10 ways to improve your BJJ game
1. Come to Training It is extremely difficult to improve at Jiu Jitsu without regular attendance at training. There is simply so much to learn that your rate of progress, especially in the early days, is almost solely dictated by how often you come to training. Even later on, when you have learnt the majority of movements and techniques, the refinement process requires a multitude of different drilling partners and the guidance of a skilled instructor; both of whom are most easily found at training.
2. Train Gi and No Gi Despite what Rorian Gracie and Eddie Bravo have told you one training garment is not inherently better than the other – they are simply different and help develop a different set of skills. If you only train in the gi training without the gi will cause your attacking skills to improve, introduce you to a new set of grips, controls and set ups and allow you to practice new techniques in what is generally a more forgiving environment. If you are solely a no gi player putting on the gi will force your defensive and escaping skills to another level, improve your base and balance and increase your knowledge of leverage.
3. Write things down I found this one especially useful whenever I felt I was plateauing. Writing down what you learnt at training, what worked for you and what you got caught in whilst rolling causes you to mentally rehearse and analyse what you did. In effect, it causes you to practice everything you did at training again and look at things from new and original angles. The best time to write things down is the day after training; if you were to make your records on the same day as training you lose some of the training effect as what was covered is still fresh in your memory and you won’t have to think as hard about what you did. It doesn’t matter if you never look at what you’ve written ever again – it’s the act of writing the records that is helpful not the records themselves.
4. Challenge yourself In order to improve, you have to make a deliberate decision to better your game. When you first begin BJJ you are always ‘working on something’ as they are still developing the skills to be able to survive a class and roll against their team mates. Once a certain level of fundamental skill has been reached it is possible to hold your own against a range of people without improving your skills; you essentially start camping out at your current level, ignoring your weaknesses and focusing on your strengths. Avoid this mindset at all costs if your desire is to continue your Jiu Jitsu development. The people who get see continuous improvement are the ones who continually work to eliminate their weaknesses and develop new strengths. In short they challenge themselves. This can take a number of forms from trying to pull of particular move whilst sparring, limiting the techniques they’ll employ against particular to starting in their weakest position each roll.
5. Take some privates A private session or two with your instructor can be a great way to get past a plateau, fix a problem you keep encountering whilst rolling or even just find out what position and techniques would be best for you to work on next. A one on one session allows your instructor to focus exclusively on what you need and want without the distraction of a class. Privates can lead to some very fast improvements in your game – and in some cases an entirely new game – and are frequently an underused tool in a grappler’s development.
6. Work the fundamentals I recently wrote an article on why the fundamentals are important in any athletic endeavour but I will quickly go over the most salient point—from an athlete’s point of view—again here. Your knowledge of and ability to execute the fundamentals, more than any other factor, predicts the likelihood of your success or failure in any given match. Fundamental techniques help you in more situations than non fundamental techniques. So, if you are looking for continuous general improvement a better guard pass will help you out more often than a Neto roll to back control from on top of half guard.
7. Compete Ronaldo De Souza (AKA “Jacare”) famously said that one competition is worth three months of training and I completely agree with him. Not only does preparing for a competition sharpen your existing techniques, develop you escape routes and help give you a grappling game plan the competition itself exposes you to different people and styles of Jiu Jitsu. You’ll be able to test yourself against people who don’t know your favourite techniques but you’ll know nothing about them either. Competing exposes weaknesses and causes you to reflect on and assess your game in a way that rolling with your team mates cannot.
8. Have fun Playing is the most natural and effective way of learning. On nature documentaries you don’t see tiger cubs lining up practicing paw strikes, you see them playing in ways that closely mimic their real hunting and fighting. Having fun and playing are two necessary ingredients to continued technical development. When we play we are more willing to explore new scenarios and try new techniques; when we are having fun we are more likely to remember and be able to reproduce what we are doing. Play is the creative medium and this is forgotten all too often in our training.
9. Work hard This might seem to directly contradict what I just wrote above but work is just as necessary as play when it comes to our improvement. Work helps our play remain productive and practical. Working helps us play at a higher level and the better we play the better we learn. Work and play must be balanced to produce the best results – too much work and our creativity dries up, our ability to learn drops and our development staggers to a halt. Too much play and our productivity disappear, our creativity stagnates and development once again falls away.
10. Come to training I’ve put this on here twice deliberately and not just because I couldn’t think of anything else to write. Consistently coming to training makes a huge difference to your development. Apart from the fact the majority of the above tips aren’t actually possible unless you’ve been attending class, weak, sporadic attendance leads to weak, sporadic development. Marcelo Garcia, Saulo Riberio, Dustin Hazelett and Dave Meyer all got their black belt in less than 5 years and the thing they all have in common is the commitment to training.