Older Grappler Training Q & A

In this episode of The Strenuous Life Podcast I answer lots of questions by older grapplers about continuing to train and make good progress when you’re in your 40’s, 50’s and beyond.

Can you still train hard as you get older? How often should you train? How can you recover faster? Should you also do weight training as an older athlete And more!

The questions came from an Instagram Live broadcast I did; follow me on Instagram @stephan_kesting and maybe next time I’ll be answering YOUR question on one of these Q&A sessions.

You can listen to this episode (number 097) on the player below but it’d be even better if you subscribed to my Strenuous Life Podcast which is available on iTunes, Google Play, Soundcloud, or Stitcher.

P.S. If you’re an older grappler you can click here to check out these other Grapplearts articles, videos and podcasts on the topic

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Cults, Comets and Critical Thinking!

I’ve just released a new podcast episode (episode 093) just out that starts with martial arts training and ends up talking about mass suicides and alien spaceships trailing comets…

At it’s core it’s a rant about the importance of testability, falsifiability, and critical thinking.

You can listen to this episode (number 093) on my Strenuous Life Podcast which is available on iTunes, Google Play, Soundcloud, or Stitcher.

Or you can just click play below, but then you won’t catch future episodes like you would if you subscribed at one of the podcast provider services above!

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New Podcast with Historian Daniele Bolelli: How Violent Was Our Past, Really?

Daniele Bolelli is a martial artist, historian and the creator of the History on Fire podcast. But this time I managed to get him for a return visit to my own Strenuous Life Podcast (Click here for information about our first podcast together).

You can listen to this podcast in Episode 092 of my Strenuous Life Podcast, which is available on iTunes, Google Play, Soundcloud, or Stitcher.

You can also listen to the podcast on Youtube in the video at the bottom of this post!

Here’s just a bit of what we covered…

The evidence for and against an ultra-violent human past vs a peaceful noble savage model of our hunter-gatherer past The rise of MMA in Asia.His process of researching and producing History on Fire, one of the leading history podcasts How to get rid of weight cutting in mixed martial arts competition Daniele’s proposed ‘Gladiators for World Peace’ program and how it’s going to get him the Nobel Peace Prize His return to Italy as a tourist Is it too soon to tell whether we’re moving towards a more peaceful future? Ötzi the iceman, Neanderthal DNA in our genomes, and a mass murder that occurred 430,000 years ago And much more!

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New podcast with Travis Stevens, 3 x Judo Olympian, Olympic Silver Medalist, and BJJ Black Belt

In this episode of the Strenuous Life Podcast I go deep with 3 x Judo Olympian and BJJ black belt Travis Stevens.

We go DEEP into his training regimen, including

Why he does 5 or 6 workouts a day What the strength benchmarks are for effective judo Why mental fatigue is often just as much a limiting factor as physical fatigue How he uses his groundwork skills to force his opponents to make critical errors The critical importance of gripfighting The differences between his BJJ and Judo training And much more.

It’s an amazing episode that I’m sure you’ll find very interesting.

You can listen to this podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Soundcloud, or Stitcher.

Or if you don’t use any podcast players (and you should) then you can listen to it here by clicking on the player below.

P.S. It would be hugely appreciated if you were to subscribe to and give this podcast a rating if you find it useful. That sort of support is really helping us produce more episodes!

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Avoiding Injuries, Training after Age 50, and the Blue Belt Blues…

In this episode of the Strenuous Life Podcast I tried to answer as many questions as possible from my email newsletter readers

Whether BJJ gameplans really are for everyone (3:30), How to pace yourself against the young guys when you’re 52 years old (8:36), The best stretches for grappling flexibility (13:12), What are the best drills for developing a specific position (15:30), What’s my hypothetical plan for creating a BJJ world champion if I had a young clone of myself (18:41), When will the single leg X guard and modern leg lock formula instructionals be released as apps (28:28), What should your focus be if you’re training purely for self defense (29:35), Ranking physical attributes in order of importance for BJJ competition (32:22), Bodyweight fitness routines (38:00), Tips for dealing with knuckle and finger pain (40:50), What’s a good balance between weight training and BJJ for healthy joints (44:30), Is 5′ 9″ too small to do BJJ (50:10), Training around knee pain (52:05), Post training nutrition tips (55:35), Flexibility for older grapplers (57:05), Are you being rude to your partners when you want to go light because of injury concerns (59:25), How can you deal with getting promoted to blue belt but not thinking that you deserve it (1:03:54)? And more…

You can listen to this podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Soundcloud, or Stitcher.

Or if you don’t use any podcast players (and you should) then you can listen to it here by clicking on the player below.

