Gracie Family Best Kept Secret: Breathing Method When Doing Jiu-Jitsu

If you have ever rolled with a BJJ master or advanced practitioner, what is something that distinguishes them from beginners in BJJ? It’s not just superior technique. It’s the way they breath.

Very often you will notice that they are breathing in a controlled and calm manner, with regular intervals. Some of them even have patterns for example: a deep inhalation through the nose followed by a few strong exhalations through the nose. Your opponent huffing and puffing is also a sign that he’s gassing and that it would be the right time for you to take advantage of the situation.

Many of us of breath in the wrong way in our everyday lives by only using our lungs. While there isn’t one correct way to breathe during a Jiu-Jitsu roll, the breath should come from the diaphragm (the most efficient breathing muscle). Breathing that way is done by contracting the diaphragm, a muscle located horizontally between the chest cavity and stomach cavity. Air enters the lungs and the belly expands during this type of breathing.

This deep breathing is marked by expansion of the abdomen rather than the chest when breathing. It is considered by some to be a healthier and fuller way to ingest oxygen, and is sometimes used as a therapy for hyperventilation, anxiety disorders and stuttering.

To breathe diaphragmatically, or with the diaphragm, one must draw air into the lungs in a way which will expand the stomach and not the chest. It is best to perform these breaths as long, slow intakes of air – allowing the body to absorb all of the inhaled oxygen while simultaneously relaxing the breather.

Why breath this way: Diaphragmatic breathing actually fills up the majority of the lungs with oxygen – up to 50% more than chest-breathing or shallow breathing.

How the Gracies breath when doing Jiu-Jitsu:

Rickson Gracie and all members of the Gracie use a special method of breathing when doing Jiu-Jitsu: Percussive breathing. This involves a normal inhalation followed by several short, sharp exhalations (saying shh, shh, shh, shh, shh). These are actually rythmic diaphragmatic contractions.

This was one of the Gracie family’s best kept secret for many years.

Percussive breathing techniques can increase the expansion of the ribcage and the amount of air exchanged through the lungs. The deeper you breathe, the more oxygen you bring into your system.
Percussive breathing is defined as “breath with sound and rhythm.” While a regular breath is seldom noticed, percussive breathing sounds like an orchestra. The rhythmic pattern of inhaling and exhaling is more challenging than it first appears. When the exhalations get longer, you are working to improve your cardiovascular capacity.

How to do Percussive breathing:
Inhale: Inhale deeply, using accordion breathing. Accordion breathing is lateral chest breathing. Imagine that your rib cage is an accordion. On the inhale, the accordion expands laterally, and on the exhale, the accordion squeezes back together.
Exhale: Using percussive breathing, exhale for 5 beats (saying shh, shh, shh, shh, shh).
Percussive breathing is forced exhalation using the abdominal muscles; think of forcing the air out in short percussive blows.

So as a summary, next time you roll, try to control your breathing. Try as much as possible to use your diaphragm and remember that when you start feeling like you are gassing, take 2 or 3 deep breaths and continue fighting!

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