BJJ Legends got the opportunity to speak with Chris Ulbricht about his experiences and strategies in facing the opponent known as INJURED.
Delay, physical strain, and anxiety; injuries are an athlete's biggest fear come to life. Injuries are hard to avoid, they are a constant demon us due to the activities we do. For Brazilian Jiu-jitsu athletes the risk is higher. We risk breaking limbs and constantly push beyond our limitations to achieving our goals. Injuries can certainly be a burden, but they can also be tamed while on the road to recovery.
Garden State Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Head Instructor, BJJ black belt, Chris Ulbricht, 27, has dealt with his share of injuries in his 10 year BJJ career. His recent full recovery from a seven-month injury has opened him to many lessons in patience, modification, and perseverance.
Suffering an injury can be a burden for any dedicated Martial Arts practitioner. When you think of the mere thought of having an injury, what comes to mind? Chris Ulbricht: Injuries are definitely something that's unavoidable to a certain extent if you’re a full-time athlete. If you train long enough, you're going to get injured. Like anything in life and especially anything in Jiu-Jitsu, an injury can be something that makes you worse or something that makes you better depending on how you respond to it.
You have suffered a series of injuries in your career. Instruction may be limited, training is put on hold, and competing is out of the question. How do you deal with those experiences mentally? Chris Ulbricht: My last injury affected my ability to teach because I wasn’t able to even demonstrate any techniques for my students for about five months. However, I soon discovered that I was able to teach just as well, if not better, by having two of my students demonstrate the technique while I commentated. This is still a teaching method that I use from time to time even though I am now 150% better. Also, I typically roll in almost every class I teach, so the time that I was out allowed me to observe my students much more during their sparring. This, in turn, helped me discover patterns that enabled me to design extremely relevant lesson plans to work on issues I saw during their rounds.
The recovery process is a long road to becoming well. Do you mind sharing with us your road to recovery experience? Chris Ulbricht: I got injured in May 2017, and after seeing five doctors, it was determined that I would need to have a surgery to ever be 100% again and it was performed July 5th. This was a projected 6-7 month recovery, and I was able to return early to modified rolling during the last week of December. I returned to full unrestricted training during the last week of January.
Are there any methods you use to speed up the recovery process? Chris Ulbricht: Yes! I’d say the most important thing is to always do the best you can with what you are able to do at any given time. I started watching technique videos and match footage right away. When I got cleared to ride a stationary bike, I rode the bike. When I got cleared to drill, I drilled. In my experience, people often wait until they are “100%” to start training again which I believe is very detrimental. You also need to have good communication between your doctors, physical therapists, and strength coaches to have an efficient recovery plan.
We all at times during the recovery process have a sense of eagerness to get back to training. Has there ever been a time where you have gone through the process of training with an injury and if so what procedures do you use? Chris Ulbricht: Whenever training with some type of physical ailment it’s important to determine whether you are hurt or seriously injured. If you have an injury that is NOT going to heal on its own, it’s time to see a doctor and come up with a plan before you attempt to train around the injury. If it’s something less serious that will heal on its own, it comes down to proper sports medicine (tape, athletic braces, REST) to manage the injury, communicating with training partners during live rolling, and/or modifying your training to allow the injury to heal. If you’re not sure how serious your injury is, I recommend seeing a doctor so you can make informed decisions about your training.
Coming back from the injury do you have any "mat rust" getting back into tournament shape, while also maintaining your role as the head instructor of Garden State Brazilian Jiu-jitsu? Chris Ulbricht: I definitely did have a little bit of mat rust in terms of my timing, strength, and cardio but I feel that while I was out, I made tremendous strides in my progress as an instructor, as well as with my understanding of Jiu-Jitsu. Also once I got back to training, I was able to regain my timing and increase my cardio and strength, so those temporary losses don’t matter anymore.
I have a lot of really tough training partners at Garden State Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Academy who thankfully give me great rounds in every class. I’m also working with two excellent strength coaches- John Stoble, out of Crossfit Five Points in Atlantic Highlands and Matt Szep out of Core Fitness in Middletown NJ. I have added yoga to my weekly routine to allow myself to recover better and improve my flexibility (we have an awesome Yoga teacher named Shawna Rodgers at Garden State BJJ). At this point, all the rust is off and it's just working to sharpen the sword every day.
