Use of Strength Vs. Abuse of Strength

I always enjoy answering reader questions, when my experience applies, as it allows me to give back to the jiu jitsu community.  We recently received an inquiry asking about the difference between USING strength and ABUSING strength.  I will try my best to help make this distinction based on my own experience.

The core principle of jiu jitsu is that ideally one should be able to apply technique, through timing and correct choice of technique flow, without reliance upon strength.  Of course any movement that is done requires the use of muscles, you cannot move without flexing or releasing your muscles, and if you happen to be very strong all of your movements will be very definite.

If you exert yourself constantly while rolling, chances are you are not using you strength correctly.  The key is to learn to roll in a state of relaxation of your major muscles, only tensing them at crucial moments.  Think of it as the difference between walking, and sprinting.  Someone who abuses their strength constantly sprints while they roll, while someone who simply uses their strength intelligently varies between walking, jogging, running and sprinting, depending on what is needed at a given moment.

Big people tend to be physically strong.  It’s a fact of life.  By big I don’t mean overweight/obese, I mean that if you are healthy, the bigger you are generally the stronger you are, I know this is not the case all the time, but it is a generalization that’s not entirely off base…  However, the bigger you are the more energy you burn while doing things which require strength.  If you’re one of the bigger guys in your academy/club you should focus on not tiring out.  Ask yourself: am I trying to sprint?

I always tell people who are much bigger and stronger than I am, but get out-techniqued by me “stop working so hard.”  By this, I mean that if they rely upon simply being heavy, keeping a low center of gravity, and chilling when they get to good positions, their chances of getting the better of me improve.  If, however, they constantly exert themselves their size and strength will have less of a chance of prevailing over my speed and agility.

It isn’t fair to tell someone who is very strong to “not use strength.”  You can’t get mad at a brick wall for being a brick wall.  However, if the person is constantly exerting themselves, you CAN tell them to relax and try to move more fluidly.  Fluidity tends to prevail over stiffness in jiu jitsu.

For me, the best measure of how much I rely on my strength is to roll with someone MUCH stronger than me.  I find the strongest guy in the room and I try to use technique to defeat their strength.  If you fear you may be abusing your strength, roll with people who are stronger than you are, or better yet, when rolling with those who are weaker, put yourself in bad spots and stay there, learning to defend.  If you do get on top, don’t exert yourself, let gravity do that for you.

These are just some of my observations on the distinction between using and abusing strength.  Does this make sense to the strong guys out there?  Does this answer the question well?  Keep sending us your questions and we’ll keep answering them to the best of our abilities!

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Emil Fischer is an active black belt competitor under Pablo Angel Castro III training at Strong Style Mixed Martial Arts and Training Center near Cleveland Ohio ( and teaching at Ararat Martial Arts and FItness Center. For more information, other articles, and competition videos check out his athlete pages at and Emil is sponsored by Meerkatsu (, discount code EmilKatsu), Eddy's On Coventry, North Coast Cryo ( NottaRookie, YM ( discount code COOKIES), Defense Soap ( discount code COOKIES) Impact Mouthguards ( discount code EMILIMPACT), and North South Jiu Jitsu Underwear


  1. This was right on for me. Being a pretty strong dude And a new white belt to bjj, I am starting to realize just how spastic and overly exerting my rolling was when in the very begging. I would be absolutely gassed after a couple minutes, and think to myself man these guys go hard! Probably only because they were matching my intensity. As I begin to learn the basic positions and flow of bjj I’m starting to relax. This scenario probably holds true for a lot of beginners, although I can see how it could become a habit if you don’t ever chill out and realize that rolling at 50% or 25% means just that, it’s not about getting a tap it’s about working the technique.

  2. I have been told by many different sparring partners, that I should use my weight (and strength) to my advantage and that it can be done without overexerting myself. Thank you for putting it into perspective.


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