Before I even started jiu jitsu, I remember a highly respected martial artist saying to me “If Bruce Lee were alive today he’d be training with the Gracie family.” That left a lasting impression on me. I wondered why the thought someone so heavily invested in the striking aspects fighting would want to do a grappling-based style. Although he actually did dabble with judo, jiu jitsu and wrestling, he never became an elite level grappler. Despite this, Bruce Lee’s approaches were light years ahead of their time and have a lot of relevance for the jiu-jitsuka. Here are four of them which you can start applying right now:
1. The Value of Cross-Training
Bruce Lee is rumoured to have stated that his Jeet Kune Do system was initially an amalgamation of Wing-Tsun kung-fu, Boxing and fencing, Learning another functional martial art will do wonders for your jiu jitsu. It will give you a fresh perspective. Wherever there is truth there is overlap. I am continually astounded by how much the different systems share, especially when it comes to principles. For example, I recently taught a whole seminar themed around how the elbow strikes in muay thai can be adapted for ne waza training.
2. The Importance of Conditioning
Bruce Lee consistently stressed the importance of being in shape for fighting. And he walked the walk. It’s easy to see that he was a supremely conditioned athlete from the videos and pictures we have of him. His work ethic was superb too. Some of his workouts were legendary and included thousands of pushups and calisthenics. Realising that you have to be fit to get the most out of your time on the mat is an important realisation for those who are still under the delusion that jiu jitsu is only about technique.
3. The Virtue of Mental Flexibility
Bruce lee eventually let go of the notions of ‘styles’ entirely. Although jiu jitsu is a classified system, one of the coolest things about it is that it’s almost a ‘styleless’ style. You can do pretty much whatever you want (within certain parameters, obviously). But getting the most out of this feature of jiu jitsu comes down to how mentally flexible you are in your approach to training. Jiu jitsu is often an exercise in problem-solving, and this requires that you are adaptable in your response to the positions and techniques you encounter. If you are occasionally willing to experiment instead of sticking to rigid formulas it will pay big dividends.
4. “Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless.”
On a macro level, jiu-jitsu naturally adheres to this tenet, as techniques that don’t work are burnt away in the crucible of sparring. But on a micro-level, we can also look at our individual games and recognise a lot of otherwise effective techniques that will not be useful to us. This is usually because of your physical limitations. For example, it’s going to be very difficult for a 300-pound, inflexible guy with tree-trunk thighs to use the triangle, and just as hard for a 140-pound person with knees problems to develop a powerful mount position. Look at each move you are exposed to critically, practise it and ultimately choose whether to discard it or incorporate it into your game. Also, there will come a point where some of your techniques no longer work, whether it be because your training partners have figured them out, or because jiu-jitsu itself has evolved to the point where they are no longer relevant. Either way, you should be willing to let go of them. Bruce Lee was a true martial arts visionary, and his body of work contains many other concepts which will, when internalised make you a better jiu-jitsuka. I strongly recommend you check out his masterpiece, ‘The Tao of Jeet Kune Do’ and see how you can incorporate his teachings into your game.