Continuously improving at Brazilian Jiu Jitsu can be a hard task. The art has many naturally occurring ups and downs and as a result athletes perceive their skills as either skyrocketing or plateauing. Many find this disheartening and feel like they have little control over the process.
Here are 10 easy tips to help you through the hard times and ensure your game continually improves:
1. Come to Training
It is extremely difficult to improve at Jiu Jitsu without regular attendance at training. There is simply so much to learn that your rate of progress, especially in the early days, is almost solely dictated by how often you come to training. Even later on when you have learnt the majority of movements and techniques the refinement process requires a multitude of different drilling partners and the guidance of a skilled instructor both of whom are most easily found at training.
2. Train Gi and No Gi
Despite what Rorian Gracie and Eddie Bravo have told you one training garment is not inherently better than the other – they are simply different and help develop a different set of skills. Training without the gi will introduce you to a new set of grips, cause your attacking skills to improve and allow you to practice new techniques in what is generally a more forgiving environment. Putting on the gi will force your defensive and escaping skills to further develop, improve your base and increase your knowledge of leverage.
3. Write things down
A journal is an extremely useful training tool whether you feel you are experiencing a period of growth or stagnation. Writing down what you learnt at training, what worked for you and what didn’t causes you to mentally rehearse and analyse everything a second time. In effect, it causes you to practice everything you did at training and look at things from new and original angles. The best time to write things down is the day after training; in this context mental rehearsal has the greatest effect once the information is no longer fresh in your memory and you have to think hard about what you did. It doesn’t matter if you never look at what you’ve written ever again – the act of writing the records that is more helpful than the records themselves.
4. Challenge yourself
In order to improve you have to make a deliberate decision to better your game. When you first begin BJJ you are always ‘working on something’ as you are still developing the skills to be able to survive a class and roll against your team mates. Once a certain level of fundamental skill has been reached it is possible to hold your own against a range of people without improving your skills; you essentially start camping out at your current level, ignoring your weaknesses and focusing on your strengths. Avoid this mindset at all costs if your desire is to continue your Jiu Jitsu development. The people who get see continuous improvement are the ones who work to eliminate their weaknesses and develop new strengths. In short they challenge themselves. This ‘challenge’ can take any number of forms from trying to pull off particular techniques whilst sparring, limiting yourself to your least favored submissions or starting in your weakest position each roll.
5. Take some privates
Receiving private instruction from your coach is an excellent way to work your way past a plateau, fix a problem you keep encountering while rolling or even just find out what position and techniques would be best for you to work on next. A one on one or small group session allows your instructor to focus on what you need and want without the distraction of a class. Privates can lead to some very fast improvements in your game – and in some cases an entirely new game – and are frequently an underused tool in a grappler’s development.
6. Change Your Focus
The art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is very broad but it’s easiest to think of it as being made of up 3 main categories (or ranges):
And being able to express it in three different ways:
Vale Tudo & MMA
Many of these areas could be – and in some cases are – a martial art or combat sport in their own right. While there is definite overlap the skills and strategies you emphasise will differ depending on which categories and expressions you focus on.
Through necessity you tend to focus your on just one or two these aspects at a time. During times of perceived stagnation changing your areas of focus leads to growth not only in the new dimension but in those you thought exhausted as well.
Ronaldo “Jacare” De Souza famously said that one competition is worth three months of training. Competition sharpens your existing techniques, develops your escape routes and helps you create a game plan. Competition also exposes you to different people and styles of Jiu Jitsu – people who are as ignorant of your game as you are of theirs. You’ll be able to test yourself against people who don’t know your favourite techniques but you’ll know nothing about them either. Competing exposes weaknesses and causes you to reflect on and assess your game in a way that rolling with your team mates cannot.
8. Have fun
Playing is the most natural and effective way of learning. On nature documentaries you don’t see tiger cubs lining up practicing paw strikes, you see them playing in ways that closely mimic their real hunting and fighting. Having fun and playing are two necessary ingredients to continued technical development. When we play we are more willing to explore new scenarios and try new techniques; when we are having fun we are more likely to remember and be more able to reproduce what we are doing. Play is the creative medium and this is forgotten all too often in our training.
9. Work hard
This might seem to directly contradict the above but work is just as necessary as play when it comes to our improvement. Work helps our play remain productive and practical. Working helps us play at a higher level and the better we play the better we learn. Work and play must be balanced to produce the best results – too much work and our creativity dries up, our ability to learn drops and our development staggers to a halt. Too much play and our productivity disappear, our creativity stagnates and development once again falls away.
10. Come to training
I’ve put this on here twice deliberately. Consistently coming to training makes a huge difference to your development. Apart from the fact the majority of the above tips aren’t actually possible unless you’ve been attending class, weak, sporadic attendance leads to weak, sporadic development. Marcelo Garcia, Saulo Riberio, Dustin Hazelett and Dave Meyer all got their black belt in less than 5 years and the thing they all have in common is a commitment to training.