Here’s a list of things I’ve learned from experience make a huge difference in getting good at BJJ. In no particular order-
- Slow down! I tend to try and roll at 70% or less most of the time. If you roll any harder than that you are most likely using strength, speed, and athleticism to cover mistakes. This will allow you to escape, win, tap the other guy but it won’t help you to learn BJJ. Slow things down to a pace where you are relying on your good BJJ to get you through.
- Focus on posture over everything else. For beginners this is sage advice. Don’t worry about learning tons of techniques. The best thing you can be doing is focusing on how to posture in all the different positions. The definition of a blue belt is someone who builds good posture no matter the position. Once you have good posture the rest is much easier.
- Let the posture do the work. The posture should take care of about 80%. Pressure from the posture should take care of the other 20. This means that you are constantly checking to see if you are in posture. If you aren’t then you prioritize that over everything else. The posture will take care of putting you in a spot where you can access the techniques that you know. Not the other way around. If you are doing it this way the other guy should be breathing harder than you.
- Check your breathing. Is the other guy breathing harder than you? If he is it isn’t because he’s in worse shape. It’s because you have better posture. The guy who is consistently building better posture won’t be tired or out of breath. Remember the 80% rule? The posture does 80% all by itself. You only need 20% pressure if your posture is good. What this means is that you won’t be working as hard as the other guy. Your breathing will tell you a lot about your posture.
- Don’t get behind on your breathing. There is a point of no return where getting behind on your breathing means you are done. You’ll have to tap just to catch your breath. Don’t let this happen. When I’m getting close to this line (because I’m not attending to posture) I will focus on breath management over posture. You have to at this point. Your body is like a car and breath is like gas. It won’t run without it. If you find yourself struggling to breathe then stop wherever you are and hunker down. Let your breathing even out. THEN go back to building your posture.
- Simplify the game. BJJ is not built by adding techniques and positions to your game. It’s built by finding connections and simplifying the routes. I want to learn simple principles that work all over BJJ. Things like- keep the elbows close to the body, the person who controls the hips is winning, build frames and move away from them etc. These are principles that we apply to all different postures, positions and situations. Finding more universal posture points, frames, and pressures allows you to make a game that is more intuitive and easier to access. That way you aren’t having to learn something different for every different scenario you may encounter. To use the map analogy I want the game to go through routes that I know very well and land in locations that I’ve spent a lot of time. No side trips to places I haven’t been.
- Don’t keep score. Focusing on the tap is the worst way to improve your game. It should only be a marker to tell you when to stop rolling. All the stuff that happened before the tap is way more important. Keeping score makes you too timid a grappler and could tempt you to not roll with some people who would be good training partners. You have to always be ready to throw your hat into the ring and see what happens.
- Have fun! This is really the most important one. If you aren’t having a lot of fun you won’t progress. Will power will get you about a year of training if you are lucky. If you aren’t having fun you’ll leave after that. It’s just too hard to do if you aren’t enjoying it. The best BJJ guys I know all have one thing in common. They love what they do. They have a blast on the mat. It’s really important to train in a way that you are having fun too. For me it means that I have to limit my training. I can’t come in 5 nights a week. This wouldn’t be fun for me. It also means that I don’t watch a bunch of videos and obsess about BJJ when off the mat. I have found the right kind of boundaries that make it extremely enjoyable when I’m there. Because of that I’ll still be training 10 years from now when most other guys around me have gone away.
- Measure your progress but don’t get too caught up in it. I have found over the years that it’s very difficult to measure my own progress. Everyone around me is improving so using someone else as a measure is trying to hit a moving target. There are some ways to measure progress that are effective but we shouldn’t get too caught up in them. Relax and enjoy the ride. Your instructors know what they are doing. Just showing up on the mat and participating in class will insure that you are making progress. Over time you will see a huge difference.
- Make some friends. The people I know from my gym are some of my favorite people in the world. They really enrich my life tremendously. If you are a person who comes into the gym and is all about business you are missing out. BJJ is a social activity. A roll is a conversation and a relationship. Your gym is a tribe and a family. You should take advantage of this. The people who tend to stick around and get good are the ones who enjoy friendships and the social aspects of the gym atmosphere.
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