What are you looking forward to, any upcoming events you have your sights set on? Chris Ulbricht: I have two big things coming up this summer. I’m going to be teaching at the BJJ Globetrotters Camp in Belgium (also taking a solo trip to Iceland) and then when I get back I’ll be competing at Fight To Win in Asbury Park on August 3rd and in the Show The Art Finishers 6 155lb Pro Division on August 12th. [Follow up: F2W was canceled and at Show the Art Chris won his first match and lost the second.]
Finally wrapping up this interview, what is the biggest advice you can give to readers going through an injury? Chris Ulbricht: DON’T STOP TRAINING EVER. Once you can do some physical activity, any good instructor can come up with some modification to the technique to work around your injury or give you something else to do. If you can’t do anything, you can always come to just watch classes and spend time with your teammates. Rolling is the most fun part of Jiu-Jitsu, but it’s far from the only way to get better. If you do the best you can and scale up from there, you’ll have a faster, safer, and more complete recovery.
BJJ Daughter drops the challenge and dad picks it up and runs with it. Cobrinha, Fabbio and David are there along the way.
"Have fun and do your best" has been the mantra for our family pertaining to BJJ tournaments ever since my daughter, Skylar (Sky), started competing. It was after her 4th or 5th tournament we had a heart to heart about her not living up to the aforementioned mantra, never mind that her placing's were not what she desired. She told me she was scared of being submitted, so she just rolled defensively. I gave her some wisdom I had over heard from black belts, 'if you are playing defense you are losing.'
She looked me in the eyes and said, "Dad, the Pans is coming up, why don't you show me?"
I had to think fast, and to be specific I had to figure out how to not accept what was clearly a challenge, but make it seem like I was open to it. I quickly reminded her that I only roll twice a week, I have never competed and I'm old enough to be the father of the vast majority of the students at Cobrinha's academy. Her expression showed me she wasn't buying it, so I went to my contingency plan and told her that if she medaled at the Pan Kids (2014) tournament I would do it. We shook hands and I felt pretty safe, not because I thought she wouldn't do well, in all honesty I just didn't think she would medal.
Fast-forward to the Pan Kids and there she was on the podium with a silver medal, smile from ear to ear. I had forgotten about our agreement (on purpose), Sky did not! Soon after she left the podium, she looked me in the eyes and said, "Next month is going to be your turn dad." What she didn't know was I had an ace in the hole, a sure-fire way to not have to compete and not take the blame.
I talked to my instructor, David de Souza, with the goal being to get confirmation on my inability to be tournament ready by Pans. Thankfully he agreed with me and before he could tell me why, I adroitly led him to where multi-time world champion and head instructor Rubens 'Cobrinha' Charles was standing by the mat. I asked David to tell him his thoughts on whether I was prepared to do the Pans, he said, "No, you don't have enough mat time, you have to start coming in to drill, just doing Monday and Wed. morning class is not enough time on the mat." I looked at Cobrinha to get verbal or visual agreement and he had a poker player expression, didn't show his thoughts either way. I chose to believe he was on board with what he heard.
After Sky's Friday class, I took her into the office where Cobrinha and his wife, Daniela were sitting, I pointed and said, "Sky, go ahead and ask him about whether I can do the Pans. I want to do it. But I have to get approval. And well... you'll see."
Before she could ask, Cobrinha smiled and told her, "Yes, I think your dad can do Pans. He will get a chance to see how you feel when you compete. It will be great. What do you think?" She looked at me, and then him and with the biggest smile nodded her approval. I quickly rushed her out of the office, did a U-turn back in prepared to confront him and was met with both of them cheerfully telling me, "Have fun Marlon!"
