In my last post, I wrote about what I believe to be the most difficult problem in BJJ: the conflict between knowledge and time. After some thought, I realized that defining this conflict as a “problem” could be a little confusing, and that we could all benefit from some further clarification.
The definition of “problem” is: “a matter or situation that is regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome.” This being the case, a situation can only be considered a problem if it negatively affects something else. In other words, problems do not exist in a vacuum, but only in relation to something else — the object of the problem. These objects usually take the form of the completion of a goal, attainment of an outcome, or the proper function of a system.
The only way to fully understand a problem is to also understand the object which it affects. In the case of the Hardest Problem in BJJ, the object is “mastering jiu jitsu.” The reason that the conflict between knowledge and time is a problem is that it stands between us and the goal of mastery.
Mastering even a single technique takes a huge investment of time (10,000 repetitions, give or take). Given the immense pool of total knowledge in jiu jitsu, the amount of time required to master every single technique exceeds the amount of time that any one of us has, which means that it is effectively impossible to learn every technique in jiu jitsu. This is the crux of the Hard Problem.
In a strange way, this is actually kind of a good thing. When I was a white belt, I experienced a fair amount of anxiety about forgetting techniques. Back then, it seemed like I needed to remember everything I learned in order to get better at jiu jitsu. We would learn new technique each week, so it felt like we were always moving on to a new technique before I had fully learned the ones from the week before. If I had known that learning every single technique in jiu jitsu was pretty much impossible, I could’ve saved myself a lot of unnecessary worry.
If it is not possible to learn every technique, we shouldn’t waste our time trying (or worrying). After all, the whole reason it is impossible in the first place is that time is limited. That said, we still haven’t figured out a way around the problem. If you’re anything like me, you aren’t just going to give up their pursuit of mastering BJJ because of this. We’re too in-love with the sport; too obsessed to stop trying despite the “impossibility” of the goal we’re striving towards.
If we’re not going to quit, we need to find a different approach — one that circumvents the conflict. But how?
Broad to Narrow
Well, we aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel. Whether unconsciously or consciously, people eventually figure out that they won’t be able to learn everything. As a result, most mature practitioners of BJJ have settled into systems of techniques that they have put together over the years. These systems, also known as “games,” are usually comprised of a select few techniques favored by the athlete. From this alone, we can observe that at least some practitioners shift their focus from every technique to some techniques. In other words, they went from going broad to going narrow.
The reason for this is self-evident. It is the most direct response to the conflict between time and knowledge. If everything cannot be learned, the focus must travel down, towards something. But to what? How do we figure out what that something ought to be?
This is where a lot of people stop looking. They realize that they can not (or don’t need to) learn every technique, but don’t know what to do about it. For many years, this was me. I knew I couldn’t learn every technique, but I didn’t have any way of deciding which techniques I would learn, so I did what most people do: I used some arbitrary criteria to help me choose. My criteria was whether I liked a move or not. I chose techniques based on what I thought was cool or enjoyed doing.
In conversations with training partners, I discovered that I was not the only one choosing techniques in this manner. I also found out that other people used different criteria, like whether the move was “high-percentage,” or if it worked for both gi and nogi. My overall impression was that most people who had been training for a while had some sort of standard that filtered for techniques.
This is extremely useful information. It shows us that we can use filters to help narrow down the massive amount of information in jiu jitsu. However, this only answers half of the question. We still do not have an answer for what we should be filtering for, and that’s a big problem.
It forces to pick our techniques based on imprecise criteria, or worse, with complete randomness. While an unclear filter still cuts down on what we have to learn, it does not guide a user in any clear direction. This inevitably creates a roundabout, meandering path towards mastery. There’s nothing wrong with this except the fact that it takes up a lot of time, and our time is very limited.
The Right Filter
Mastery takes a long time. This is true for any kind of skill. However, it does not mean that we need to move slowly. Our lack of time means that we need to be picky about what we spend it on. Filters create parameters for selecting techniques, which helps us eliminate information from the total mass of knowledge in jiu jitsu, but unless the filter we chose was designed with intention, it will fail to make effective use of time.
