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By Sam Joseph

Training Brazilian jiu jitsu is typically a labor of love. When you start training, you often spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about how you can improve and/or find more time to train. The reality is that most people do not have the luxury of training BJJ for a living.

Many also have commitments outside of BJJ that further take time away from their training time. There is also a large population in the BJJ community that found jiu jitsu in their late 20s, 30s, and 40s - or beyond.  This presents the challenge of longer periods of time needed to recover after training sessions due to advancing age.  Talking to one of my students about these realities/challenges got me thinking about some tips that can help you maximize what training you can do and continue improving at a steady rate!

Tip 1:  Use your 10 minutes!

The 10 minutes I am referring to is the 5 minutes before class and the 5 minutes after class. Often, the time before class is “dead time”. People file in and either sits and wait for class or engage in small talk while waiting for class to start.  This can be a great time to get some extra drilling in - drilling basic techniques or moves covered previously.  This will warm you up for class physically and mentally while allowing you to get that many more repetitions closer to mastery of the techniques. The 5 minutes after class can be made equally productive by drilling the techniques covered in class, or be getting in an extra roll. These extra repetitions or rolls after class have the added benefit of being performed when you are more fatigued. Concentrating on performing techniques, whether drilling or sparring, even when tired will help you replicate them when you are tired in the future.

When I first received my purple belt at the Yamasaki Academy HQ, I remember a brown belt named “Judo” John Wildmann always staying after class and getting in one extra roll. Often, he would ask one of us to stay for “one more” as his day job prevented him from training every day.  John was determined to make the most of his training time and this inspired me to do the same.

Tip 2:  Try techniques you learn in class in sparring sessions!

There is a big difference in performing a technique on a willing partner and performing the same technique on a resisting opponent, especially if the opponent has a skill level close to or greater than yours.  When people spar in class and are matched up by skill level, there is a tendency to do things you already know will work as it is natural to want to be “successful” in that sparring session. I argue that this definition of success - winning the sparring session - can rob you of prime learning time as the technique you just learned is fresh in your mind and trying it immediately with some resistance might be just what is needed to gain additional proficiency. Do not get so caught up in “winning” in sparring that you lose the opportunity to add techniques that could help you “win” in the future by expanding your BJJ game. This does not mean that you cannot train hard, this simply means that you will not allow hard training to keep you from trying potentially beneficial new techniques for the sake of winning in practice.

Tip 3:  Train all the time you train!

This is not an “anti-fun” tip! I am all for having fun and levity in the academy, in fact I think it can be a really important part of an academy culture. For example, when I trained with ADCC champion Pablo Popovitch at his former Florida academy, laughter was a daily part of class. As soon as I walked through the door, Pablo and I would start cracking jokes at each other. The best thing about this was that it actually enhanced the training as people felt relaxed and at home. The training was intense from beginning to end as Pablo set the tone. He was in his prime as an athlete and competing regularly at the highest levels (ADCC, Nogi Worlds, etc). His commitment to maximize every training minute he had was the example we all followed whether we were drilling or sparring and this made us all better.  Practice this by doing things like getting in all the reps you can when drilling, hustling to get and to come back from getting water during breaks and minimizing talking time during sparring. If you have stamina issues or are coming back from a training break, either sit out or learn to pace yourself as you spar. You will often surprise yourself as to what you can do and simply trying will often help you improve your stamina moving forward.  At the very least, you will gain greater self-awareness and start to be able to further differentiate the difference between discomfort due to fatigue and pain/injury that should prompt you to sit out and allow yourself to recover.


Tip 4:  Listen with your ears AND your eyes!

When you are in class and the instructor is going over techniques, be FULLY ENGAGED in learning.  Listen to the little details and WATCH how he/she implements those details. There are any number of sources that will tell you that much of communication is done non-verbally so by an inevitable progression of logic, learning time can be augmented if you allow yourself to learn by listening and observing. When coaching my students on positions, I try to give them examples of world-class black belts who perform those movements perfectly. For example, when we cover the berimbolo I direct students to examples of the Miyao and Mendes brothers performing the berimbolo in competition.  When we cover guard passing concepts, I share videos of Rodolfo Vieira and Lucas Lepri to illustrate technical perfection and masterful implementation in this area. I have seen this bare fruit, as it not only reinforces details we have gone over but it also gives them the opportunity to intuitively pick up other small details as they watch the movements being done perfectly repeatedly.

Tip 5:  Focus on the techniques/situations that you are covering in class that day!

It can be very tempting to let your mind wander to a fancy move you saw at a recent tournament or on the internet and there is not anything wrong with that - UNLESS it interferes with your focus on that day’s lesson.

Make sure that when it is time to go over the technique, even if you KNOW the technique, that you are dialed in. BJJ is a sport of details and inches and often you do not know when a “light-bulb” will go off and you will learn a little detail that helps you really advance your game.  You cannot have that moment of illumination if you are too busy thinking about something other than what your instructor is going over. Do not fall into that trap and watch how this bares fruit for you.   When I first moved back to Atlanta, I trained and taught for 3 years at Creighton Mixed Martial Arts with Renzo Gracie black belt and good friend, Paul Creighton. Embracing this attitude, even though I was already a black belt, while I was there gave me the opportunity to learn many new details about positions that Paul was better in than anyone I had ever trained with. When Paul taught, I was fully focused on every detail and it added a great deal to my personal game both gi and nogi. If you are in class, be IN CLASS and be the ideal, attentive student – see how your learning curve increases!

Implementing these tips will help you take steady steps forward in your BJJ journey even if you have limits in the amount of training you can do. Stay positive, focus on controlling what you can and get in the academy whenever possible with the understanding that keeping Brazilian jiu jitsu in your life is worth the effort.  See you on the mat soon!!

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March 09, 2015 — Jiu Jitsu Style