I’m no black belt world champion, and I’m guessing you aren’t either. I can’t devote my entire life to BJJ so statistically the chances of me becoming one are quite low. I do however train 3-4 times a week as well as do jiu jitsu based workouts with similar frequency. If you have a job, a relationship, or a family, many of you know this is pushing the envelope. How then, with so many other obligations for us “normal” people do we maximize our training efficiency? How can you surpass someone else in skill if they train with the same frequency and effort as you do AND they started BJJ before you did? The answer lies in your approach to training.
In a recent edition of Outside magazine a number of atheletes who compete at the professional level were interviewed. From triathletes to climbers their approach to training was examined. The key aspect of all of these athletes was that even though they are competitive at the most elite levels of their respective sports, they have 40 hour work week occupations and family obligations requiring most of their time. How are they so competitive despite their inability to devote their entire lives to their “hobby”? The short answer is #science. The long answer is that they approach each of their specialties in a systematic and strategic manner. .
The most well funded sports have known this for decades. Being as precise as possible in both a qualitative and quantitative manner. Rock IV is a great example, except in the end of this story the Russian wins. Why? Because he was most exact about his training. Yes, of course you also need heart and motivation to win but that’s not what this article is about. The best athletes and the best teams are the most strategic and most systematic about their training in addition to being the most practiced, most motivated, and best genetic masterpieces for their sport.
How can you be systematic and strategic about your BJJ training? First you need to set goals: Both proximate and ultimate ones. Then you need to create a plan to address those goals. Then you need to evaluate yourself on keeping up with those goals.
Strategize. For example, as a proximate goal you may want to improve your bottom game. As a lifelong wrestler my bottom game is hardly as good as my top. You need to spend more time on bottom in open guard to get better at it. In practice you must sit down. Force yourself to play bottom. Get comfortable both physically and mentally there. In addition, improving your bottom game means getting better at sweeps. Pick a set of sweeps and work on those for an entire practice. Quantify them. 3 sweeps against everyone of your rank for each 8 minute roll session. 6 sweeps for ranks below you. 1 sweep straight to side control with the other two into a pass.
Systematize. What passes? What sweeps? What guard from bottom? Address these questions with the same precision as you did your original goal. The beauty of living in the modern day is that we live in a world with perhaps the most indispensible tool that one could hope to incorporate into the arsenal of their pastime. We have the internet and the ability learn from not one of the best but all of the best in our sport in the entire world. They have the solutions. Not all of them but some of the best. I have subscriptions to BJJlibrary, AllGalvao, Mendes Brothers, and MGinAction. Youtube is an equally useful resource. Anyone whose done BJJ for longer than 6 months knows that these are not replacements for training but can and indeed do serve as indispensible resources for those not yet settled into their A game .Your instructors also provide insight into new movements. Is there an optimal set of movements for you? Perhaps. Many of the world’s best BJJ players have found solutions for their body type and ability, and you may be similar. What works for them may work for you. In fact, this has been the topic of Wrestlejitsu’s Study on Stature before. Mimicry, and its importance however, will be the topic of another discussion.
Watch these videos systematically and strategically as well. Someone in class giving you a hard time with their de la riva? Look up specific passes. Look up 3 of them. Try them in the same order you researched them. Implementing guard specific passes is one of the most important things I ever learned, especially in the gi when the game is less brute and more complex and grip dependent. Another training partner of mine (in fact the creator of BJJ.io) watches videos of the Mendes brothers’ matches and tries to implement the movements they hit on their opponents the same order in which they occur in the match. Moral of the story: revisit the same videos. I have 8 videos I rewatch at least once a month. Then I change videos the next month.
So back to improving your bottom game. You’ve chosen your guard. Collar and sleeve guard to leg lasso to sweep as 1 of your 3 sweeps against equal ranks and 2 of your 6 sweeps against lesser ranks. Maybe spider guard scissor sweep to leg drag pass as another of your sweep-pass combinations. You get the idea. Write it down. Scribble it out. Write it down again. Doesn’t matter where. The back of a power bill. Reorganize. Readdress. Try it for 3 practices. Not working? Back to the plethora of idea resources from the best out there. Rotate your routines and workouts. I regularly implement a similar quantity goal-based plan but often times rotate its intensity with the a workout emphasizing the point of jiu jitsu: whooping someone with minimal effort. Every once in a while spend a workout putting using as little effort as possible.Try not to get killed with your 30 percent effort. This is your proprioceptive practice.
Ultimate goals. Do you want to compete? Do you want to do BJJ to make the angry guy at the bar look silly? For self defense in an emergency? Chances are the best you can be involves pushing yourself in every aspect of your jiu jitsu including stress simulation. Don’t want to compete? That’s fine but you’ll never be as good as you can until you’ve seen what you can do under stress that’s impossible to simulate otherwise. Even if you lose every single match you ever have over the course of your BJJ career, you’ll maximize your ability simply by forcing yourself to focus under stress. This, in fact, is probably the most important activity you can do for enhancing your BJJ if you aim to use it in the “real world”.
So you’ve got your first tournament? Set goals. Be strategic. Systematize. Practice takedowns. Go for a takedown at your first/next tournament. Go for 3. Don’t go for a takedown if you haven’t practiced them. Do what you practice. As a lifelong wrestler I had to swallow my pride a few tournaments ago when an opponent of mine was wearing and Iowa wrestling shirt at our brackets. “Is that just a shirt” I said. “Nah.” He said. I sat straight down. Why? Because he’s a better wrestler. Duh. Strategy. Duh. The last thing you want is to end up in a terrible position because you couldn’t swallow your pride and properly strategize by implementing the system you’ve been practicing.
I saw an amazing example of this at the last ADCC tournament in Charlotte, NC when people in my pro nogi division tried to go toe-to-toe with a college wrestler named Sergio Ardila (who will be an upcoming feature of Wrestlejitsu’s WrestleVet JiuJitsu Cadet). ADCC rules deduct a point for pulling guard. More importantly it’s frowned upon so no one wanted to sit. But Sergio took opponent after opponent to the ground (myself included) as well as multiple black belts. Why? Because that’s what he practices. Most BJJ gyms emphasize crouching or only one player standing to maximize safety, space, and energy during practice. At the tournament, once one of Sergio’s opponents had been taken down, recomposing a decent guard structure post-falling against someone of his caliber was nearly impossible. Moral of the story: Suck up your pride and implement what you practice. You don’t see the Miyao brothers trying to take someone down.
Do a local tournament. Submission only? Work on finishing. Keep in mind though that if someone is so positionally dominant then your submission skillset is extremely limited. Learn a damn side control escape. Learn 3 of them. Do them in that order when you find yourself trapped. Compete at the IBJJF level. Try to solidly pull guard. Try not to get berimboloed in the first 30 seconds. Go for a straight ankle lock with all of your might. Try the sweep you’ve gotten 3 times on equal ranks during 8 minute rolls for the last 2 months. Try to win a match. Try to win all of them.
These of course are all just examples. But this systematic and strategic approach to your training can drastically improve your game. It has mine and continues to do so. Readjust. Revaluate. Set new goals. They have to be customized for you. Change your video watching routine. Change the number sweeps/passes/escapes/reversals you go for in a roll. Create a game plan. Primary, secondary, tertiary moves from each position. Keep adjusting until you find a rhythm and routine that works for you and stick with it. Constantly examine yourself. Change when needed. Continuously learn. Just roll with it.