We cannot afford to waste training time on techniques chosen out of a hat. As such, our filters both cannot and should not select techniques arbitrarily. Our filters need to choose moves that, when trained, will produce a definite improvement in our jiu jitsu. The only way to choose techniques of this caliber is to design a filter with parameters specific to each athlete, taking into account factors like physical attributes, body type, build, and even personality.
This level of extreme specificity is needed if we hope to create an filter that effectively selects techniques that are best for each of us as individuals. The only problem is that the act of actually creating such a filter is not only difficult, but unreasonable to expect out of most people training BJJ.
Fortunately, there’s a way to create a filter with this level of specificity without actually articulating all of the parameters. I would even venture to say that many BJJ players already have all of the tools they need create this filter TODAY. I call this filter the “Tokui-Waza Filter” or TWF for short.
THE TOKUI-WAZA FILTER
“Tokui-Waza” means “favorite technique” in Japanese. It’s a term that originates from judo which was used to describe an athlete’s specialty. The development of “tokui-waza”is a widely observed phenomenon in all combat sports. For whatever reason, some athletes have a tendency to favor certain techniques over all others. This favoritism leads them to develop this technique to an extremely high level, often to much greater degree than all of the other techniques in their arsenals.
The idea behind the Tokui-Waza Filter is this: instead of starting at the beginning, figuring out your body, learning about its capabilities, and figuring out which techniques work well for you, start at the end.
Anyone who has a “tokui-waza” already has a “best technique.” It may not be the best possible technique for you, but it if it is truly your tokui-waza, it is the technique that you use most often, with the most success.
The best technique that you have is better than the “best technique in theory.” It’s likely that your tokui-waza is such because it fits your body type and personality anyways, so don’t worry. Instead of deciding how to filter for the best technique, use the best technique you have as your filter.
But how do you use a technique as a filter?
Start by focusing on your tokui waza. Drill it. Refine it. Use your it to your heart’s content. Sooner or later someone will stop your best technique. Great. This is what we’ve been waiting for. It’s time to put the filter to work:
Ask yourself the following two questions: (1) What went wrong? and (2) How do I fix it? Then, figure out the answers. Be specific. This answer will lead you to your next technique.
For an example what this might look like, let’s say that your tokui-waza is the triangle choke. Most of the time, it works well enough. However, sometimes your opponents defend in some unfamiliar way that prevents you from finishing the choke. For the sake of argument, let’s say that the most common way they defend is by wrapping their isolated arm around your thigh. If we answer the questions from before, we learn that (1) the technique failed because of the way they hid their arm, and (2) that we can fix this issue by defeating their defense.
Once you find the technique that counters their defense, congratulations, you have successfully used the Tokui Waza Filter to select a technique! The next step is to learn and refine this move until you can reliably counter their defense. When another issue inevitably crops up, ask yourself the questions again and go through the process to find the next move to develop. Once that move fails, apply the filter again. Rinse and repeat ad infinitum.
The Tokui-Waza Filter addresses both of the sides of the Hard Problem of BJJ. The issues in our games give this filter a direction. They narrow down the choice of techniques to just the ones that fix the problems. In addition, by choosing moves based on the solutions to tangible failure points in our jiu jitsu, you raise the chances that the technique you chose will produce a measurable improvement in your game. This helps ensure that you make effective use of your time.
By circumventing both sides of the Hard Problem, the Tokui-Waza Filter creates an alternative approach to mastery that integrates, processes, and eventually transforms problems into solutions. It sets up a framework that focuses your training in a clear-cut, definite direction. If you ever find yourself unsure of what to work on next, or overwhelmed with information, try implementing the Tokui-Waza filter.
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In Brazilian jiu jitsu, knowledge is literally power. And if knowledge is power, then learning is how you gain it. The more you learn, the better you get.
The result of this is that jiu jitsu places an inherent emphasis on learning. This is the “secret” behind the rapid and continual development of brazilian jiu jitsu as an art form. It’s also the way to get better. Want to improve? Learn more. Easy, right?
Not really. Here’s the problem. There’s too much to learn in jiu jitsu.
