This is actually a much requested repost. The original article died a tragic death when the Elements site crashed in 2015. Here are 19 random thoughts about BJJ.
To master Brazilian Jiu Jitsu the training must be severe
This doesn’t mean that the training must necessarily be physically demanding (although it often is), it means that your training must constantly remind you of the areas of your game that need improvement. Severe training shows you where you are weak and tests you where you are strong, it strips away the comfort of self delusion and replaces it with daunting truth. This kind of training is hardest on the mind and the ego.
Train for the short term
As self evident as this sounds, it apparently bears repeating: the goal of your training is to make you better at Jiu Jitsu. Not more mobile, or stronger or even ‘better’ in some esoteric kind of way. Better at BJJ in an immediate, concrete and measurable fashion. As such, 80 per cent plus of your training time should be spent doing the things that result in this kind of improvement. Modalities like positional work, isolation sparring, rotation training and rolling are your best bet here.
Train for the middle term
Middle term training requires both a time investment and a decent foundation built by short term training, before you see much of a pay off. It is important to begin developing this area early on though, as the actual techniques of Jiu Jitsu (submissions, sweeps, escapes, etc) belong to this category.
Train for the long term
Training for the long term is probably the trickiest to do well. It improves your ability to train for the short and middle term, and as a result it is at least one level removed from improving your actual fighting skill. Because of this, it can be hard to tell if what you’re doing is bullshit or actually useful. Movement drills and slow flow rolling are great options.
Position, position, position
In BJJ circles it’s a sadly frequent occurrence to hear an instructor say something like “position before submission” before teaching 16 omaplata variations and a flying armbar guard pass. The postures, pressures and objectives of positions are rarely explicitly taught. More often, these techniques are left to the athlete to develop via the traditional “time on the mat” route, which is stupid as the main difference between levels is ability and understanding of positional control. In short, work on achieving, maintaining and pressuring in every position and your abilities will sky rocket.
Train all the aspects of Jiu Jitsu
BJJ is an art made up of many aspects: gi, no gi, takedowns, ground work, self defence, Vale Tudo and sport. Developing each is important not just for its own sake, but for the many flow on effects that occur. For example, training takedowns improves your base, grip fighting, scrambling and power across the board and training Vale Tudo results in greater facilities in control, distance management and stress management.
Isolation sparring is the fastest route to a strong game
The quickest way to strengthen your game is to isolate a position, for example, side control, and a goal, such as a submission or escape. You then roll starting in that position with the express purpose of achieving that goal. As soon as either player reaches their goal, you reset and go again.
Early specialisation leads to short term wins and long term stagnation
An easy way to get a competitive advantage early on in your Jiu Jitsu career is to specialise to the exclusion of your other skills. Deep half, 50/50 and inverted guards are popular choices, but so are guillotine and triangle chokes. While this does tend to lead to some comparatively easy wins, whenever you encounter someone who can deal with or simply avoid your specialisation you have no recourse.
Focus on the process
The process is the only part of training that you have any influence over. You can’t change the past (successes or regrets), and you can’t control the future (outcomes), so you should focus on the present (the process) and get as much as you possibly can out of each and every moment.
Enjoy the results
When you do achieve something you’ve worked for, whether it’s the next rank or nailing that sweep you’ve been drilling, be sure to take a moment and enjoy your success. Too often achievements are passed over in the race to reach the next goal and after a while this can suck some of the passion out of your practice. So next time you achieve something, celebrate and then get back on the track to your next goal.
Play is the way
Animals, including humans, learn and discover best through play. You never see a pride of lions line up and work on their ‘paw swipe to throat rip’ combination; instead they swat and wrestle each other while quite clearly having fun. A play ethic allows creative and continuous development free from judgement or expectation.
Time on the mat makes up for a lot
Poor quality coaching, lousy training partners, bad attitudes to learning, and practically anything else that gets in the way of effective skill acquisition can be made up for with sufficient time on the mat.
Use your time on the mat wisely
Regardless of whether you train 3 times a day or just twice a week, you should strive to use your mat time wisely. Time is a non–renewable resource so you should train with that in mind. The more you can get out of every minute of training the greater your understanding, skill and enjoyment of this art will be.
Train with everyone
While it is important to have a regular instructor and training partners, it is equally important to expose yourself to a variety of styles and techniques. The best way to do that is to train with a large variety of people from different academies. Visit gyms when you travel, go to seminars, take advantage of open mats, and roll with people that have different grappling backgrounds.
Don’t train with douche bags
No matter how good they are or what they know, it’s never worth it. Training with or learning from douche bags is the fastest way to ruin your enjoyment of what should be a positive martial arts experience. The training partners you actually like will steadily leave, you’re way more likely to get hurt and the more time you spend with douche bags, the more likely it is that you will become one yourself.
Strength training helps but don’t let it get in the way
Strength training is a very useful accessory to BJJ. But if fatigue, soreness or even the time commitment begins to negatively impact your Jiu Jitsu training, you need to reevaluate. Ultimately you need to decide if you are a Jiu Jitsu athlete who lifts weights or a weight lifter who does some Jiu Jitsu, and then prioritise accordingly.
Consistent training is better than hard training
Consistency is the greatest determining factor in skill acquisition and in achieving high performance. As such it is much better to train 6 days a week at 70-80 per cent than three days a week at 100 per cent.
Rolling is about learning not winning
If every time you roll your main objective is to win, then you are significantly limiting your development. Rolling to learn allows you to explore new positions and scenarios, try different techniques, and experience all kinds of scenarios. Rolling to win on the other hand typically results in trying to impose the same game every time, and experiencing very little outside of that.
It’s all about hips, grips & trips
Correctly positioned hips are the keystone to good Jiu Jitsu, enabling you to apply superior leverage. Dominant grips let you use that leverage to maximum effect, and keeping your opponent off balance (trips), both physically and mentally, limits their ability to fight back.