Are You Getting Better at Jiu Jitsu?
You probably had the same question when you first started Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (you might still be wondering) and if you are a coach or professor, you most likely have been asked this same question as well “am I getting better?”
This is a hard question to answer because a lot of times we track our progress compared to our teammates but this can can be a difficult way to gauge improvement because you have to keep in mind that your teammates are trying to improve as well and if they are training harder, smarter or more frequently than you, you can feel at times you are losing skill and getting worse at the sport.
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So how can we track our progress and tell if we actually are improving? Luckily Brazilian Jiu Jitsu does give us a few ways to track our progress. The first is the most simple and it is right there under your nose (or belly button). Your belt. In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu we can track our progress not just by the color of our belt but also by the stripes our belts hold.
Now every school is a little different and handles rank different but a quick way to tell if you are improving is by looking at your stripes. If you are training consistently you will be awarded these stripes with time and you can use them to track your progress. Now this is not always the best way to track yourself because some schools hand out stripes purely based off attendance and not on a rise in skill. So how else can we try to tell if we are improving?
Rolling with similar ranked students. We discussed that comparing ourselves to others is not always the best way to gauge our skill but it can help. Find a partner who is around your size and close to you in rank, roll with them then think critically about the roll after and try to note what you did well and what you did not so well. Hopefully the roll was competitive and they did not just destroy you, if they did just destroy you they have most likely been training more than you and you need to step up your attendance and make sure you are training hard and not goofing around during class.
Roll with higher belts. Naturally, the higher belts will typically beat the lower belts but see if you can improve each time you roll with them. If you got tapped 4 times in one roll make it 3 the next time. If you got your back taken over and over, focus on not giving up your back. This type of training is the kind that makes people with egos quit the sport, but if you can handle getting beat over and over again you will learn from it and you will improve as long as you learn from each mistake!
Roll with lower ranks. If you are a white belt with three stripes roll with a white belt who has 1 stripe, see if you can stay a step ahead of them, see if you can transition to a better position before they escape. When rolling with lower ranks try to work on something that you are not that good at, this will help you improve by putting you in uncomfortable situations but in a way that you can still stay calm and learn.
If you are a bigger person, try playing guard with smaller people or lower ranks, or maybe let them start with you in bottom side control and see if your escapes are good enough to get you out, worst case scenario is you get tapped and learn that you have to work more on the bottom which in turn will increase your skill!
Keep a notebook. My instructor handed me my first notebook for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and I have used them ever since. I have a notebook for Jiu Jitsu, Striking and Self Defense. Writing down what you did that night will make you think of the techniques and lessons in a different way, putting physical movements down into words is no easy task and it can sometimes seem impossible. Doing this will burn that new information deeper into your brain, making it easier to recall in the future.
Record yourself. It is 2019, get your phone out, prop it up against your water bottle and with your training partners permission, record your training. Afterwards, go home and watch how absolutely terrible (or amazing) you are. There have been so many times when I think I am doing great then go home and watch myself on my phone and I realize how slow I was, how un-technical I was, how off my timing was. Watch it and break it down, figure out what you did right, what you did wrong, what your partner did right and wrong and learn from it.
Take a private lesson. If you know what you want to work on or if you are not making as many classes as you would like to, (maybe a conflict in your work schedule) ask your instructors about taking a private lesson once a week. This lets them focus completely on you and your game. From an instructor point of view, I love private lessons. It lets me really diagnose my students game and see where they can use some extra guidance.
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Maybe they just need a little tweak in their angle or a little variation on something they have been working on, but you know a small difference in the way you do it that can help them. Also, when classes are packed and I am the only instructor there, I can only give so much of my time so naturally I am going to miss things. It will be impossible for me to make it over to every single individual and examine their technique, I absolutely do try but there is only so much time in one class.
Go back to the basics. We get so caught up in what is new, cool and exciting that we can find ourselves forgetting the day one basics. When you find yourself stuck on a progress plateau and you feel like you are not getting any better or that you are forgetting things, revisit the basics. If your school has a basics or fundamentals class hit it up, see what details and concepts you have maybe forgotten and focus on those for a bit. Sharp fundamental skills make the complicated advanced techniques do-able!
Finally, compete! Competition is not the end all be all, remember in competitions there is no punching, kicking, and typically no slams, but it is still a one on one fight where you are trying with all of your skill and strength to beat another person who is about the same rank, weight, and age as you. This will show you immediately what your weak points are.
Competition will show you where you have been slacking in your training and sometimes it is not even a technical aspect of your game that is lacking, maybe it is your diet, maybe it is your mental fortitude to not quit when you are in pain or tired. Competition shows us what we sometimes try to ignore because it is uncomfortable to acknowledge our deficiencies, but if you can do it, you will learn a lot.
Competition is not for everyone, some people just do not enjoy it, but if you have competition available in your area, try to compete once in awhile. There are people out there who do not have access to training or competitions so having the ability to do them is a great privilege and one I think you should take advantage of from time to time. I hope this helped a little bit, remember, this is your journey and no one else's, we all improve at our own rate you just have to stick it out through the ego crushing moments, the injuries and the inevitable progress plateaus we find ourselves stuck on.
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