P.S. It would be hugely appreciated if you were to subscribe to and give this podcast a rating if you find it useful. That sort of support is really helping us produce more episodes!

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Are You Just Not Getting Any Better? Here are 3 Steps to Bust Your Training Plateau

When you’re training hard, hitting a training plateau can be incredibly frustrating.

But first of all, let’s hit on an important distinction.

A training ‘slump’ and a training ‘plateau’ are two different things…

I go into detail about the differences between slumps and plateaus in this article here, but basically a slump is a relatively short-lived event, one to four weeks long, in which your skill level actually goes down.  Usually it’s caused by a specific cause, for example illness, overtraining, or not enough sleep.  Fix the underlying cause and your level starts to improve again.

But when you’re in a plateau you don’t get any worse.  The problem is that, no matter how hard you try, you just don’t get any better either.

It’s one thing to suffer if you’re making progress towards a goal; at least there’s light at the end of the tunnel.  Suffering without progress is much harder to deal with.

A plateau typically lasts much longer than a slump – often one to six months.  It seems like it’s never going to end.  And it’s doubly frustrating because during this time your  training partners usually insist on continuing to make progress, which widens the gap and leaves you even further in the dust.

Everybody deals with plateaus if they only train long enough.

In the video below, which I shot right at the end of a frustrating cardio session, I talk about the three steps to break out of a training slump…

First, don’t freak out. Plateaus are a normal part of any long learning or training process.

Of course jiu-jitsu players hit slumps, but it happens in every endeavor.

Runners hit plateaus when their running times just stop improving. Academics hit plateaus when they just don’t have any new insights. Businesses hit plateaus when they just stop growing.

Plateau Buster 1 – Try to Identify the Underlying Cause of the Plateau

This isn’t always possible, but if you can figure out what’s causing your plateau then you can fix it.

For many people the underlying cause is training volume.

Maybe you’ve gotten as good as you can get training twice a week.  Yes, every time you go to class you learn something new, but in between classes you also forget stuff.  Maybe at twice a week the knowledge flows into your cup as fast as it drains from it, and that’s what’s causing » Continue Reading.

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New Strenuous Life Podcast Episode with 5 x BJJ World Champion Bernardo Faria

I’ve just released a KILLER new podcast episode with 5 x BJJ World Champion on my Strenuous Life Podcast.

(This is episode 086 of the podcast for anyone keeping track.)

In this episode we talk about

Bernardo’s ‘kidnapping’ in the Philippines two years ago His thoughts on the results of ADCC 2017 The toughest guys he has ever rolled with Whether you can get your BJJ black belt without competing The connection between jiu-jitsu and entrepreneurship Whether North America will ever catch up to Brazil in jiu-jitsu And much more, so check it out!

Click here to get this podcast in iTunes or search your podcast provider for “The Strenuous Life Podcast”

Also if you get the chance, subscribe to the podcast.  I’ve got a TON of interesting guests and topics lined up for the near future…

Cheers, Stephan

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Should You Train When You’re Really Tired?

I recently came back from Europe and just got clobbered by the 9 hour time difference. But I was really missing jiu-jitsu, so I made sure to get in a training session on my first full day back.

Was it an epic roll with 110% intensity?  Not so much…  It was a very controlled roll, focussing on just a few positions, with lots of discussion and analysis breaks.

Something is better than nothing.

After that workout I shot a video to help you decide whether you should train on days when you’re so tired you can’t see straight. I also covered some concrete examples of how to modify your training if you do decide to go to the gym exhausted.  And finally I shared a trick I often use to get me motivated on days when I just don’t feel like training.

The funny thing is that after getting up at 2 am, training at about noon, and editing the video that I was so tired I accidentally split the video up into two separate videos.

Oh well, if uploading two shorter videos instead of one longer video is the worst that happens to me today then I figure it’s still a pretty good day.

If you often find yourself  not getting enough sleep but still wanting to train then I think these two videos (part 1 and part 2) might be useful!

(By the way – I’m fully aware that some of my advice contradicts what I said a long time ago in my Dojo of the Rising Sun article –  that approach led to a pinched nerve in my neck because of overtraining. Today’s advice is informed by trying to learn from those mistakes once in a while and then passing that information on to you.)


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“If I don’t know, I will not allow.”

“If I don’t know, I will not allow.”

That’s a quote and a guiding principle from Roberto Leitao, a high ranking Luta Livre and Judo practitioner, that was shared with me by my friend Ed Beneville who trained with him.

Regardless of whether it’s a grip, a setup, a guard position, or an angle, if you don’t fully understand what’s going on then do everything you can to prevent it. Once you allow a match to go into an unknown area then you’re in trouble.