Imagine that jiu jitsu is a tree with six branches. Each of those branches are one of the six main positions in BJJ: full guard, half guard, open guard, side mount, full mount, and back mount.
Each of these positions have approximately four sub positions from both top and bottom, eight in total. Positions like De la Riva, Reverse DLR, spider guard, knee-shield, knee-through-the-middle, leite half guard, and S-mount are just a few examples of the sub positions. If we go back to our tree, this means each of the six main branches now have eight smaller twigs branching out from them.
A quick multiplication problem tells us that there are about 48 twigs on our BJJ tree. Out of each of these smaller twigs, there are even smaller twigs branching out. These are the techniques we all know and love. To be honest, I have no idea how many techniques there are. At best, I can name three or four from every sub position, but I’m certain that there are at least a few dozen I don’t know*.
*to be accurate, it’s more like I don’t know how many brazilian jiujitsu techniques I don’t know. There could be just a few dozen or several thousands of them out there and I would have no idea either way.
For the sake of our imaginary tree let’s assume that each of the 48 twigs have a modest 4 smaller twigs growing out of them. Assuming that that there are only four bjj techniques that can be done from each sub position, this still brings us to a hefty product of 192 total techniques in jiu jitsu.
Besides the fact that there are definitely more than 192 bjj techniques in total, this is still a huge number to learn and master. To further the complexity, depending on the user’s body type and the situational demands of the match, every single techniques has hundreds of equally viable iterations.
Given the sheer volume of bjj techniques, how can anyone hope to master BJJ . There are too many. Each jiu-jitsu technique takes a lot of TIME to learn, and even more time to master. Unfortunately, none of us has unlimited time. This conflict between knowledge and time is the hardest problem in BJJ.
Adding time into the equation changes everything. In the beginning of this post, I said that knowledge was power in jiu jitsu, which meant that learning was how you gained more power.
That statement still holds, but merely accumulating a large library of techniques can no longer be seen as a viable strategy towards mastery. The rules of the game have shifted. Everyone is on the clock.
What’s up everyone.
Joe here with another Brazilian Jiu Jitsu workout. I call it a workout, but it’s more like a game. This one is really simple, corny, and a fun way to get a high volume of training. It also helps mix things up and train with a variety of people. I call it “BJJ Fever”
Set the timer to 3-6 mins. The round can be a positional or a roll.
- Get with your partner and do a round. Keep up a good pace. It’s fine to conserve energy, but do not stall.
- Afterwards, tell your opponent that he or she is infected with the BJJ Fever. They must now infect 2 other people by doing a round with them and explaining the rules of the game.
- Pick another partner and do a round.
- Repeat the process until the entire academy is infected with BJJ Fever!
One of the best parts of my day is sitting around talking with training partners after a tough training session. We talk about a lot of different things, but at some point in the night the conversations always return to a central theme: how do we get better?
It’s the topic that gets us the most fired up. A lot of the time we break down technique, give each other feedback, and strategize for the next training sessions. We get giddy talking about it. We’re obsessed with improving, and we’re not alone.I’m going to make a generalization here but I’m almost certain that I’m correct: Most people who train jiu jitsu are obsessed with getting better.
Talk to an enthusiastic white belt after his or her first class. They’re almost always hungry for improvement. You’ll find that same hunger in seasoned upper belts and professors of the art.
People come to a BJJ gym with a myriad of different goals in mind: getting in shape, learning self defense, developing confidence, and success in competitions are just a few, but something that everyone who has a goal in jiu jitsu has in common is a focus on improving.
The most common way that people try to address that goal is to look at the best in the world. It makes sense on the surface. They’re the best, so why wouldn’t doing what they do lead to similar results?
The problem is not all of us have the time or means to optimize our lives for jiu jitsu. While many of us would love to train twice a day, every day, the reality is that this is unrealistic for most people. On the other end of the spectrum, not everyone WANTS to train that much in order to get better.
So what can you do? Well, if you can’t do what the pros do, all you have to do is take a different approach.
Enter the “program minimum,” a concept I heard about from reading Pavel’s book on training with kettlebells. Basically, a program minimum is a bare bones approach that focuses on squeezing the maximum amount of gains out of the minimum amount time.
