We recently got a fascinating question from one of our readers that I’d like to explore:
“Do I need to be flexible to do BJJ?”
Flexibility is helpful in all aspects of life, but in jiu jitsu it’s not necessary.
An instructor that I used to train with once told me that he didn’t WANT to be flexible because people are flexible until the moment at which they aren’t, and then they’re broken, whereas inflexible people don’t let themselves go that far. These are words to bear in mind when you think of flexibility as it pertains to jiu jitsu,
Many moves that require flexibility can be done by an inflexible person with some minor modification. It’s all about recognizing the desired outcome and modifying the movement to meet the criteria of that outcome. For example: I need to bring my knee to my chest in order to a specific move, but my knee won’t go to my chest, so instead of doing that I put my arm across my chest and expand my chest making it a bit closer to where my knee needs to be and thus am able to simulate the same result of having my knee go to my chest.
If you look at most of the fundamental moves of jiu jitsu (The arm bar, the triangle, various mount escapes, etc…) they don’t require flexibility, but rather timing and placement. If you put a big guy in a triangle and they are able to stack their weight on you, your flexibility or lack thereof becomes a major factor. If, however, you are able to, through building frames, create space between your knees and your chest, you don’t need any flexibility at all to hold the position. Flexibility is essentially a crutch to correct unintelligent or un-athletic movements.
To take this a step further, I’d urge people who are in fact flexible to consider limiting how much they push the limits of their flexibility. There may come a day when you find yourself less flexible than usual and you’ll need to know how to handle those same situations that you normally breeze through with your flexibility. If that day comes you’ll be better suited by drilling moves in a way that an inflexible person would do them.
Flexibility can be a major advantage in jiu jitsu. Some of the best techniques of modern jiu jitsu are greatly aided by flexibility. However, flexibility is NOT necessary to get very good at jiu jitsu. Henry Akins often talks about how he is not flexible and he has some of the best fundamentals out there right now. Flexibility won’t hurt your game, and it is far better to be a bit flexible and not use it than to constantly be stiff and be at risk of muscle pulls, but if you aren’t flexible that’s okay.
How many of you out there reading this are not flexible? Has it hindered your development in jiu jitsu? Or have you found it to be inconsequential?