Later that evening I went to the IBJJF site and a couple things stood out, it only went as high as Master 2 for white belts and the weight division for me, at 234lbs, placed me with the heaviest of the heavyweights. I signed up for the 222lb (super heavyweight) division, without giving full thought to the fact that I had not been below 230lbs in over a decade. As a laid in bed it started to sink in, there was approximately 13 days till show time, and the last thing I wanted to do was let my daughter down. Not long after, I'm talking 1:00am, the physical reaction commenced. I woke up ran to the washroom and found myself with stomach trouble for the next hour, no further description needed. Just to get it out of the way, I will say that this 'stomach trouble' was an ongoing theme up until the tournament. I spent the rest of the early morning wide-awake and nervous as hell, what to do? Turned on the computer and researched all of the names in my division, Google, Facebook and YouTube. I had been transformed into a BJJ stalker or something weird like that.
Understand that I had two goals going into this, make weight and win one match and you better believe every minute I spent at the academy I bombarded Cobrinha and every higher belt with questions, some stupid some stupider.
My mind was in overdrive as my thoughts centered on not wanting to embarrass myself and it started with losing weight and fast. First things first I had to take a hard look at what my diet consisted of and figure out what needed to change, pretty easy, everything. So as not to talk extensively about food and put people to sleep I am going to show a sample of what my average eating was before and after.
Eating Habits prior to Challenge Accepted:
Breakfast: Sugar with Coffee: My motto was if the spoon does not stand straight up, then there is not enough sugar, two banana nut muffins, bagel with cream cheese.
Lunch: Coffee (with sugar), Chipotle burrito and chips.
Dinner: Pasta, turkey meatballs.
Snacks: Kettle chips: Salt and Pepper, Club crackers,
Eating Habits After Challenge Accepted:
Breakfast: Two scrambled eggs with black beans, water
Lunch: Salad (tomato, lettuce, almonds, carrots), water
Dinner: Salad with chicken breast, water
Snacks: Strawberries, watermelon, grapes
Yes, this was a drastic change and as the date drew closer, I found myself dreaming about food, everything from In-and-Out Burger, to most all other fast food places, many I have never even been to.
My normal training consisted of the Monday and Wednesday fundamentals class taught by David de Souza from 9:00am-10:30am. I knew that I needed to train more, so I asked Cobrinha and he suggested I come to the night class, I assumed it would be the 6:00pm or 7:00pm class, but he meant the 8:00pm advanced class. I went begrudgingly and with concern about getting injured, not so much physically, I am referring to my ego. I was fortunate that a few of my teammates (James, Roman, Evan and Mike) drilled with me during the week while Sky trained in the afternoons. I also invested in some private sessions with black belt extraordinaire Fabbio Passos, I was leaving nothing to chance.
Outside of the academy, I added something I have rarely if ever done in my lifetime... running. I dressed in layers; put the leash on my loving blue nose pitbull, Samurai, and we hit the sidewalks sprinting, which is jogging to most. One thing Samurai loves is going outside, but as the tournament got closer, he went from jumping up and down when I rattled the leash to running to his bed and refusing to go out. He was not a fan of running and he let it be known by refusing to move soon after we hit the sidewalk, which made for a lot of funny stares from drivers and walkers.
The day of the tournament my kids, Tyler and Skylar came to show support and make sure I got on the mat. They found front row seats in front of the mat where my fate would be determined, as Skylar had her Canon ready to shoot. I was scared to death about making weight, so I dressed in the layers mentioned earlier and I did not eat or drink anything up until I weighed in at 7:00pm at an astounding 215lbs with the Gi on. I had just accomplished one goal, but there was a problem, my energy level was on zero.
I recall walking with my opponent to mat 2 and I wasn't so much walking as I was floating, which may sound strange. The feeling I had when the referee waived us to come onto the mat was surreal, as I have seen that so many times at tournaments and never imagined I would be experiencing it. I wish I could explain with words how it felt shaking the ref's hand and then shaking my opponent's hand before the fight began, it was addictive and exhilarating.
I won my fist match and lost my second, but overall I learned a great deal.
My kids made it down from the stands and as I looked them in the eyes the first thing I did was apologize for not winning the gold. They both hugged me and said they were proud of me. I was overwhelmed with emotions and shed a few tears. I looked at Sky and I could finally grasp what she goes through, what determination and courage she displays every time she goes on the mat. I felt a flicker of her burning desire. I understood how difficult it is to learn from loss and to be humble in victory.