There are a lot of different ways to apply this concept to learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Personally, I rotate between the two I’ve outlined below, but feel free to experiment and apply this concept in your own way to make it your own. Enjoy 😉
Program Minimum A (Minimum Knowledge)
If your training time is limited, simply focus on taking just ONE piece of knowledge off the mats every time you train. That’s the “minimum.” This way, you avoid the pitfall of lukewarm training – the kind of practices where you just go through the motions and aren’t mentally engaged.
Mental focus and engagement is the key to getting the most out of every practice — something that is particularly important when the number of practices you can attend is limited. By focusing on gaining a single insight each practice, you help yourself to engage your mind during your training.
I find it helpful to reflect on the ONE thing right before I step off the mats at the end of the night. For me, this helps the lesson stick in my mind better. I also make sure to record it in my BJJ notebook before I go to sleep.
Program Minimum B (Minimum Practice)
Another way to make sure you get quality training is to decide on a minimum “workout” to perform at practice that night.
For example, on a night that I want to push my cardio I’ll decide on something like this:
5 Rounds x 5-6 min
On a night that I want to focus on drilling l’ll choose ONE move and set something like this:
5 x 10 of (insert move)
5 rounds x 5-6 min of (insert positional)
Simple, right? The point is not to overcomplicate things and go in with a plan. This way, even if we don’t have time to train EVERYTHING (no one does), we are making sure that we are getting better at SOMETHING.
Consistency is key.
When I was five, my parents enrolled me in Tae Kwon Do classes at a local McDojo in Bergen County. Classes consisted of a warm-up, learning sequences of moves called “forms”, and then physical conditioning (which doubled as disciplinary action for when we fooled around). Being five, I was excited about the prospect of learning how to fight, but soon grew to dread the strict atmosphere and difficult conditioning.
Despite my dislike, I ended up training there until I was ten. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn much that I could use to actually defend myself. It seemed to me like the focus was more on developing discipline than skills for self defense.
Years later, I came to my first class of BJJ at Training Grounds Jiu-Jitsu & MMA. Like many others, I had been mesmerized by the rise of MMA, mixed martial arts, and the UFC and I wanted to start training mma as soon as possible. To be honest, I was nervous. From what I had seen on TV shows like the Ultimate Fighter, I expected the academy to be full of hardcore fighters and the practices to be a grueling meat grinder.
To my surprise, the academy was nothing like I expected. The atmosphere was a lot more laid back and friendly. The bjj classes started with a simple bow, a quick warmup, and then we went straight into learning techniques. There was none of the ceremony or enforced discipline that I so disliked as a child.
Here at Training Grounds Jiu-Jitsu & MMA, we don’t believe in using conditioning to create discipline in our students. Instead, our focus is on teaching and developing martial arts SKILLS. Funny enough, despite this “lack of discipline,” I’ve personally developed way more discipline from taking Brazilian Jiu Jitsu classes. The way I see it, the biggest difference between my experiences in TKD and BJJ was the STYLE in which discipline was taught.
At the McDojo, we were taught to perform the correct “forms” under the threat of being punished by running laps or doing duck walks around the gym.
In BJJ, the task of developing discipline is left to the martial arts students. If we are lazy in training, guess what? We get tapped out. If we are the opposite – disciplined, proactive, engaged – we get to reap the rewards.
This kind of discipline is self-directed and self-imposed. It is an internal drive that pulls us into action based on our personal goals. On the other hand, discipline that relies on the threat of punishment is external. It forces us into action based on our fear of the punishment. While the former energizes and strengthens our will, the latter depletes it.
Develop internal discipline. Reap the rewards. That is all.
This morning I was suddenly inspired to post a workout I like to call “Strong Medicine.”
This is my favorite way to structure a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practice. If you’ve been at Training Grounds Jiu-Jitsu & MMA for a while, you’ve probably done at least one variation of this workout. Try to perform this once every other week to begin, and work up to higher frequency. Doing this workout one-to-two times per week will be adequate. Any more than that and you begin to cut time away from other important aspects of training.
