Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is a martial art that focuses on grappling and ground fighting techniques. It originated in Brazil in the early 20th century and has since gained worldwide popularity as a highly effective self-defense system and competitive sport.
Santiago Furlong is a highly respected BJJ instructor and athlete who has been training in the sport for over 12 years. Originally from Argentina, Furlong is now based in New York and is part of the Lotus Club team. He has been instructing athletes for over 5 years and has developed a reputation as a highly skilled and dedicated coach.
Furlong’s technical knowledge, skills, and experience in the sport of BJJ have allowed him to design a highly effective training program that has produced successful athletes. His program includes a conditioning warm-up, technical explanation, drilling, situational sparring, free sparring, and Q&A for troubleshooting. This structure has shown excellent results in athletes such as Laura Pasquali, Alexandre Manara, and Larissa Antunes, who have all medaled in major tournaments and placed themselves at the top of the ranking of their categories.
Furlong’s personal success as an athlete has also contributed to his credibility and success as a coach. He has competed at the highest level of the sport and has a deep understanding of the technical aspects of BJJ and the mindset needed to succeed in the competition. This personal experience has allowed him to develop a coaching style that emphasizes both physical and mental preparation for competition, which sets him apart from other instructors and allows him to provide a comprehensive approach to training.
We had the opportunity to speak with Santiago and gain a deeper insight into his dedication and instruction in training. We are eager to gain a better understanding of what it takes to succeed in the highly competitive world of BJJ and how his unique approach to coaching has helped his athletes achieve success both in and out of the training room.
Hey Santiago, we’re really interested to know what inspired you to develop a training program that focuses on both physical and mental preparation for competition. Could you tell us a bit more about that and how you believe it has contributed to the success of your athletes?
Absolutely, the foundation of my training program lies in the technical skills of my students. It’s crucial for success. However, I’ve seen many athletes excel in the training room but struggle to replicate that performance in a competitive setting. That’s why mental preparation is an integral part of my training program.
The goal is always to perform as close as possible to the level achieved in training during a competition. Of course, it’s challenging to perform exactly at the same level, but it’s essential not to limit your abilities due to competition pressure.
The primary focus is to build confidence in the athlete and make the competition feel as ordinary as possible. The aim is to alleviate as much pressure as possible from the athlete. Building mental toughness is also key. This mental resilience is developed during challenging training sessions. So, when they’re in a high-intensity competition or a tough match, that feeling is familiar, and they’re less likely to mentally break.
This holistic approach, combining physical and mental preparation, makes a real difference when my students step on the mat for a competition. They’re ready not just in terms of skills, but mentally they’re prepared to fight hard, have confidence in their skill set, and maintain their mental resilience during the match.
Can you describe a specific moment when you saw one of your athletes implement techniques they learned in your program to achieve success in a competition?
Throughout 2022, a significant part of the program was aimed at becoming more offensive, particularly in using leglock attacks and from the closed guard position. This position is notably effective when you’re playing from the bottom, and you wrap your legs around your opponent. We spent a lot of time doing situational sparring from these positions, always trying to refine these skills, and it indeed paid off.
For instance, Laura Pasquali, one of my students, was trailing in points during the semifinal of the IBJJF Worlds No Gi. However, at the last minute, she managed to secure a closed guard position. Staying offensive, she locked in a triangle choke from the closed guard, winning by submission.
Alexandre Manara and Larrisa Antunes were also successful in utilizing many leglock attacks, securing quick submissions in the early rounds. This is crucial in competitions where you might have multiple fights within one or two hours. If you can finish the fight quickly, it gives you an advantage going into the later rounds of the tournament.
What do you think sets your coaching style apart from other Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instructors, and how has it contributed to your athletes’ success?
As a Jiu-Jitsu instructor, what distinguishes my coaching style from others is my emphasis on individualized instruction and meticulous attention to detail. I recognize that each athlete is unique, possessing their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as differing styles and body types. Therefore, I adapt my teaching approach to meet their specific requirements.
I place a strong focus on technique and precision. I firmly believe that understanding and mastering the fundamentals is the cornerstone of success in Jiu-Jitsu. Thus, I ensure that my athletes build a solid foundation before progressing to more advanced techniques. I make certain they comprehend the concepts and objectives when they’re in any given position.
This approach aids in enhancing efficiency and understanding the rationale behind their actions. We also engage in a substantial amount of situational sparring, always commencing with low resistance. As they gain proficiency in the position, we gradually increase resistance until we reach full power.
I am confident that my coaching style has significantly contributed to my athletes’ success. It has facilitated a deep understanding of Jiu Jitsu, the development of a robust technical foundation, and rapid skill enhancement through situational sparring as the primary mechanism for troubleshooting positions in live rolling. By prioritizing individualized instruction, meticulous attention to detail, and situational sparring, I assist my athletes in achieving their goals and realizing their full potential in Jiu Jitsu.
Can you talk about the challenges you have faced in developing personalized training plans for each of your athletes, and how have you overcome those challenges?
