Are You Cross-Training?

Cross-training with other gyms wasn’t always an option.  A new age for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is here. The dark ages of the “us vs. them” mentality have slowly eroded.  The growth of information available on the internet has eliminated “secret techniques.” Cross-training can be a huge leverage point for improvement.

If your current gym is against cross-training, you are missing out!  Have to hide that you trained somewhere else because you’re afraid coach will be upset?  Maybe it is time to re-evaluate if your current spot is the right spot for you.

So What Exactly IS Cross-Training?

Cross-training is training with others that have different styles to expand your experiences and improve. Typically cross-training with other BJJ gyms is the easiest type of cross-training because of the gym culture common ground. That’s the type of cross-training I’m mostly going to be discussing.

Photo After Training SessionWorking with gyms in completely different styles such as judo clubs or wrestling teams will also expand your knowledge base. There are elements of both of these arts that the practitioner of them takes for granted, that the Jiu Jitsu player doesn’t know, and which would have a huge effect on their game if they did.

A few ways to cross-train


Even just attending a seminar hosted by another school is a great way to spread Jiu Jitsu. The more people that attend seminars, the more often high level talent can come to your area.  Typically a goal to attend a few seminars at schools around is a great way to expand your horizons.

Open Matt Cross-Training Sessions

This is primarily what I mean by cross-training.  Invite another gym to have a mutual open mat time to just get together and train.  A rotating cycle of alternating locations from theirs to yours is a great way to keep this fair.  Anything less than a few of these a year seems like not enough “tune-ups.”

If you are going to compete, the more shared open mats the better!

These past few years, attending the Pans Camps have been some of my happiest memories.

Dual Enrollment

If money and time were no object, being a regular student at multiple locations could be beneficial.  Twice the material viewpoint.  This approach probably shouldn’t be pursued until you have an understanding of the basics.

I personally wouldn’t choose this option because I feel it would splinter my training too much.  Even with dual enrollment, I think one location would remain the primary training location, and the second spot would be your supplemental.

The Benefits Of Cross-Training

1.)Meet new friends.

Most of my best friends are my Jiu Jitsu friends. Choking each other out and growing as individuals has a way to bond everyone together. When you cross-train with another gym, it is like your pool of potential friends just doubled. You even know you have at least one thing in common!Girls in Gi's BJJ Cross-training fun

2.)Experience New Styles.

In Jiu Jitsu, our styles are shaped by our instructor. I execute a majority of my movements in the same way my instructor does. I’ve branched off and added my own flavor and sequences, but at the core it is still the same. Most of my regular training partners have this same baseline.

Rolling with someone of a different lineage creates an interesting style vs. style matchup which presents unique problems.  The guys at the gym I work with have become accustomed to what I do, and so we tend to fight on the same battleground night after night.

I may know in my gym, one partner likes Deep Half the best, and make choices during rolling to either consciously avoid or engage that position based on my knowledge. When cross-training I often know nothing of my opponent.

Lucas Teaching At Marshfield BJJA different style leads to different play, and weak areas can be exposed, or strong areas surface.

Occasionally I will cross train with someone who completely changes my approach to a movement.  Techniques that I successfully hit on all my partners are shut down by a simple movement another gym is experts at.  Other movements, I’ve never been able to make work for me, are quickly upgraded by a small point these other styles focus on.

Sometimes I will find my opponent giving me a reaction that makes a move easier.  No one at my gym behaves that way, but I can feel that reaction is the precise one I am wanting, and how to help elicit it.

3.) The Element Of Surprise

Beyond that, different people seem to specialize in certain positions (i.e. – leglocks, de la riva, single leg x, butterfly guard, judo, pressure passing). To me, this is where it gets fascinating.

A blue belt with a highly specialized De La Riva game can play that position on par with a black belt who doesn’t focus there as much. In this way, by being mindful of each of my training partner’s strongest attributes, I can train much above their level as needed.Brian Stuebner Choke Christian Cardona

Feeling people from other gyms work through these spots with their own flavor puts down a second layer of understanding.  Now there is a bigger roster of specialists to choose from.  Getting ready for a super fight against someone who has great spider guard, now you know who in the area to work with to get ready.


Why Do Some Schools Avoid Cross Training?

The academy I train at actually used to not cross-train with people out of our association.  So I came from that world.  Part of the problem is we were an MMA and Jiu Jitsu gym.  When giving up “secrets” meant that my buddy would be getting punched in the face, I understand being hesitant to work with others.

Shortly after becoming a BJJ only gym, the culture shifted.  We were able to be much more open with other schools.  Since our goals weren’t to beat local schools at local tournaments, but instead to win national titles, cross-training made sense.

Cross training has been invaluable in raising the level of Jiu Jitsu.

The Onlookers At Cross-Training
People from over 5 different gyms in this photo!

The saddest reason I have seen schools avoid cross-training is an insecurity in skill level.  Instructors can be afraid they don’t deserve their rank and don’t want to be found out by their students.  Sometimes these fears are even poorly founded and just the result of being overly critical.

If the skills aren’t on point though, the cycle is self sustaining.  If you don’t do things like cross-train or compete and only train with your lower ranked students how will you ever improve?  Also, I feel like their students are missing out on some amazing opportunities as a byproduct.

Cross-training is an essential habit to improving.  Who are your cross-training buddies?