On the long drive home from Orange County, the kids slept as I reflected on my brief two-week stint living the BJJ lifestyle in preparation for my first tournament. Two very distinct thoughts were embedded in my mind. One of the most notable things to me was exactly how all consuming it was. I found it very difficult to do or think about anything else other then attending class, watching my diet and doing drills!
The second thought was a total about face on what my prior thoughts had been in regards to the topic of BJJ tournaments and those who devote so much time and effort to them. They are not shirking life but living a life devoted to an emotionally intense roller coaster and to being the physically best person they can be. These BJJ players I have seen at countless academy's training for hours upon hours, these men and women are ATHLETES. Their work ethic and sheer dedication to their craft is on par with and in some cases exceeds other professional athletes in my opinion. There should be a professional organization that pays these athletes to compete and allows them to make a living, just like other athletes. The ability to get sponsor money and conduct seminars should simply be additional perks to pad their salaries.
Well when I pulled into my parking garage and Sky was the first to wake up, she looked at me with a sly smile and said, "You can make up for not wining all your matches at the next tournament, and I know you will have fun and do your best." She is right, I will and with that there is an intriguing question, can a middle-aged man, manage to earn a living, be a great parent and find the time to train in order to become a BJJ champion?
SIDEBAR A Few Memorable Quotes from teammates and friends: *Be a lion stalking your prey (Stephanie) *Make sure you weigh your Gi with you belt (Monica) *Have fun (Cobrinha and Daniela) *Believe in yourself (Kennedy) *Just that you are doing this is all that will matter to your kids (Nyjah) *You are good you can win the gold (Fabbio) *If you jump guard tuck your chin to your chest (Mikey) *Take Imodium: (THANK YOU KRIS SHAW)
The beautiful thing about Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is that there is so many ways you can go about ending a match with a submission. There are so many options that it can make your head spin just thinking about it! Armbars, guillotine, kimura, heel hook, omoplata, rear naked choke, toe hold…well, you get the point; there’s a lot!
That’s why when I see something that looks difficult—and pretty cool—I HAVE to learn it ASAP! Luckily enough, I was searching through YouTube and found an awesome technique from the good folks over at Submissions101.
In this particular setup, they breakdown a pretty slick electric chair sweep transition into a submission. The degree of difficulty is ramped up a little bit for this move, but it isn’t impossible to pull off. In fact, once you break down the subtle steps, it can be a nice new addition to anyone’s arsenal of submissions!
Tom Barlow, Braulio Estima blackbelt, decided to work with a strength and conditioning coach to prepare for the 2012 British Open. Enter Will Badenoch of Plymouth Performance Gym. Will designed a strength and conditioning program specifically for Tom that took into account that Tom had other responsibilities outside of BJJ, didn’t want to sacrifice mat time and was coming off a long layoff due to injury. Tom went on to win his division in the British Open and said, “I can honestly say that I’ve never felt in such good shape during a competition.” Will decided to use his work with Tom to create an e-book outlining a 12 week strength and conditioning program for other grapplers. The manual, The Complete Strength and Conditioning Blueprint for Grappling Sports, is a succinct treatise on how to incorporate Will’s program into your training.
Athletes at the highest levels have access to the latest technology as they strive for peak performance. They and their coaches are monitoring multiple stimuli, both external and internal, to determine what training loads achieve the perfect balance between improvement and recovery. As we all know without adequate recovery you’re not going to be able to train effectively and your chances of injury increase. Recent innovations and products have opened the door so that even recreational athletes can utilize products that just a few years ago were cost prohibitive to all but well-funded athletic programs.
Heart rate variability (HRV) monitoring can be used to quantify your baseline level of fitness, track you daily recovery, develop a personal strategy for peaking, and identify trends from changes in your training regimen. HRV based program have been developed for professional athletes of all sports, including the UFC, and may represent the next step in individualized training programs.
