I’m reading an excellent book titled, “The Sports Gene: Inside The Science of Extraordinary Sports Performance” by author David Epstein that discusses the different genetic factors in elite level athletes.
In the book, some of the topics discussed include: Why sprinters from Jamaica are so dominant in the Olympic 100m race, why long distance runners and elite marathoners from Kenya are winning the sport’s top races, and the height and reach that it takes to play professional basketball in the NBA.
Of course, being a BJJ addict, you start to wonder if there is an ideal body type for BJJ? Jiu-Jitsu is different from sports like football, basketball, and track and field as there are weight classes in grappling sports, which means that an outsized athlete has no advantage. BJJ is also not extremely explosive by its nature compared to some other sports, so an inherited mass of fast twitch muscle fibers, which tend to fatigue quickly is not a huge advantage.
Let’s look at 2 names that are often mentioned when asking the question “Who is the greatest BJJ competitor of all time?”
Marcelo Garcia and Roger Gracie. The 2 have very different physical builds. Garcia is relatively short with stocky, thick legs and unremarkable muscularity in his upper body. Gracie is a towering 6’4″ with lanky, long limbs. He isn’t especially muscular in the way Rodolfo Vista or Jacare Souza are. However, both athletes are worthy of discussion for the best P4P jiu-jitsu competitor in the sport’s young history.
It is worth noting that both jiu-jitsu fighters are known for their signature games that seem to be a reflection of their physical attributes. Roger is known for a closed guard that makes good use of longer legs and possibly the best mount, in which he expertly uses his longer limbs to stay strong on top. Garcia, with the much shorter legs, is an innovator of the butterfly guard and is perhaps best known for his “Marcelotine” variation and back takes. Both of which are especially effective tactics against larger opponents.
Some of the top names that contested the most recent Pan Ams – Keenan Cornelius and Leandro Lo both have lean, muscular, almost lanky frames. If there is an ideal physique for jiu-jitsu, those 2 athletes might be a good example. Those proportions allow the fighter to play both top and bottom equally.
Jiu-jitsu success doesn’t seem dictated by one’s parents in the same way that an NBA player must be born tall or a champion marathoner must have a certain leg to torso length proportion. Freakish flexibility helps, but it’s not a prerequisite.
Do you think that there is an ideal physical type for BJJ?