in the same ballpark of knowledge, once you’ve both brought knives to the fight, strength becomes overwhelmingly relevant.

Being strong in proportion to your body weight is essential for high performance in most sports, and Jiu-Jitsu is no exception.

I found myself romanticising being the little guy; an underdog who was able to win regardless of his size and strength disadvantage. Unfortunately, this narrative doesn’t cut it when the competition gets serious.

I have been in matches where I have weighed exactly the same weight as my opponent, and felt like I was being manhandled from start to finish.

Being weak is not a good game plan.

An experienced friend from the gym put it perfectly;

“You don’t need to be stronger than your opponent, just strong enough not to be bullied.”

I’m not yet. But I should be soon.

If anyone’s selling their weights, let me know.

If you ask Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) practitioners what it is they do when they go to the gym, you will get a variety of responses; some will say they train Jiu-Jitsu; others that they study Jiu-Jitsu; but my favourite, what I usually say when trying to describe Jiu -Jitsu to a friend who’s never encountered it, is that I play Jiu-Jitsu.

I first heard it described this way in a controversial metaphor often used to describe Jiu-Jitsu to the unfamiliar;

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is playing chess with your body.

Some practitioners don’t like this comparison because Jiu-Jitsu, at its core, is a martial art centred around self-defence.

Jiu-Jitsu answers the question;

How can a smaller, weaker person defend themselves against a larger, stronger attacker?

Those who dislike the comparison argue that framing Jiu Jitsu as a ‘game’ trivialises the practical self-defence elements of the art.

Personally, I understand the resistance to the metaphor, but I think it’s important to acknowledge the difference between practical self-defence Jiu-Jitsu and sporting Jiu-Jitsu, so that you go around jumping guard on armed criminals like this guy.

Those of you who train will know what I’m talking about, but for those who don’t, feel free to check out this introduction video for a breakdown of the self defensive aspects of Jiu-Jitsu.

I recommend attending an introductory session to all of my friends for self-defence purposes, even if they have no interest in training long-term.

Intro sessions are free at most gyms, including the gym I train at if you’re in or around Perth. If you’ve never grappled before, it’s definitely worth dipping your toes in.

I have trained to learn how to defend myself on the streets against an opponent who doesn’t know how to grapple. But that’s not why I show up to the gym four times a week. If self defence was my main priority, I’d probably be adding some striking or wrestling into my arsenal by now.

When I show up to practice, I play to develop my own personal Jiu-Jitsu game which I aim to impose on training partners who are usually much better grapplers, and know exactly what I’m trying to do.

Training Jiu-Jitsu has made me significantly more aware of my physical limits, and I am much more confinement in my ability to neutralise physical confrontations, but when I arrive at the gym, I’m not preparing myself to fight for my life.

When I’m rolling at the gym, I do play Jiu-Jitsu like I play chess.

Similar to chess, there is a fundamental hierarchy which governs the game; in chess, different pieces are more valuable than others; in Jiu-Jitsu, these pieces are instead positions.

The value of a chess piece is determined by how mobile it is, while Jiu-Jitsu positions are ranked based on your ability to limit the mobility of your opponent. The more control a position gives you over you opponent, the more valuable the position.

There is one notable exception on the chessboard; the King. While not very offensively useful, it must be defended at all costs. Leave it open to attack, and you risk losing the game.

In Jiu-Jitsu, your King is your neck. You don’t leave it exposed.

In chess you apply pressure to your opponent which forces them to make decisions. You and your opponent tussle over position and pressure as you ultimately progress towards trapping them in a position from which they cannot escape.

In Jiu-Jitsu you aim to do exactly the same, but the consequences of submission are physical and dire.

In chess, you submit, and you lose the game. In Jiu-Jitsu, every submission is an acknowledgement that your opponent could have incapacitated you.

Jiu-Jitsu is like playing chess with your body in the same way that laser tag is like playing war.

Certain principles operate across both games, but Jiu-Jitsu offers a significantly more complex puzzle with severe and tactile stakes.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) people are some of the smartest, strongest, and most dedicated you’ll ever meet. The art of self-improvement is ingrained in their day-to-day.

Most martial arts teach respect and discipline, but not many demand the same level of fortitude, resilience or humility that Jiu-Jitsu demands of its masters.

(Image courtesy Michael Port)

All Jiu-Jitsu masters, those who have dedicated their entire lives to the art, train every day embracing the fact that they will always have more to learn.

They trend towards perfecting their knowledge and technique with the understanding that they will never complete their quest.

Even after a lifetime of vigilant training, they will never fully know Jiu-Jistu.

This is because, like most worthwhile pursuits, BJJ is not a closed system; there is an almost limitless number of actions and reactions to be honed, perfected, and re-honed when something surprising rears its head.

Jiu-Jitsu is being innovated constantly.

To get better at Jiu-Jitsu is to continually realise how much you don’t yet know; the more you learn, the more there is to learn.

I believe this humbling cycle to be at the core of the Jiu-Jitsu mindset. It seems to me the reason that humility and respect are so entrenched in the sport.

People with large egos tend not to last very long at Jiu-Jitsu gyms, because having your weaknesses exposed is a fundamental step towards any level of competence.

There’s nowhere to hide your weaknesses in a roll, and the mats don’t lie. This proves uncomfortable for anyone who can’t handle a regular feeling of defeat.

I’ve seen it first hand; a new guy comes into the gym and as soon as he gets an opportunity to roll, he freaks out. His face goes red as he angrily exerts all his energy trying to pummel somebody who could comfortably choke him unconscious using only their legs.

It usually plays out one of two ways; either the experienced grappler is patient with the new guy, defending themselves casually while he thrashes around and tires himself out, before they strike quickly and efficiently, forcing him to submit; or, they ramp up and meet his intensity not with anger, but with focus. They get on top of him, let their weight drain the air from his lungs as he struggles, and make his life a living hell for however long it takes new guy to calm down.

Being confident enough to productively and openly process defeat is a skillset. Having the self-awareness to know what your limits are, and where you need to improve is so valuable, but getting practiced in the art of failing takes time. You need to dance with the discomfort, dance with the fear, in order to make progress.

(Image courtesy Michael Port)

There’s no denying that it’s tough. But every black belt had a first tough roll. Every single one has felt totally powerless on too many occasions to count at the hands of someone far better than them.

And every time, they chose to come back. This is the entire game.

Training Jiu-Jistu requires you to embrace your fear and choose to show up anyway; to keep getting beat, knowing that all the people who are better than you have all done the exact same thing, and that they have your back; to implement the lessons each defeat has to offer you; to persist.

This ability to persist, to command yourself to get better despite the cost, is what separates those who become black belts from those who don’t.

There’s a saying you sometimes hear black belts offer to demoralised white belts;

A black belt is just a white belt who never quit.

It’s cheesy, but it’s true.

This rule applies to most valuable pursuits in life.

The same applies to writing. The same applies to making ruckus.

If you want to be good at something; figure out how to safely expose your weaknesses, then do the work.

Find people who better than you, and learn from them.

Set up a feedback loop where you will be forced to train.

Come to terms with what you need to change, what you need to do, and how far you need to go to accomplish your goal.

Then, it’s simple. All you need to do is persist.

Don’t quit.