A smart opponent will try steer the fight to an area in which he feels comfortable and you do not. Don’t let that happen.

Even if you don’t know exactly what technique he’s trying to use, don’t let him take the next step.

Block, thwart and deny his every attempt to move the fight into unknown territory.

So that’s the general idea, and depending on the situation it’s either the best or worst advice I’ve ever heard.

Now when is this good advice?

It really depends on the context…

If you’re in an important tournament match, or in a sparring match with someone way above your level, or a real fight (knock on wood that you won’t need to go there) then this is the perfect time to apply “If I don’t know, I will not allow.”

Let’s say he’s in your closed guard and going for some weird grip that you don’t recognise: fight, fight, fight to prevent that grip. Maybe it leads to a guard pass that you’ve never seen before, or maybe it leads to a crazy submission – the point is you don’t know where it’s going and now is NOT the time to find out.

If you don’t know you don’t allow.

This principle can be expanded a little bit to include overall strategies…

It’s the old saying, “fight a boxer, box a fighter” applied to jiu-jitsu. Don’t let him to fight in his comfort zone, and instead take him into your world if you can.

Lets say that your opponent is awesome at the spider guard, so DON’T just blithely let him get his grips and then try to fight him. Don’t even go there; change the game instead.  Maybe pull guard on him. Or sit back and play the leglock game so he panics, abandons the spider guard, and gives you the guard pass.

Conversely, maybe your opponent » Continue Reading.

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Are You Willing to Go Back to White Belt?

Most people training in the martial arts have a goal to achieve the mythical black belt.

“When I finally wrap that black belt around my waist”, the narrative goes, “THEN life will be good, my wife, kids and dog will all love me, and I’ll never look stupid on the mats again.”

Ummmm, back up just a second…

A good black belt frequently has to go back to being a white belt, and deliberately put himself into situations where he’s going to look stupid for sure.

What do I mean by this?

In order to keep growing in the art at any level you need to learn new things.

And almost every time you add something big to your game then things are going to get worse before they get better.

Let’s say there’s this cool guard pass that your instructor has been telling you to do. You’re agree and think it would be a great fit with your game.

So you drill the move a few times and then try it out in sparring.

Things don’t go so well… You don’t pass the guard of your training partners… And you get swept and submitted multiple times.

Is it a stupid guard pass?  No, it’s just much more likely that you weren’t doing it 100% correctly.

Or let’s say that you start using a new submission from mount that you saw a world champion win the Mundials with. But when you try it out at the open mat suddenly you can’t finish even the brand new beginners with it.

These failures are happening because you haven’t yet learned the timing, the adjustments, and the fine details that make the technique work against any kind of resistance.

You might have a blue belt around your waist because you are blue belt level at doing a certain set of techniques. Those are your most reliable techniques, the core of your game.

By definition, a new technique is not one of your core techniques. So even though you’re an official blue belt you’re still a white belt when it comes to your new guard pass or submission.

And that’s OK. This is exactly how Jiu-jitsu is supposed to work.

In fact it’s an absolutely necessary part of getting as good as you can get.

There is a saying they get printed on coffee mugs that I completely agree with: » Continue Reading.

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Keep It Simple Stupid When Learning New Techniques

Have you heard of the acronym K.I.S.S?

It stands for “Keep It Simple Stupid.”  (It was later made politically correct by changing it to “Keep It Short and Simple” but that never really caught on, especially me.)

Anyway, K.I.S.S. is a good rule to live by when fighting, sparring and training.  You want to simplify as much as possible and not try to keep track of too many things at once.

There’s good science behind this: the more factors you have to consider the slower you make your decisions.  So keeping things simple actually makes you move faster.

But lets focus on how the K.I.S.S. principle applies when it comes to learning new moves.

Here’s my opinion: if you’re a teacher then you don’t want to load a student down with every last detail all at once.

And if you’re the student then you want to just focus on the next few things that’ll give you the best results fastest.

For example, if I’m teaching a complete beginner to throw a right cross I might tell them: “start with your fist glued to your jaw, then throw your fist in a straight line towards the target while you twist your body to generate the power.”

That’s it!  The subtleties of weight shifts, hand twists, foot pushes, non-telegraphic movement and so on will all come later, because first they’ve got to get in some experiental learning – learning by doing – before anything else makes sense.

Sometimes it’s more important for the student to get a quick result with a technique than it is to get it absolutely perfect on the first go.

If you have some initial success then it’ll boost your confidence in that technique and make you eager to learn the additional details to make it work even better.

Similarly if I’m teaching a triangle choke to someone for the first time I might tell them “triangle your legs around your opponent’s head and arm, then squeeze your knees, pull his head down and lift your hips.”