When I first started playing organized sports about thirty years ago we were all told that water was all you needed after and during practice (it wasn’t called training in those dark ages). Next came Gatorade. Gatorade has been around since the late 1960’s and really took off in the 80s when the formula was purchased from the University of Florida. Everyone was drinking Gatorade to “Be Like Mike” or whatever spokesman was popular at the time. Fast forward another decade and someone figured out that adding amino acids (protein) to these drinks may be an even better option after training. As you can see, this is not a new topic by any stretch of the imagination but I’m hoping that I’ll be able to give you a basic and practical guideline on what you need after training, why you need it and how to use it in your training.
My name is Adam Glass. I am 30 years old and I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota. If you have heard of me before, it was probably not for BJJ. I am a white belt at Greg Nelsons Academy. BJJ is one of my favorite sports but that is not what I love most. I am a grip strength athlete and strongman. Many would make the argument I have pound for pound some of the strongest hands on the planet. My grip training roughly consumes 14-18 hours a week, 52 weeks a year. I tell you all of that to drill home one point – I know a lot about hand pain and how to resolve hand pain. I am going to share with you some of the best methods for improving your hand health and a few simple movements that will be high pay off for not only your BJJ but all areas of your life.
Many people who read this currently do not have hand pain and that is a good thing. Rather than pass this article over, I would like you to consider adding these movements to your training now. It is much easier to do these things and never get serious pain rather than develop pain and try to get yourself out.
Intro: “In my opinion there was no BJJ brand that represented the beauty and elegance we all experience when participating in the gentle art. I was looking to create a brand that had meaning, that word that came to me was ORIGIN.” Pete Roberts
Origin BJJ has been getting a lot of press lately because of their move to have all of their gi manufacturing at their Maine headquarters. Origin is the product of Pete Roberts and his desire to get out of the corporate word and to pursue his passion for BJJ as a career (for a little more on Pete check here). Their products are designed from his experience as a student, competitor and teacher. To that end Origin’s products include gis, nogi apparel and training accessories. With a reputation for service and quality I was very excited to use Origin spats for my initiation into the world of spats.
Over the last year X-Guard Brand has made a name for itself by producing high-quality gis at affordable prices (<$140 with shipping included). Something that doesn’t get as much attention is their offering of customized rashguards. X-Guard sublimates all of there own rashguards in house and were kind enough to send me one of their “Save 2nd Base” breast cancer awareness rashguards early last month. I liked the rashguard so much that I purchased another one shortly thereafter with my school logos on it. X-guard’s customized gear includes rashguards, board shorts and patches.
Per X-Guard Brand:
“At X-Guard Brand Fight Wear, we believe that fashion, quality, and performance go hand-in-hand. Our premium jiu jitsu kimonos, IBJJF approved rash guards, and fight shorts have been mat tested and are cage approved. We listen to our customers, read reviews, and participate in the sport which helps us continually push our Jiu-Jitsu / MMA fight wear to the next level.”
The Prowler is one of those tools that my athletes hate to see me bringing over, but love the results that come from training with it. Here are my top 3 exercises that I use with all my BJJ athletes with the Prowler:
1. Prowler Push I have my BJJ athletes do a Prowler Push in order to develop their work capacity and to help build muscle with very little stress on the body. During BJJ training or matches, we are forced to be explosive in very short periods of time…If we do not train like that, how do we expect to perform like that when it counts.
Try starting off with 2-3 sets with each set consisting of 6-8 reps. Remember that here the reps should be kept low because we are working on being powerful and explosive every time we push the sled.
2. Prowler Pull The Prowler Pull offers the same types of benefits as the push: work capacity and help build muscle with very little stress on the body. To perform this exercise you are going to have to strap either a TRX Suspension Trainer or a set of ropes to hold on to. The key to this exercise is to remember that we do not want to use our legs. Just focus on keep your arms straight and pulling in an explosive manner towards you.
Number of sets and rep ranges are the same as the Prowler Push.
3. Prowler Sprints This is definitely an all time favorite with all my athletes. This exercise is not only great for building up work capacity, but also increasing speed, power, and recovery.
I normally set up two cones 20 yards apart and the distance that they athlete covers will depend on where the athlete is in their training program. Remember to always keep the time that your athletes complete the sprint in…this will allow them to compete against their own time.
Now turn off your computer…Head to the gym...And take the necessary steps with the Prowler to win your next tournament.