The purpose of this workout is three-fold.
1) Push the Body
2) Push the Mind
3) Practice Good Technique Under Fatigue
As with any medicine, too little will not work and too much will poison you. I find that this workout hits the perfect balance. It’s physically difficult and psychologically challenging, but does not beat up the body too much. That said, I want to be clear, this is not an every day workout.
Now, without further ado. Here’s the workout:
5 Minute Round of BJJ Drilling with a partner.
Total Time: 10 min
(each person gets a round to drill a brazilian jiu-jitsu technique of their choice)
Part 1 – Sprint Rounds:
2 x 3 min rounds
Switch partners within group
2 x 3 min rounds
Rest: 3 min between each bjj round (while the other group goes); 3 min EXTRA rest before Part 2
Total Time: 24 min
Notes: Split the class into 2 groups (a&b). Have members of each group partner up with someone within their group. Group A goes first. Then Group B goes. Group A rests during Group B’s rounds and vice versa.
The purpose of Part 1 is to burn off all your cardio. As such, the pace for these rounds is set at 95-100% — competition speed. A good rule of thumb is to try and use all your energy within the first 3 minute round.
The rest is set at a 1:1 (3min rest for every 3 min’s of work) so you have ample time to recover before the next round.
The biggest challenge of part 1 is actually “selling out” and giving it your all. You will be tempted to pace yourself and conserve your energy — don’t. That’s not the point of this part of the workout
Part 2 – Pacing Rounds
Competition: 6 x 6 min rounds. (90 sec rest between rounds)
Recreational: 4 x 6 min rounds. (90 sec rest between rounds)
Beginner: 2 x 6 min rounds. (90 sec rest between rounds)
Notes: Switch partners between each round. Pace yourself and maintain good technique through the rest of the workout.
While Part 1 was focused on going “balls to the wall” and emptying your gas tank, the purpose of Part 2 is simply to make it through the rest of the workout.
Hint: find a pace that you feel comfortable maintaining for the rest of the workout and keep that pace. It doesn’t matter if you’re moving slow or if you “lose.” Just keep using good technique and DON’T STOP.
The two hardest parts of Part 2 are finishing the workout and maintaining the good technique. Because of the fatigue, your body will not respond the way you are used to and technique will begin to deteriorate. Focus on keeping your movements smooth and technical.
You will be close to exhaustion after Part 1, so it is a real mental battle to keep going during these later rounds. Drink plenty of water between rounds, control your breaking, and dig deep. This is where you will develop mental toughness.
As I emphasized throughout the post, this is a tough workout. It is designed to push you to your limits and make the little negative voice inside you sing. Don’t listen to it! Push through the rounds and realize that you have more in you than you think. Have fun 🙂
For many people in Bergen County and all over, the New Year represents a new beginning — a fresh start with a clean slate. What better time to make a change for the better? In past years I, like many others, spent time reflecting on the year gone by and resolving to improve the year ahead. And like most others, the majority of my resolutions fizzled out around the end of April.
To be honest, when I look back at this past year, the pattern isn’t that different. I set a bunch of resolutions and lost steam a couple months in. If I were to judge the past year based solely on the number of resolutions I’d kept, 2017 would be a complete failure, I didn’t even keep a single one of my resolutions.
If this was me last year, I’d usher in the New Year with the mild but unpleasant feeling of “I’m a failure” tinged with hints of “who was I kidding anyways.” Then I’d gradually get over it, write up a list of things I could do better, and plan out how I was going to do them.
1. Train BJJ at Training Grounds Jiu-Jitsu & MMA 5 times per week
2. Every time I train Jiu-Jitsu spar for 45 min straight
3. Gain 15 lbs of muscle
6. ?You know, “make resolutions.”
I’m not making any resolutions this year.
This year, I’m cutting through all of the noise and going straight to the heart: How do we actually get better?
Making year after year of failed resolutions has taught me two things:
1) Goals are great, but worthless without a sound plan and consistent action.
Before you can get better, you have to define “better.”
