1. Come in ready to learn
Ego is a powerful tool. It can be extremely useful in motivating you to train, getting over rough spots, or simply showing up to class every day. Unfortunately, it’s also extremely dangerous. It can get in the way of the learning process if you’re assuming you know how to do something better than your instructor, or if you waste time arguing that you can’t do a particular technique, or if you set a bad example for the other students in the class by discussing how you’ll never use these techniques while your instructor isn’t around. This article sums this concept up very well, and it’s well worth reading if you have a few extra minutes.
2. Be consistent
Ever heard the saying, “a black belt is a white belt who doesn’t quit”? Well, it’s true. The expert consensus as to how to get better at BJJ is most resoundingly to show up and train. It’s a little bit more complicated than that, though- there’s more to it than just continuing to show up. For instance, if you’re showing up at random days and never develop a pattern, the likelihood of you sticking with it drops dramatically. On the other hand, if you show up every Tuesday and Thursday at the same time, ready to train, no matter what happens in your life, you are most definitely going to get better, and develop the patterns and habits necessary to maintain your schedule for a very long time.
3. Take notes!
So you may never go back and look at these things, but the act of writing it down will help you retain the information. Again, I’ll defer to another article one of our black belt instructors wrote a while back: Notes: the Unsung Training Partner.
4. Don’t argue with your instructor
My student Evan (who ended up moving to Nashville, but still contributes to our gym in many ways) sums this one up extremely well: ”I can remember the day I realized I was doing this as your student… It was the day you told me plainly that I have to believe in the first technique in order to make my opponent defend it properly. I didn’t believe you. But when I tried what you said instead of mentally fighting it, it was successful.
Interestingly, it also made me really and truly realize that you knew what you were talking about and I needed to just trust you and your teaching. It shouldn’t have taken me that long but I had a lot of ego that had to get slapped down. It was a huge breakthrough time for me. ”
5. Don’t be afraid to let the instructor you don’t understand what he/she just said
On the other side of the coin, you won’t always understand everything you’re supposed to do with a particular technique. Note that this is very different from concept #4. The main idea isn’t to start a fight, but rather to clarify that you don’t understand where your left hand goes. Perhaps this portion of the lesson is catered towards purple or brown belt students, and it’s simply a little over your head to repeat and execute.
6. Don’t be afraid to fail!
This ties in heavily with concept #1- being ready to learn- but it warrants further examination. A huge part of the learning process involves actually trying to execute the moves you’ve learned on a resisting opponent (typically during “rolling” time or “free sparring”). If you’re afraid to take risks, you’ll tend to stick to the moves you already know work well on a particular opponent. Stagnation like this is detrimental. I outline the process by which learning in BJJ happens in this article, and it punctuates the need to have genuine test runs for any new techniques.
7. Help other students
Most students struggling to learn BJJ get this immediately. It’s extremely intuitive: the more you give, the more you get. Not only will you learn from the actual process of helping someone else figure out a technique (really, try it!), but you’ll also benefit tremendously from the reciprocation when your partner gives you feedback on a position, or an upper belt helps you figure something out. It’s really important that you remember that this doesn’t give you license to stop being a student- every gym has a “blue belt professor” who is typically more interested in helping out beginners than figuring out the techniques themeselves. Don’t be that guy/girl at your gym. Instead, give back an appropriate amount without compromising your own drilling time.