Technique Beats Strength, Conditioning, Experience, and Heart

A Culture of Heroic Grit

There is a romantic belief in sports in America (and everywhere really) that the “fighting spirit” or the will to win can overcome any obstacle. Heart and grit are the stuff that great sports movies are made of. And indeed, to me, that’s why I love sports, and that’s why I participate in sports. It’s a chance to test your ability to overcome the mental blocks of fear and exhaustion. Athletes like Frank Molinaro are the perfect representatives of grit like that, willing to take their body and mind to places most people, even top athletes, are not willing to go:

Technique is King

Still, I believe that technique is king, and will overcome that kind of grit in the long term. I think the more productive “heart” and “spirit” come out in the relentless dedication you show to the development of technique over a period of years. It’s the willingness to put in thousands of reps in drilling each small part of a technique, the transition from one part to another, under various resistance levels, alone or with a partner. You have to engage your mind by learning from your coaches, from instructionals, from books, from YouTube. The result is a constant evolution of your drilling and your training.

The Goal is Effortless Domination

The goal is not to work harder than everyone else. The goal is discover the timing and mechanics at the core of the sport by relaxing and keeping your mind open to change and learning. I personally don’t like the term “flow rolling” that’s often used to describe the kind of training where you move from position to position without using much force in resisting the positional progression of your training partner. I think it’s extremely valuable to roll at 100% while moving exactly as you do when you “flow roll”. That might sound contradictory, but to me it’s not. My goal is to effortlessly trick my training partner into being defenseless for a split second. I fail often of course, but the point is that I’m constantly moving and learning the precise timing of when I can fake a movement that will create an opening for an easy guard pass, back take, sweep, submission, etc.

I want to learn to be always a split second ahead of my opponent without having too use strength, quickness, or flexibility.

The Sage of Drilling

johnsmithIn wrestling, I think many people idolize Dan Gable for the relentless nature of his spirit. His mental breaking point is far above almost any other athlete in history. Like everyone else, I look up to him, but I can’t see his obsession as prescriptive for others to follow, perhaps because nobody else has that kind of superhuman mental fortitude. For me, the person I study and try to imitate in training and in life much more than Gable is another wrestling legend: John Smith. He is a 4-time World champion and a 2-time Olympic champion. He is a big proponent of drilling for two reasons: (1) fastest way to improve and (2) longevity. Here is a long quote from him that I like to re-read often:

“Drilling is the key to wrestling success and to longevity in the sport. Drilling has to become habit forming. Drilling wasn’t natural for more, I’d rather just go in a room and spar hard. I just wanted to shake hands and go! But drilling has to take place for you to get better. I couldn’t do a better leg lace or gut wrench without breaking down the move, seeing how it works, studying it and drilling it, over and over and over.

That’s when you improve your techniques. Someone who doesn’t spend time doing that and drilling isn’t going to improve. For longevity, drilling is very important, if you want to stay in the sport for many years, then you have to stay healthy. Constant sparring and live goes can beat your body up pretty bad. After the world championships, I would drill for three months, with very little sparring. That’s when I got better, and I also stayed injury free.”

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