Strength doesn’t matter – or does it? (with Tony Dismukes)

I often hear martial artists and instructors say something like, “With [insert name of art here], strength doesn’t matter. If you do it right, it won’t matter how strong they are.”

There’s a kernel of truth in there, but it’s really overstated. I’ve talked about this before with groups – both my students and other groups – but I’m going to let someone else explain this. The following was posted to by Tony Dismukes (see information about Tony at the end of this article) in September 2017. Tony is referring to Brazilian Jiu Jutsu (BJJ) here, but the principle is the same for all grappling.

Tony Dismukes’ Post:

So here’s the deal regarding jiu-jitsu and strength:

Jiu-jitsu is absolutely about using strength. To be precise, it’s about using your available strength as efficiently and effectively as possible, When you see criticism about someone “muscling through a technique”, the problem isn’t that they’re using strength – it’s that they’re wasting strength. Either they’re trying to overpower their opponent’s strength head on (which will only work as long as the person doing the technique is the stronger one) or they’re using their strength in an inefficient fashion which involves more effort than necessary, causing them to tire out and deplete their reserves of strength prematurely.

That’s how jiu-jitsu can allow you to overcome a stronger opponent. When I outgrapple someone who is twice as strong as I am, it’s because I’m using my available strength more than twice as efficiently as he is.

The reason top jiu-jitsu competitors are all in fantastic shape is that their opponents are in great shape and also know how to use their physical attributes efficiently. The skill levels are close enough that they can’t afford to give up a huge discrepancy in strength or endurance or speed the way they could against a beginner.

Gerry Seymour’s Wrap-up

Well said, Tony! Strength matters. Good technique (being efficient and effective in your use of strength) makes strength differentials matter less. What I tell my students is that strength is a tool. You can use it, but you shouldn’t have to depend upon it, or you’ll lose against anyone stronger. If you can do a technique (whether that’s a throw, takedown, lock, escape, or whatever) without needing to use much strength, then that strength is a good reserve for when things go wrong. And in self-defense, things are going to go wrong – fights get messy, and technique doesn’t stay pretty.

Tony Dismukes has been training in various forms of martial arts for over 35 years. He holds a black belt in BJJ as well as a black belt in Bujinkan taijutsu and an instructor’s license in Muay Thai. His focus is on jiu-jitsu as a practical means for self-defense and as a life-long tool for self-improvement. His thoughts on training can be found at He trains and teaches under Mike ODonnell at 4 Seasons Martial Arts in Lexington, Kentucky.

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