Jiu jitsu is a sport that is well-loved by many, and all around the world people have been trading in their gym attires and running shoes for brand new belts and gis. Many people have dedicated a serious amount of time to the sport, in the hopes of becoming like their idols and developing their skills.
But what every jiu jitsu practitioner needs to understand is that their progress in the sport is just as dependent on their methods of learning as it is on their drive and dedication. So here are some tips for both on the mats and off the mats, that have helped countless people improve their jiu jitsu, try them out for yourself!
1. Train with people of different skill levels
First and foremost, you need to know who to train with. You may have all the potential in the world but you could get stuck in a rut just because you don’t know how to pick your training partners properly. This doesn’t mean ditch everyone who is lower ranking than you, or keep away from senior teammates who dominate you.
The key here is balance. You need to have a sample of everything. It’s important to have a coach or senior ranking teammates who are better than you, to guide you and to show you what holes you have in your game. It’s also important to train with people who you think you can dominate in turn, in order to practice new moves on them and polish your technique.
And lastly, you need to train with people who are on the same skill level as you, people who you can beat sometimes, but who beat you sometimes too. This is to give room for your technique to grow, and to give you an accurate gauge for your progress.
2. Pay attention to WHY it’s done not just HOW it’s done
We can all agree that the technicality of jiu jitsu can sometimes be a little overwhelming. We’ve all probably experienced spacing out in the middle of an instructor’s lesson because of the sheer details involved in a move. One way to learn it faster and imprint it in your brain is not to memorise how it’s done, but the reasons behind all the little actions.
The next time your instructor teaches, don’t just memorise the series of steps and what it looks like—pay attention to exactly why he places his arm on that specific portion of the hip or why he chose that succession of steps.
3. Take notes or videos
Sometimes one might think that taking notes is a little dorky for this macho sport, but you’d be surprised how many blackbelts actually have a notebook where they organize their thoughts and moves. No one has a photographic memory and there just comes a point when there are simply too many moves to remember off the top of your head.
After every lesson, don’t forget to take down the important steps of each move. It serves as a review, and this way when you want to revisit the moves at a later time you won’t miss out any of the minor details. If your instructor allows you to, you could even take a video and study it in greater detail whenever you want.
Many jiu jitsu practitioners have also found making flowcharts of their strategies helpful. With this flowchart, they list down all the different moves that they could do if they’re in a certain position, and all the moves that lead from there, and so on. This helps them organize their game in their heads instead of having a blank mind on the mats.
4. Drill it for muscle memory
The more drills you do, the better. This isn’t just to make you stronger or give you more cardio, it is also so the move can be remembered by your body. Make it a point to diligently do drills for every move you want to incorporate into your game, that way when your body recognises a familiar position, it won’t think twice to fire out the next steps without you having to consciously remember them.
5. Have a goal every time you roll
Remember, rolling is practice. It isn’t a place where you could show off or hold yourself back because you are too nervous. It’s there so you can watch yourself in different scenarios and it serves as a safe place to test out your strategies for competitions. Every roll is gold, and therefore every roll should have a goal.
You can tell yourself that for the next 6 minutes your goal is to practice the kimura from different situations, or you could tell yourself that this time your goal is to submit someone within the first minute. Whatever it is, setting a goal provides direction and prevents you from wasting your mat time.
6. Take a video of your rolling sessions or matches
Seeing your match from a phone or videocamera is infinitely different from seeing it while you’re actually playing. When you see yourself play from an objective view, all the little things you never noticed on the mats are just clear as day on the screen.
You’ll be surprised how often you’ll say things like “Oh I should have swept him there” or “I could have taken her arm at this point” or even “My base is just too unstable, I really need to work on that”. Having a video of yourself rolling or competing can allow you to dissect your game point by point, and show you what you need to work on to get better quickly.
7. Don’t be afraid to ask questions
Your seniors are there for a reason, and asking someone a question will be a much faster way of learning than trying to figure it out on your own. You can ask questions for clarification of a move your instructor is teaching, you can ask questions after rolling and realising you don’t know what to do when you’re caught in a certain position, or you can ask questions if you’re just wondering what to drill to generally improve your game. The possibilities are endless.
This could be one of the most important tips for you to improve your jiu jitsu. If all you do is train and do drills, you are leaving a huge aspect of jiu jitsu out of your life and just plain missing out on a great experience. Training for a competition is different from everyday casual learning because it allows you to really put your skills to the test, right when you’re at your one hundred percent.
You get to face people of the same skill level as you, but from different backgrounds. You are exposed to so many different players in competitions and that diversity is simply not present in just one gym. This allows you to really polish your skills and serves as a good way of evaluating your progress.