Imagine you have discovered a rich vein of gold buried deep underground. The gold represents your goals, but the discovery of the vein itself represents the moment when you decide what your gold is. Trying to get better without first “discovering the vein of gold” is like digging aimlessly in the dirt. You’re doing a lot of work, but to what end? You have to know what you’re working for before you can work towards it.
On the other hand, just knowing about the gold is no good either. Wanting it and having it are two different things. Nothing is going to happen until you get in the dirt and dig it out. In the same vein of thought, while it’s fine to work yourself to the bone mining it with a pickaxe, could it be smarter to take another approach?
(i.e hire some contractors, or procure an excavator)
Setting a goal, much like discovering gold, can be an exciting thing. We have identified what it is that we want and have set ourselves on course to claim it. This brings focus to our thoughts and energy (not New Age-y energy, just regular energy like the kind you use to move around). It feels good to be on a path, but we have to be careful not to confuse this with actual accomplishment.
Likewise, the actual “work” can be quite rewarding in and of itself, regardless of whether it is moving you closer your goal or not.
For example, many of us love the “live rolling” part of training. It’s fun and a great workout. Furthermore, no training program in jiu jitsu is truly complete without a component of live sparring. With that said, the athlete that ONLY does live training will stunt their progression in jiu jitsu.
Just as we should be wary of confusing goal setting with goal reaching, we should also be careful to ensure that the work is the right kind of work — the kind that actually contributes towards our desired end result. Otherwise, we’ll be left spinning our wheels.
The only way to take a goal and turn it into a reality is to do the right kind of work. The problem with this is that it requires you to know what the “right kind of work” is, which leads us to lesson two:
2) You Already Know What You Need To Do
The “right kind of work” is whatever you need to do. Knowing “what you have to do” is a bit different from knowing “where the gold is.” It’s more specific, pertaining more to the immediate steps one can take towards a goal rather than the end result.
If you know “where the gold is,” you most likely know what the “right kind of work” is, but something, usually fear, is preventing you from:
A) actually going out and doing it, or
B) admitting that the “thing” is actually what you need to do.
Okay, I’m starting to sound crazy. Let’s tie this back to the beginning of the post. I was talking about how I would go through the cycle of making a resolution, getting inspired, and losing steam part-way through the year, remember?
Well, because of all those failures, I realized that at their core, my resolutions hadn’t changed much over the years: I was still trying not to be late, write more, read more books, be nicer to my family, improve at jiu jitsu, and get a six pack (hey.. a guy can dream).
Of course, there were a bunch of other resolutions that changed from year to year, but those were short term goals specific to my situation then. Looking back, I don’t care about those goals anymore. They’re no longer relevant. But for some reason, I kept coming up with those six resolutions year after year.
But what’s the point?
The point is that the major things that I needed to address were right under my nose. They weren’t the exciting things that I thought would create big new changes in my life — they were the little, everyday things that required me to change the way I had been living. The “things we need to do” are not big, flashy challenges. They are usually small, recurring tasks that we habitually neglect.
But if they’re so small, then why do we, why did I repeatedly fail to change the way I did them? As I thought about this I realized that something stood out to me in each of the categories — fear.
I said before that most of us know what the “right kind of work” is, but that we’re either afraid to go out and do it, or afraid to admit that it is what we need to do.
Well that’s because “what we need to do” is invariably part of something important to us. If it were not, why would we decide that we needed to do it in the first place? Because it is important to us, it carries with it a level of psychological pressure. Because there is pressure, we feel a level of aversion towards “doing what we need to do.”
Steven Pressfield calls this “resistance.” If you’ve ever felt the oppressive, lethargic feeling that drives you to procrastinate, you’ve encountered it. The good thing about “resistance,” or fear is that it ALWAYS points in the exact opposite direction of the “right kind of work.” As such, we can wield it as a sort of reverse compass and use it to guide us.
Each of the six categories of recurring resolutions had something I was afraid of that was keeping me from doing them.
What could be so scary about “reading more books?” It turns out that I wasn’t afraid to read, but that I dreaded the thought of sitting still and the feeling that I was “wasting time reading.”
“Improving at Jiu Jitsu” seems innocuous at first, but then I realized that I was beginning to get scared of coming up short in competitions and becoming comfortable just going through my routine in the gym.
