The longer you train, the more things you find to keep you training. Unlike a decade or more ago, we now have access to all sorts of things to help us improve and recover when off the mat. Great for us, and great for holidays.
Here are a few tools, for the most modest to the least concerned budgets, that are worth it.
These should be in every training bag. Unkempt talons can cause disproportionate injury. We work hard to make the academy a clean and safe for everyone, but everyone also has to make sure they’re also doing the same for everyone they train with.
While it may seem like a small thing, consider the case of coaching legend Mike Winklejohn. One of his fighters sliced his right eye so deeply with a toenail that it’s never been the same. A freak accident to be sure, but it illustrates how important keeping some good trimmers around for yourself and someone who needs them. Avoid the gnarly scratches that can lead to infection.
a foam roller or lacrosse ball.
Every brown belt knows most tweaks and kinks can be ironed out with a cheap, and indispensable, foam roller. The market now has scads of varieties, but what is it and why does it work so well? Because it applies pressure to knots and the facia that is sort of like a big membrane around muscle tissue to create a type of deep-tissue massage. They’re effective at loosening up the body, reducing soreness and increasing flexibility.
If the foam roller isn’t aggressive enough to work those knots and boo-boos, try a lacrosse ball. They’re great under the shoulder blades or even for opening up hamstrings by rolling them on the bottom of the feet. Either are cheap and effective things that are handy after a lot of training.
Never trust anyone whose T.V. is bigger than their bookshelf. It’s no coincidence that some of the best athletes in our sport and best coaches read voraciously. We spend a lot of time working our body and developing grit to keep going, yet sometimes we neglect the most important part of us: the brain. Don’t know what to read? Ask a black belt. They seem to always be in the middle of 2 books or crushing a book a week.
the Iron Neck.
This expensive, if not outright outrageously priced, piece of equipment might be one of the most useful and important. It’s a device that strengthens the neck, trapezius and core. It also increases range of movement, something years of grappling or clinching will reduce. These areas are also good to strengthen to reduce concussions. They can range from $200-$800, which is obnoxious; however, it’s cheaper than neck surgery and therapy.
the reverse hyper or an inversion table.
Back pain. We have all experienced it at one point or another. Some deal with it chronically. Other than fingers and knees, back pain is perhaps the most common. There is no better tool for addressing it and preventing it than a reverse hyper. The reverse hyper, a bench developed by famous strongman and personality Louie Simmons from Westside Barbell, does two things. It applies gentle traction to the low back while proving an exercise to strengthen it.
The real drawback to these, other than a few hundred smackers outta’ your pocket, is that they take up a lot of space. There are smaller versions that take up less space and leave a smaller footprint in your garage gym, but they’re massive.
A great alternative is an inversion table, which is cheaper too. The Easton Training Center in Arvada even has one! The inversion table looks like a stretcher on a frame where the user is strapped in around the ankles and swings upside down. This allows gravity to decompress the spine gently. Pure gold for anyone over 30 still training like they’re 20.
The elbow pain common in Jiu Jitsu, usually called “tennis elbow” or “golfer’s elbow,” happens eventually from getting arm locked thousands of times. It can be a minor annoyance, but it’s treatable with a cheap physical therapy device called a Theraband.
These colorful resistance bands of different weights cost around $15 and actually work if you use them regularly. Theraband also makes a lot of other, inexpensive rehab tools that work. These things might seem unnecessary as we’re starting out, but it’s cheap things like this that make the difference between the blue belt that quits after too many nagging injuries and the salty old black belts that found ways to keep coming back.
There is no better tool for the combat athlete. These cannon balls with handles more or less pump out an entire gym with a handle. They develop better use of hips, essential to combat sports, and have a low likelihood of injury. It’s possible to train hard with kettlebells and still be able to hit the mats the same or next day. Kettlebells improve overall strength, grip and mobility.
A lot of times they gather dust, so people sell them on the cheap. They gather dust because they’re hard. You’ll be tired, but you’ll also be a better athlete when using them as a part of your practice. The best on the market is Kettlebell Kings, but Arvada’s own Simpson’s Fitness Supply has plenty, and Craigslist always has kettlebells being sold by people with less fortitude than you.
A good mouthpiece makes a big difference. With a custom mouthpiece made just for you, you’ll find it easier to drink water and even to breathe. Keeping your teeth is a plus too — accidental knees or headbutts happen.
Mouthpieces have saved us from looking like habitual meth lovers, and some custom mouthpiece makers will even cover dental expenses, sometimes in the thousands, if you end up with a dental injury while wearing their mouthpiece. The prices vary greatly. Triella Family Dental, run by Professor Noah, may make you one for a fair price. Other companies online will send you a kit to take a mold and mail it back. They work really great. Once you’ve gone custom, nothing else will do.
Not only does Defense Soap smell nice, it actually works. They make all kinds of soaps, gels, wipes, and other things specifically for the grappler. Some are anti-fungal, but all of them work and are pretty cheap. MRSA, Ringworm, Legionnaires Disease and other kinds of skin diseases get transmitted in combat sports, even though they’re rare in our academies thanks to our diligent cleaning. One of the best, easiest and cheapest ways to prevent that is by using Defense Soap.
The market for spiffy Jiu Jitsu gear is huge these days, but few things hold up or wear as well as our own Solid brand. They regularly last for years, and we’ve all had them last far longer than other brands, and they fit true to size. Ordering off the internet can sometimes be a miss when that A2 you wanted to badly is really an A1.6. Not so when you snag one from the academy. We can make sure you’re looking sharp. If your current gi smells like old Chinatown garbage and has begun to show some excessive wear, Solid is your move.
True gear will not make you better, but the right gear can keep you coming back. When you come back, you get better. That’s the secret to mastery: keep showing up.