Now is that the most effective way of doing the triangle choke?


Are there many adjustments and tweaks that you can make to the triangle choke that make it much more effective?


For example, in the Youtube clip below Elliott Bayev does an absolutely brilliant job of breaking down some of these finer triangle choke adjustments.

So why not show » Continue Reading.

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On Starting Sparring from the Knees…

A reader writes: Hi Stephan, I’ve been doing BJJ for about 6 months and am wondering if you have any advice about what to do when you’re starting on the knees?

I find that most wrestling-style takedowns are very difficult to do from the knees, especially because my opponents are really good at sprawling.

And if I get my grips then inevitably my opponent also gets his grips and the whole thing turns into a big pushing and pulling match, which doesn’t seem very technical to me.

Anyway, I currently feel really lost and have no idea how to initiate the action from the knees – can you help?

Sincerely Bohdan


Hi Bohdan,

Most BJJ classes start their sparring from the knees. This is because staying on the knees reduces the amount of space you need for each sparring pair, and that allows more people to be on the mat at the same time.

Starting on the knees also reduces the risk of injury associated with throws and takedowns.   Less throws and takedowns equals less injuries (I love Judo as a sport but don’t fool yourself – it has an incredibly high injury rate).

However starting with both people on their knees isn’t the most realistic position from which to initiate sparring.

First of all, starting on the knees has no application to modern self defense.

This might not always have been true.  In medieval Japan, after all, people spent a lot of time on their knees, and I’m sure that people did get attacked while kneeling.  That’s why many traditional Japanese jujutsu systems include armed and empty handed techniques for when both people are kneeling. But this kind of scenario – two people kneeling in front of each other – in today’s day and age is exceedingly rare!

Furthermore starting on the knees has very limited application in tournament competition.

I’ve watched hundreds and hundreds of BJJ matches, and I can only think of one or two cases where both contestants both ended up on their knees facing each other for more than a brief moment (inevitably one person either pulls guard or stands up).

So spending most of the match on the knees, pushing and pulling against your sparring partner, is a waste of sparring time.

But what are your alternatives?

Well, often you can ask your opponent to start in a specific position. Tell him something » Continue Reading.

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Don’t Be Afraid of Admitting that You Don’t Know Everything

This is rant was brewing inside me for a long time, and I’m sure it’ll upset some people and ruffle some feathers.  Oh well, can’t make an omlette without breaking a few eggs, so I’ll get over it…

I did the rant in video form, and the full name of that video is “Don’t Bullshit Your Students About Knowing Everything!” which pretty much sums it up!

The humility to admit that you don’t know everything is admirable.

And bullshitting students about a position or a technique you know nothing about is deplorable.

Your ego isn’t more important than their development.

Here’s the video…

Now, some shout-outs…

In the video I start out by saying that one of the coolest things I ever heard a martial arts instructor say was “Ask me any question you have.  If I know the answer then I’ll tell you.  If I don’t know the answer then we’ll find out together.

That instructor was Makoto Kabayama (formerly going by ‘Nip) of the Kabayam Bushidokan in Toronto.

And the other instructor I reference in the video – the guy who was OK with my bringing in other teachers to learn Capoeira – was Philip Gelinas of the GAMMA school in Montreal.

If you’re reading then thanks to both of you – you’ve been way more influential than you give yourselves credit for.

If you admit that you don’t know everything then it implies that you yourself still have some learning and growing to do, which is the case for everyone from this year’s Mundial champion to Rickson Gracie himself.

If you’re done with learning you should be in the grave.

Stephan Kesting


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MMA Weight Cutting with UFC Fighter Alan Belcher (And More)


I just released a new interview with UFC star Alan Belcher who has had some of the most exciting, edge-of-your-seat fights in the UFC.

In our chat Alan shares lessons learned from 26 MMA fights including…

The details of cutting major amounts of weight before an MMA fight His mindset while fighting Rousimar Palhares, one of the dirtiest and scariest fighter in MMA Lifting weights as physical therapy to hold his body together Exactly how he structured his UFC training camps and when you should be doing your heaviest training before a competition Tricks to use and mistakes to avoid when cutting weight Preventing overtraining by modulating the intensity and volume of your training sessions How dieting and cardio prevented him from actually training correctly How he prepared specifically to face a leglock expert in the UFC The crazy treatments he did to repair his detached retina And really quite a  bit more!

To listen to or watch this interview you have a couple of different options!  You can either

Click here to subscribe to the Grapplearts Podcast in iTunes (or Google Play, or Stitcher) – the Alan Belcher episode is number 63! Or you can click play on the Youtube video below

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