Developing personalized training plans for each of my athletes can certainly be a challenging task. Each athlete is unique, possessing a distinct style, body type, and preferences. Even though we adhere to a common training program designed to cultivate certain skills, I must also concentrate on the specific issues each athlete encounters during training sessions or competitions.
This process requires dedicated time to observe and evaluate each athlete individually. Although it can be time-consuming, it’s crucial for crafting an effective training plan for each person.
To navigate these challenges and balance the individual needs of each athlete with the collective goals of the team, I first focus on observing sparring during training sessions, providing tailored feedback and advice to each athlete. This enables them to work on and rectify their specific issues.
Subsequently, I’ve introduced Q&A sessions where my students can inquire about positions, techniques, or any problem they might be encountering. This allows them to work on these issues later.
Lastly, we allocate time for open drilling, a period where they can practice techniques and positions of their choosing. It’s vital to provide this space, given that everyone has different styles and preferences, allowing them to work on their specific needs.
In what ways do you incorporate mental preparation into your training program, and how do you help your athletes stay focused and confident in high-pressure situations?
I firmly believe that both physical and mental preparation for competition is crucial and closely intertwined. The approach I adopt with my students initially centers on enhancing their technical Jiu-Jitsu skills and physical conditioning. This is key to daily training, continuous improvement, maintaining fitness, and preventing injuries.
When it comes to mental preparation, the primary objective is to build confidence in the athlete. This is vital when they need to perform in a setting different from their usual training environment, enabling them to deliver their best. However, confidence doesn’t magically appear; it typically stems from the athlete’s previous successful experiences and trust in their technical and physical abilities. Thus, the most effective way to build confidence is through accumulating competition experiences. This acclimatizes them to performing in front of larger audiences and in different settings than the training room.
Ultimately, a competition isn’t much different from what an athlete does daily. It’s vital for the athlete to comprehend this, so I place heavy emphasis on normalizing what may seem extraordinary. When they step onto the competition mat, it’s just a Jiu-Jitsu match, the same activity they engage in daily.
Conversely, for many athletes, visualization can prove a valuable technique, especially for those with competition experience. Visualization techniques, grounded in previous experiences, allow the athlete to immerse themselves mentally in the competition scenario, where the environment differs from daily training. Attempting to mentally recreate and mimic those pre-competition moments can make them feel more familiar when the actual situation arises.
I believe that the mental preparation component of our program has played a significant role in enabling my students to remain focused, calm, and confident once they step onto the mat.
What advice would you give to aspiring Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu athletes who are looking to improve their skills and achieve success in competition?
I would advise them to be prepared to work diligently and commit themselves fully. Jiu-Jitsu is a competitive sport, and there are no shortcuts to improvement and achieving success. It requires time on the mat, consistency, and dedication to every training session. It’s also crucial to be smart about your training.
I recommend setting specific goals on positions or techniques you wish to improve and diligently working on them within a set timeframe. Combining this targeted approach with situational sparring is an effective way to enhance your skills at a faster pace.
Lastly, resilience is key. Not every competition or match will result in a win for you, and in many training sessions, you may feel outperformed by others. This is normal and an integral part of the process. You’ll encounter injuries, losses, and setbacks. However, maintaining discipline and staying focused on your goals will help you continue growing as an athlete, ensuring you’re prepared for the next opportunity.
How do you stay up-to-date on the latest trends and techniques in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and how do you incorporate that knowledge into your training program?
Remaining current with the latest trends and techniques is vital in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. BJJ is a dynamic and evolving martial art, so as an instructor, I must ensure that my athletes are moving in the right direction and focusing on the right elements. Firstly, I spend a considerable amount of time watching various Jiu-Jitsu matches. This serves as the foundation for understanding how the game is evolving, which techniques are proving effective at the highest level, and how they are being implemented.
Interestingly, the trends can vary based on weight classes. For instance, the strategies and techniques employed by featherweights differ significantly from those of superheavyweights. Therefore, understanding these differences is key to planning which positions the athlete should invest more time and effort in, depending on the ruleset and weight class.
Lastly, the current era is rich with instructional resources for learning new techniques. Almost every high-level athlete and instructor is publishing their instructional videos on platforms like BJJFanatics.com, which is a prominent platform for learning Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. In fact, I recently filmed my own instructional videos on closed-guard attacks and leg attacks, which will soon be available on BJJ Fanatics.
What are your goals for the future of your coaching career, and how do you plan to continue helping your athletes achieve success in competition?
My primary goal is to continually assist my students in reaching their full potential and achieving their objectives. I firmly believe that with hard work and dedication, anything is possible, and I’m committed to supporting my students in their journey.
We have a number of significant competitions on the horizon, such as the IBJJF Brasileiro Championship in May, the IBJJF World Championship in June, the Pan-No Gi Championship in October, and the World No-Gi Championship in December. We are constantly training rigorously and preparing to compete in these demanding competitions.
As a coach, it’s my responsibility to stay updated and work hard to provide each of my athletes with the best possible training program. This approach will enable them to improve quickly, enhance their skills, and develop the right mindset to reach their goals when the time comes. I have confidence in our team and believe that everyone is dedicated to hard work and achieving success.