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One Month At a Time: A Blueprint for Systematic Improvement

One Month At a Time: A Blueprint for Systematic Improvement



One of the most difficult challenges of jiu jitsu is learning how to build a skill set that works harmoniously. As more and more techniques are developed, renamed and improved upon, the average Joe Jiu Jitsu almost has too much to choose from and easily becomes overwhelmed, especially in the first year or two at blue belt. You can easily slip into a few different pathways on your personal journey; some reap fruit, while others lead you into murky waters and pits of quicksand. 

Craig Jones "I am a BJJ Fanatic" 

Along with keeping a jiu jitsu journal, filled with class notes, personal reflections and flow charts, one of the best ways forward through the inevitable hills and valleys is to have a thoughtful monthly plan for the specific techniques that you want to develop. It is all too tempting to simply go hard and take no prisoners for weeks or even months. The ego whispers that you need to show you the world how strong and unstoppable you are. Take no prisoners on the way to Valhalla!

Craig Jones has released his BATTLE TESTED LEGLOCK Instructional! Click Learn More!



Unfortunately, a no tap, no plan pathway will seldom bring you the growth that you might otherwise achieve. The hardest way for your ego is also the straightest road to long-term development: spend time developing a specific set of techniques during a specific time period. This means developing those techniques at the exclusion of tapping out the entire row of white belts with your tried and true Spider Guard to Triangle submission. It may also mean eating a hundred sweeps until you get the hang of the footwork for the guard pass your instructor suggested you focus on. 

In my case, I decided to break down my learning into six areas: one takedown, one guard pass, one guard technique, one escape, one transition, and one submission. The idea is that for an entire month my entire focus is on hitting those areas during every single roll that I have. My personal rule is that I am on the mats to build my skillset instead of to demonstrate my best techniques repeatedly. I will admit that this means that I spend many rolls tapping to my opponent when I lose opportunities to hit any of those moves. Why? Once I have missed a takedown, fail on the guard pass, lose my guard retention, cannot make the transition and see no submission, I probably am going to be submitted at that stage. 

So what might a month of specific rolling look like? My current month has me preparing for the IBJJF Worlds Masters in Las Vegas. I have never competed at this level before, but I have used all of my blue belt competitions to learn the holes in my game. Based on the paradigm that I laid out, the three main techniques that received the most action were the Tomoe Nage, the Knee Cut Pass and the Guillotine Choke, so let us analyze what my thought process was during each of these.

Takedowns are critical for success in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I fully understand that guard pullers around the globe will deny the need to learn a few solid takedowns, but I want to get on top and stay on top in competitions. I needed to focus on one takedown this month, so I chose the Tomoe Nage, or front sacrifice throw. It is one of the forty traditional throws of judo and jujutsu. I have a preference for judo throws over wrestling takedowns because they feel more natural to my body. This particular throw feels like second nature to me even though I really only started working on it during the past two months of practice. One major problem that lower belts face when starting working their stand up game is hesitation. We hesitate and then lose the moment.  For me, I like a double collar grip to break my opponent's posture for the Tomoe Nage, and that became my brain's signal for the takedown: get both collar grips and go. The most difficult part for me has been to not simply have my opponent treat it like a guard pull so that I lose position and end up in an open guard. Another great sacrifice throw shown by Travis Stevens and Jimmy Pedro would be the Sume Gaeshi shown in the following video. If you are going to learn any fundamental judo through instructionals then there are few better places to begin than The Takedown Blueprint by Jimmy Pedro and Travis Stevens. 

Sumi Gaeshi by Travis Stevens and Jimmy Pedro

I am knee cutting my way into the earth's core after a month of sparring. I always go for the knee cut on the opponent's right side, and I am driving my training partners insane with the repetition for this pass. Sometimes I lose, but my percentages are getting much higher based on the information I gleaned from Craig Jones' section on Knee Cut Variations which is part of the first volume of How To Pass Quickly. In this section, Jones shows why he is the wizard from Down-Under as he almost a dozen passes. While many of these are fundamental to the no gi game, most of them can be adapted to the grips one faces when wearing a kimono. 

The TJ Pass by Craig Jones

A third technique that I have been using in almost every roll this month has been the Guillotine Choke. The Guillotine had been a high percentage submission for me until I tore my rotator cuff in three places and permanently weakened my squeeze power. I had all but given up on my favourite technique until I decided to look for a way to adapt what I had been doing through better, adaptive technique. After a month of seeking my opponents' heads I feel like I have made significant progress and realized that my initial set-up and finish were tragically flawed to begin with. 

Killer Guillotine by Neil Melanson

For guidance on the varieties of guillotines I turned to The Headhunter Guillotine Series by BJJ Fanatic Neil Melanson. While I have been focusing on making the shift from an Arm In Guillotine to a High Elbow Guillotine, what I loved about Neil's series is that he also teaches the submissions near the guillotine as well, such as the Japanese Necktie, the Switch Darce and the Boa Choke. There is a lot of information to cover here, especially since Melanson's approach to many of the techniques comes from a catch wrestling paradigm. Any of Neil's videos can be a perspective- shifting experience, but this particular one really gave me the momentum to improve my success on the guillotine this month. 

Perhaps you have other areas that you are desperate to improve on in the long term or perhaps you simply want to give your sparring sessions specific focus. I will offer one caveat and caution before you plan the next month's worth of goals: choose techniques that you can actually make happen during a live roll. There will be zero success choosing takedowns if your gym only starts on the knees. If you never get to the back, then choose a technique to get you to the back position instead of a three-part attack from the back position. With a little common sense, a lot less ego and discipline you can take your game a long way in a single month. 

The Headhunter Guillotine Series by Neil Melanson

Watching Neil demonstrate techniques makes you feel sorry for his partner! This BRUTAL approach will catch most grapplers off guard. Get in there and put them on the defensive, and land a submission. The Headhunter Guillotine Series by Neil Melanson will give you the same STOPPING POWER as Neil Melanson! 



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