I feel like every so often the idea of cross training gets brought up, especially by the jiu-jitsu personality of the moment, but we still treat it like a novel idea. Cross training should not be a fringe concept that we occasionally pay lip service to only to go back to the same old training routine a few minutes later.
I hope that we, as a community, can finally embrace cross training.
If we go back to the beginning of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and look at the Gracie clan, we know that Rolls Gracie—who ascended to legendary status and is still regarded as the best out of all of the young Gracie brothers—was an advocate for cross training. He trained and competed in wrestling, judo, and sambo. Rolls was far from a stereotypical guard puller, and what record we have of his training suggests that he saw a lot of value in looking beyond jiu-jitsu to improve his skill as a grappler.
Sadly, his young legacy was cut short at the age of 31 because of a tragic hang gliding accident. If he was alive today, his intense passion for learning and constant improvement might have taken jiu-jitsu in a very different direction.
That said, Rolls is hardly the only jiu-jiteiro to cross train. Saulo and Xande Ribeiro have been cross training in judo for years. Recently, Xande spent a week purely training judo at Jimmy Pedro’s school in Massachusetts. If you watch the Ribeiro brothers compete, you can see that their dedication to cross training has had a big impact on their technical ability. They grip fight like demi-gods and everyone is wary of their stand-up game.
The top names who cross train goes on. Bernardo Faria has partially attributed his recent success to his time training wrestling at the Edge in Hoboken, and the likes of Mansher Khera and Dillon Dannis have joined him. Ryan Hall has been bringing D1 wrestlers from the nearby American University in his gym for years. Church Boys Wrestling Club in Costa Mesa has the likes of Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida, Romulo Barral, and Otavio Souza on their mats.
And the list goes on.
Unfortunately, even though we see some of the brightest stars in the sport reaping the rewards of cross training, the average grappler—the majority of us that aren’t vying for gold medals at black belt Worlds—fall into the trap of avoiding cross training. We get into the routine of hitting our weekly training quota and might even forget that cross training is an option.
That is until we see an opponent across the mat from us that has clearly wrestled since birth.
Aaaaaand we pull guard.
Hopefully I have convinced you to jump into the cross training bandwagon. Here are some tips to get started:
- Look inside your gym. Every gym has their local wrestling or judo guys. Ask them for help! It may take some convincing, but you can get some pointers on the basics, and maybe more depending how high level they are. I have been lucky to train with very high level judo, wrestling, and sambo players. I can’t tell you how invaluable it has been.
- Find a local club. Judo clubs are very affordable and easy to find these days. Sambo may be a bigger challenge to find, and wrestling schools with adult programs may be the toughest. Some MMA schools offer takedown classes with emphasis on submission grappling MMA, and it’s not unusual for those classes to be taught by wrestlers.
- Leave your ego at the door. Remember you are training a different discipline/martial art. That white belt you sweep and pass his guard with ease may all of a sudden give you a run for your money on the feet. Don’t let this bother you because that’s the whole point of cross training. Sure some skills carry over, but like anything you need to put the reps in to improve.
- Learn everything. Don’t put the “this will never work in jiu-jitsu” glasses on. If you are working on judo or wrestling, work on judo or wrestling. Don’t be that guy that scoffs at certain techniques because they may get you in trouble on a jiu-jitsu match.
- Spar from standing. Once you have a decent base, try to start rolls standing, but check with your coach first to make sure that’s okay during class. Be mindful of space and where you are going when trying to finish a takedown.
- Set up your takedowns from the bottom. If starting from standing is not an option, adapt your guard and set up single legs from the bottom, this is a great way to get reps of single finishes and it can be really effective. Look at guys like Otavio Souza, and Lucas Lepri. They have success at the highest level with this style of attack.
The potential return from cross training is so large, and it’s been a major boon in my own training. I’ve learned a lot and met some great people. I hope that you have the same experience.