By: Tyler Bishop
“Dude, screw it. I think I am getting worse”, said my friend as we changed in the locker room after class. Not exactly the kind of thing you would expect to hear from a purple belt after class, right? So I asked him, “What’s up? Just having a bad day”? His reply helped me uncover something about jiu jitsu that I think most of us know deep down, but shy away from. He answered me by saying, “Nah, I just don’t train right. I just come in and roll, and now these little jerks are starting to berimbolo my face off. I am just behind. I think I probably use to be better than I am now”.
As a white belt or blue belt it’s not uncommon to view jiu jitsu as a linear upwards projection. You start knowing absolutely nothing. And although we all advance at different velocities, everyone can learn and progress through jiu jitsu. However, what many fail to realize – especially early on – is that jiu jitsu is not something that remains a simple time in = development out formula. We often assume that if we put time into jiu jitsu we will receive that equal output back out in terms of progress. It’s confusing, because this formula actually is 100% correct when we start jiu jitsu. You’ve heard the saying “there’s no where to go but up”, right? It’s easy to see that some get more output from their time in while others might receive very little, but it’s easy to recognize this formulas existence… in the beginning. But as we progress through jiu jitsu, the evil truth that can be convenient to ignore is that once we have progressed to a certain point of competency in jiu jitsu that formula actually disappears.
Gasp! You mean that I could show up to jiu jitsu, train all night, and not get any better. Yes, that is what I am proposing – and not only that. I am suggesting that there are circumstances in which you could actually regress.
It’s no secret that we all get older, develop injuries, and so on, but the truth is that losing performance in this manner is normal. However, developing an inefficiency in our development in performance due to training habits or methods is unnecessary. It’s easy to prevent. My friend that I described in the beginning would have to do very little to turn his regression into progression. The only thing he has to realize is that his effort must now be more thoughtful than it was before. He can no longer rely on the formula that works in the beginning (time in = development out). He must now start to strategically consider his progression when attending practice, and take additional steps to encourage his development. Let me break this down by recommending 3 easy strategies…
#1: You have to want to get better, and think about your progression outside of jiu jitsu
If you show up to practice and are counting the others around you to take take control of your progression you have already fallen behind. Your training partners and instructors should have your best interests in mind at all times, but that doesn’t mean they know all of your struggles, strengths, weaknesses, and so forth. You have to want to get better for yourself. This means leveraging the resources around you to get better, not counting on them to do it for you.
To take matters into you own hands, simply start planning your development outside of class. Think about new positions that you would like to learn or work on. Ask your instructors questions about these new positions, or pull a classmate aside at an open mat and work through the position. This kind of forethought will help organize your training and will provide some focus that can lead to steady progression.
In a worse case scenario in which you are truly crunched for time and training, try subscribing to an online academy and analyzing techniques outside of class. Pay attention to the details, and find time to drill these techniques with a teammate. By Taking extra time to work on the techniques that matter to you, your efforts to improve are likely to increase as well.
#2 Challenge yourself, and step outside of the norm
Guess what? It’s pretty easy to show up everyday to class and roll with the same bunch of folks day in and day out. Maybe you avoid the big guy, the new guy, or the guy that’s really good. Why? It’s convenient, easy, and comfortable. However, progress is usually a little bit more difficult than that.
To push your development along, try training and rolling with new people at your academy. Their reactions and style may force you to improve or adjust your “go to” techniques. These adjustments are a form of progress.
I have a really talented training partner that has helped me significantly develop my guard game. He is so incredibly strong and talented that there are certain techniques that just don’t work very well against him. This was not a fun thing to learn or develop. It meant having my guard passed a lot! However, training with him has helped me make my guard that much harder to pass.
This is actually one of the quickest and easiest ways to develop, but it is often the most painful. Don’t worry about your pride, or about being uncomfortable. Just think about getting better.
#3 Take private lessons
You’re not the best in the world. Chances are, you’re not even close. Hopefully, you’re not even close to the best at your academy. This means that there are a lot of people around you that you can learn from. One of the best ways to learn from a higher belt or instructor is to do a private lesson with them.
Many good instructors can help you pick out and identify exactly what you need to work on, but I think it’s better if you have some of this already in mind. But just like in number 1, don’t just have something generic in mind and show up counting on the instructor to learn for you. Have some specific things in mind (i.e. I want to learn how to make my De La Riva Sweeps better – rather than – I want to learn sweeps).
Private lessons aren’t cheap, and can be a waste of money if you don’t invest yourself into really learning and applying these techniques. I have taught private lessons before then watched the person I did the lesson with roll for an hour without trying a single one of the techniques we trained. Make sure that you get your money out of your lesson. Insist on the techniques you learn. Force them down the throats of your training partners. Accept the failures and learn from them. That’s the only way/ If you are afraid to try the techniques you will have wasted your dollars ( or pesos).
I hope this has all been helpful. It’s easy to forget how easy progression was at white belt, but often we do very little different when that progression wears off. Hopefully, this can provide some much needed motivation to help you improve your jiu jitsu.