“Being nicer to my family” was limited by my dread of actually sitting there and making a connection with them. The process seems so alien and awkward.
And so on and so forth.
So now what I have to do is EXACTLY the things that make me feel so uncomfortable. Doing this kind of work is a pain in the ass, and its often kind of boring, but it’s what actually drives progress in our lives, not the half-hearted optimism of New Years Resolutions. .
This year, I want to focus my energy (the regular kind) on doing the things I know I need to do — the basic, mundane, everyday things. They aren’t the sexy, high-reaching resolutions that I used to make, but they impact the course of every single day.
Wishing a Happy New Year to my TG Fam!
If you want to get better at jiu jitsu faster, change the way that you look at “problems” in your game. STOP looking at them negatively, as obstacles and hindrances in the way of your gradual, linear progress in Martial Arts. START thinking of them as valuable opportunities to make large strides in your game.
Think of Jiu Jitsu or Martial Arts as a whole as a machine. Every day, you’re putting work into the machine, trying to make it better. Some days, it works. Everything runs smoothly and the machine does what it is supposed to do — that’s fine. However, on other days, the machine breaks down. It could have been running well for most of the day, doing what it normally does, but suddenly, the bjj machine runs into an unforeseen problem.
This is, of course, frustrating. I don’t know about you but I want my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu machine to run perfectly one hundred percent of the time. This is the default mindset of most people. They want everything to go well, all the time. If things are going well, that means I’m doing everything right and I’m continuing to steadily improve. HOWEVER, THAT IS NOT THE REALITY.
The reality is that there is something wrong with my bjj machine. Furthermore, since I was the one who built it, the flaw was probably already there, I just hadn’t discovered it. Now that I’ve encountered the flaw, I have a few options available to me: I can
A) Sit here ruminating on what a terrible engineer I am or how annoying it is that it isn’t working, OR
B) Maybe I can just ignore it. I was doing fine before I discovered the problem and I can probably get by decently without addressing it, OR
C) I can go start fixing my machine.
In my opinion, the absolute worst thing to do is Option B. Put it this way, it’s like purposely leaving a critical failure point that anyone can exploit to break your machine (Think Thermal Exhaust Port of the Death Star). Option A isn’t much better. While I’m admitting that the problem is there, complaining or beating myself up isn’t going to do anything to fix the problem. That leaves us with Option C: fix the machine.
What sucks is that fixing your machine (or jiu jitsu) is usually a pain the ass. First, you have to admit to yourself that something is going wrong. This is the hardest part. You’ll be (as I was, and still am) tempted to make excuses and rationalize the problem away. RESIST THE TEMPTATION.
Then, you have to go back and reverse engineer your failure. In other words, ask yourself: “what am I doing wrong and how do I fix it?” This is the second hardest part, especially because of how difficult it is to objectively self-diagnose your problems. Thankfully, having a good instructor to guide you makes this much easier to accomplish.
Finally, you have to do the work of drilling and refining your martial arts technique and timing.
If it sounds like a lot of work, it is, but the cool thing is: once you start fixing your machine, you’ve already started down the road to improvement.
Even if your performance during live rolling takes a short term hit, spending the time to fix a breakdown in your game will lead to greater long term gains. Problems expose the gaps in our games. The process of learning how to fill those gaps and solve those problems is the true driver of growth in jiu jitsu. It follows, then, that the faster someone can find and solve problems in their game, the faster they can improve at jiu jitsu.
In other words, the “problems” that we encounter in jiu jitsu are not “bad” or “good,” they simply “are.” They limit the effectiveness of your jiu jitsu and they exist whether you like it or not. Fixing these problems makes you better, both by filling the gap in your game AND through the lessons you learn through the experience of fixing the problem.
If you want to get better at jiu jits, mixed martial arts or any sport faster, actively look for problems in your game. Hunt them down and solve them. The more you do this, the better you get at it, which further accelerates the rate you learn. We can never put an end to the problems we must solve in jiu jitsu. The best we can do is get really really good at solving those problems.
There’s lots of work to do.