Initiative in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Lets assume you have been lucky enough, or smart enough to find your way to an excellent academy of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu (BJJ hereafter). You have a great coach, lots of opportunity to train, lots of mat space (I don't even need to mention that the atmosphere is open, engaging and helpful). What more do you need to know?
How do you make the most of this opportunity? The advice that follows are just a few strategies that have worked for me in my nomad's journey through BJJ. BJJ is almost as ecclectic as it is systematic, and what works for me may not work for you. Hopefully something offered herein will help you in your training (and, even more hopefully, more than a single something). The important point to be taken from all this is about initiative. You can get very good at BJJ just going to class, and doing nothing more. But if you take some initiative chances are you will gain a great deal more understanding, technical depth, and real time BJJ skill and in a shorter amount of time. Okay, with caveats offered lets get to it.
1. Start a Training Journal. I'm sure you have heard of this. I'm sure someone at the BJJ, Judo, JKD, Kali training hall has said, "you should document your training, write down thoughts, observations, techniques you like and need to train, in a training journal." If you do start one, keep it in your gear bag, and have it with you every time you head to the gym. This is important, and the reason is simple. If it isn't with you, you might not remember all the details of your observations. The greater the fatigue the less apt your brain is to function at 100%. Also the further you are from the time of the training the fewer details you will be able to accurately recall. BJJ happens at speed, and in real time. Its best to write down the details of dynamic action undertaken during stressful, and physically demanding circumstances as soon as you can. Get the most out of the journal by getting it down on paper quickly. But what do you write down in it? This tool has to work for you, so the contents will really need to adapted to your tastes and preferences. However I can offer some advice.
Nightly training goals. Set a goal in your journal. It can look like, MONDAY OPEN MAT: Finish with the triangle at least three times, from triangle position affect transitions, turnovers, or other submissions. Leave space to write down your thoughts, and observations about your daily training goals(did you meet them, why or why not etc). Obvious points of interest will be how and why your techniques failed and succeeded.
Strong/Weak Areas Almost every night ends with rolling, or drilling. This is the perfect place to catalogue what you think you are doing correctly, and to systematically identify the holes in your game. In what positions are you strong, what techniques do you favor? Where are you consistently weak? Is it with a particular training partner or is position or attack that trouble starts? These are the kinds of questions you want to ask and answer in you journal.
New Techniques How necessary this is depends on your memory and how much your coach teaches in an evening. But it can't hurt to put new material in your journal. I often forget on Thursday, what we covered on Monday, so for me the Training Journal is invaluable in reminding me of things to review and practice.
That is a good place to start with the Training Journal. Tailor it to your needs and tastes and it can be a excellent learning aide.
2. New Techniques? Try 'em out!
In almost ever BJJ school I've ever trained I've noticed a tendency to stick within the comfortable realm of what works. That is to say, even though students learn new techniques at least weekly it takes them some time to try them out. I've fallen victim to this myself. But staying in one's comfort zone is a sure way to flatten one's learning curve in BJJ. If you learn a new guard pass, or a new sweep, try it that night. Not only is it a good way to get extra practice on the new technique, but in the heightened adrenal state of open rolling your understanding and retention of the technique will be greater. Doing this allows you to begin incorporating the new manuever into your BJJ game.
3. Max's Rule of 3
At least I think this is my rule. If I get someone with the same submission 3 times in a row, I try to help my training partner out with their mistake by giving an in roll tutorial. There are several reasons for this. The first and most basic is also the least altruistic. The better and more skilled my training partners, the better I will ultimately be. An important component of our improvement in BJJ is the quality and skill of our training partners. So helping your training partners not only contributes to the overall atomosphere of the academy as a team, it contributes in a large way to your own goals in BJJ. The flip side of the rule is this. If you are getting caught with the same technique over and over again, and cannot find an answer to the problem, ask for some advice from the people who catch you with it.
4. Do not avoid the person who gives you the most trouble on the mat. In fact seek them out. These people are the most important people in your BJJ training. They expose your holes and can potentially make your BJJ better. I never learn so much as when I have to tap, or fight my way out of tough position after tough position. This is the way to truly perfect the effeciency of one's technique. Having a friendly gym nemesis is the best thing for you. Embrace it. But do remember to tap.
5. Books, DVDs, online videos (competition and instructional)
I watch and read alot about BJJ, indeed about martial arts in general, and it has proved enormously helpful in my training. Having excellent instruction, and lots of access to mat time is the most important component in producing good BJJ. Books, DVDS and online videos simply increases the amount of quality instruction you get. You also get a different perspective on familiar material. Taking ownership of your training is a good way to see it improve your performance.
These are a few ideas that have worked for me. Hopefully they will work for you.
See you on the mat!
(Photographs by Ani Driffill, taken at The Academy of Mixed Martial Arts, in Portland ME)