When we are training, there are a limited number of approaches to strength we can adopt.
The first is following our instincts to use all of our strength.
Everyone knows that BJJ gives us the tools to deal with someone who is bigger, stronger, faster, etc. A beginner who doesn’t know anything will often dive in full force, simply to experience how bjj works. Trial and error is an effective learning method. The problem with this approach comes when we know a little, and then combine it with strength. We can make a mistake, or do something halfway right, and reinforce this behavior because the result seems correct. Our mistake is only evident when we finally meet failure, and have the awareness to either ask or recognize the cause. The most obvious flaw to this approach is that failure can also mean injury- for either party.
Another approach is trying not to use strength at all.
If we stick with the first idea long enough, someone will say to calm down. Many purple belts go through a phase where they’re unapologetically sick of people going crazy on them. They have good reason for feeling this way. Mixing sudden bursts of strength with endless human creativity undoubtedly causes some wear and tear. Everyone should learn how to train for sustainability, both for themselves and their friends. But if nobody used strength, how could we learn how to deal with it? Being stronger is a definite advantage, but there are different levels of knowing how to use our advantages effectively.
We can learn how to match strength against weakness.
Strength should be used in certain instances. An armbar works because the legs and back combined are, in fact, stronger than any single arm. When we have a thorough understanding of the principles of leverage in specific situations, we are ‘stronger’ than our opponents.
We can also measure the effort required for the task.
In a situation where using strength is a good idea, we still need to know what we are doing. Each technique has several movements. And each movement requires varying degrees of effort. Does the effort change based on the opponent, our timing, or a host of other factors? Yes, it does. Our ability to execute anything is dependent on our ability to pay attention. The reason for selecting a certain level of effort can vary based on effectiveness, sustainability, or ego.
The bottom line: know what you’re doing!
We are all constantly going through changes, and it’s nobody’s job to rush another’s progress. Every stage of learning and what lies in between are important parts of the experience of jiujitsu. What we can do is understand where we are, and grow from the insight it yields. When we do that, our reactions can naturally cycle. None of these approaches will answer all our problems, but each is a tool to help us along the way.