Rookie Seahawks defensive end Jacob Martin prepared for his first NFL season by training Brazilian jiu-jitsu for three weeks at Gracie University, a martial arts academy in California.
Jacob Martin prepared for his rookie season with the Seahawks a little differently.
In July, just weeks prior to the start of his first NFL training camp, the 21-year-old defensive end and his brother — New York Jets linebacker Josh Martin — flew to Torrance, Calif., to train at Gracie University, perhaps the United States’ premier Brazilian jiu-jitsu training facility.
For the uninformed, Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a martial art focused on grappling, ground fighting, wrestling and submissions. The Gracie family essentially revolutionized the martial art and combat sport, earning particular acclaim in mixed martial arts competitions and the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
At Gracie University, the family teaches Brazilian jiu-jitsu to more than a thousand students — a few with NFL pedigree.
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The most notable is former prolific Chiefs pass-rusher Tamba Hali, a purple belt who piled up 89.5 sacks and 105 tackles for loss throughout 12 highly successful NFL seasons.
He credits jiu-jitsu with much of that production.
“As far as the physical side of things, it helps with my hips,” Hali said on the “Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Rocks! Podcast” in August 2017. “My hips are my biggest asset, and it really loosened my hips up to be able to move when it comes to football and do certain things that you naturally have to do for jiu-jitsu. When I transition that onto the field it just works naturally. My hips are just so fluid and I’m able to do what I want.
“It definitely prepares me and my body and my mindset to be able to go into the season and compete against guys that are as good of an athlete or better. But just because of the jiu-jitsu mindset, I’m able to get in games and figure guys out and beat them.”
During his first two seasons in Kansas City, Josh Martin adopted Hali’s atypical offseason training regimen.
Now his little brother is doing the same.
“It’s another form of mobility that’s not as taxing on the body,” Jacob Martin, a 2018 sixth-round pick out of Temple, said prior to a recent practice. “Understanding the body and the give and take and that kind of relationship, it helps you move better.
“Doing hand-to-hand combat, understanding how the body works, understanding traps — trap the elbow, trap the wrist, trap and roll — (it all helps) when it comes down to pass rushing. That’s where that idea came from.”
That’s why, for three weeks in July, the Martin brothers trained in jiu-jitsu every single day. Rather than drilling pass-rush technique, they learned traps, grabs and submissions from Ryron Gracie, a fifth-degree black belt. They ran steep, sandy hills in the southern California heat.
That’s how the 6-foot-2, 242-pound Jacob Martin prepared for his first NFL season.
And not just physically.
“A big part of an athlete’s offseason is going to be maintaining a certain physical base,” said Barry Nakayama, a Gracie jiu-jitsu instructor at NAK2 Academy in Issaquah. “So as they go into the season they’re going to be prepared for that higher level of intensity in competition. So they run. They lift weights. They do all kinds of different strength and conditioning workouts. But most of those things exist purely in the physical realm.
“But while jiu-jitsu provides a lot of interesting physical problems, you’re having to constantly problem-solve as part of the process as well. You’re basically in this grapple with a live opponent who’s trying to choke you out and threaten your limbs in all different kind of ways, in all different kind of positions.
“You have to kind of solve that riddle.”
As a defensive end, Jacob Martin is confronted with similar riddles on every play. The 242-pound rookie is inevitably matched up against a bigger, stronger offensive lineman, and it’s his job to counter that lineman’s technique, manipulate his balance and leverage and bypass him en route to the quarterback.
That’s yet another form of hand-to-hand combat.
And 11 games into his rookie season, Martin’s confidence is beginning to grow.
“Sometimes with young players, it takes them a while to get adjusted and see what the pro game is asking (of them),” said first-year Seahawks defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. “How do you fit in the pro game? And then at the same time, where do you fit and find your role at on this team? It takes a while for that to really come to them.
“He understands now what his contribution and his role is as far as rushing the passer, being fast, covering on special teams. He’s really taken ownership of that role and now you see his confidence starting to show.”
So are the results. Jacob Martin collected his first NFL sack in the Seahawks’ primetime win over the Packers on Nov. 15. He has five tackles and a fumble recovery in limited opportunities as well.
But as a whole, the Seahawks’ pass rush has been maddeningly inconsistent. Seattle failed to sack Carolina quarterback Cam Newton last week and hit the dual-threat signal caller just once. The Seahawks rank 16th in the NFL with 28 total sacks on the season.
Two players — defensive end Frank Clark and defensive tackle Jarran Reed — account for 15.5 of those sacks.
The Seahawks need more from their supporting cast against the struggling San Francisco 49ers (2-9) on Sunday.
That includes Martin, too.
“Something that I need to adopt, something I need to get better at is being able to work in these slow (practice) tempos,” said Martin, who also grew up training in kung fu and didn’t pick up football until eighth grade. “That’s something that I feel like all young guys struggle with. You come from college and you’re in pads two days a week, so you can see the reps at full speed. Now in the NFL you’re not in pads ever, really. You’re rarely in a helmet until Sunday.
“So being able to get those same exact reps or those mental reps while you’re not in or observing or watching film, that’s probably the biggest difference.”
In other words, Martin’s biggest area for improvement comes with his preparation.
The rookie needs more reps, more experience — and maybe, more jiu-jitsu.
Does Martin plan to return to Gracie University again this offseason?
“One-hundred percent,” he said. “Yes, 100 percent.”