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6 Ways To Supercharge Your Progress In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Updated: Jul 22, 2023



Way 1. The Power of Pace: Slow Down Your BJJ


Ever heard the saying, "slow and steady wins the race?" I bet Aesop didn't have Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in mind when he coined that phrase in his fable "The Tortoise and the Hare." However, it couldn't be more applicable. You might be wondering, "How can doing things slower lead to faster progress in BJJ?" Seems paradoxical, right? Here's the thing: I'm willing to bet that many new students come into their first BJJ class with images of lightning-fast MMA fights and BJJ competitions dancing in their heads. But, remember this - those athletes you're watching have spent years honing their craft. Their speed is a result of skill, not the other way around.


So, how do we apply the “slow and steady” approach in BJJ training? It's simple: don't treat training as a do-or-die fight. You're not stepping into the octagon here, but into a learning environment. Your goal isn't to win, but to develop skills. Trying to rush the process is like trying to build a house without laying a solid foundation - it's bound to collapse.


Imagine this - it's your first driving lesson. Do you step into the car, slam your foot on the accelerator, and zoom off down the road? Of course not! That's a surefire way to end up in the ditch, right? So, why would you do the same with Jiu-Jitsu, or any other new skill for that matter?


When learning a new move, take your time. Chew over every detail, allow your body and mind to absorb every nuance. This slow, thoughtful practice lays a strong foundation, enabling you to perform techniques correctly later on.


When it's time to spar, remember, rushing often equals recklessness. A high-speed approach might seem tempting, but it often leads to poor decision-making and errors - and your training partners are waiting to capitalize on those mistakes. Slowing down can give you the upper hand by giving you more time to think and move better.


As your skills and understanding grow, you'll naturally start to pick up speed. But this isn't because you're rushing - far from it! You're moving faster because the movements have become second nature. Think of it like a dance: at first, you might stumble over your feet, but with practice, you'll glide across the floor with grace and ease.


Remember, in BJJ, just like in life, sometimes the fastest way to reach your goal is to slow down.



Way 2. Empty Your Glass: Keeping a Beginner's Mind


Imagine this. You're stepping onto the mat for the first time: adrenaline pumping, palms slick with sweat. You remember that feeling, don't you? That electrifying uncertainty is the magic of being a newcomer in the world of jiu-jitsu, martial arts or any sport. This kind of special ingredient that can unfurl boundless potential, if only you dare to keep it close. Think of it as going dancing for the first time. You haven't the slightest clue about the steps, but you're ready to rock and roll. In my workshops, I sometimes use the empty glass metaphor. I take a glass with rest water in it, empty it completely and then slowly refill it with fresh water. This is just like new knowledge filling up your body - what a great feeling!


Preserving this fresh-eyed curiosity is all about nurturing a love affair with the unknown. As you rise through the ranks of BJJ, there might be moments when you feel you've cracked the code, that you have all the answers. But let me ask you this: ever been on a meticulously planned road trip where you've mapped out every single stop? Kind of drains the adventure out of it, wouldn't you agree? The true joy often springs from those spontaneous pit stops, those unforeseen hiccups that morph into legendary tales. In the dojo, it's just the same - your greatest growth sprouts from those unforeseen techniques, the unexpected moves that leave you a bit baffled.


So, what's the secret? It's simple. Keep your eyes peeled. Stay hungry for knowledge. Throw out questions like confetti. Welcome your blunders with open arms. Revel in the element of surprise. It's a bit like stepping back into your childhood, isn't it? Everything's fresh, everything's exciting, and there's always a new lesson waiting in the wings. You see, jiu-jitsu isn't just another martial art, it's a life voyage. You're not just a warrior, but an adventurer. So, what's lurking beyond that next bend? You'll never know unless you march ahead, mind open and spirit ablaze.


Remember, you're there in the class to nurture your courage in martial arts, not to stage a show of your pre-existing fighting skills. I mean, if you could already execute jiu-jitsu to perfection or were the world's best street fighter, what would you be doing in a class, right? There's room for improvement for everyone, no matter your belt color, size, age or strength.


Think of yourself as a sponge, ready to soak up knowledge at every turn. If you fall into the trap of thinking you've learned it all, you run the risk of becoming a fortress, impervious to fresh insights, and this could throttle your growth in unimaginable ways.


If your mindset is rigged to conquer every opponent from the get-go, you might end up deploying too much aggression, over-relying on brute force, or taking advantage of your size and strength. This could steer your focus away from honing your technique and deepening your understanding. The end result? You're stuck in a rut, learning very little, and frustration starts to creep in due to the lack of progress. Trust me, that's not a road you want to head down. Instead, hold onto the excitement of the unknown and step into each class ready to dance with something new.



Way 3. Walking on the Ridge: Finding Balance Between Tension and Relaxation


Ever been in a traffic jam, your hands clenched around the steering wheel and your jaw tight, but only to realize that the tension is just making the situation worse? That's how it feels when you're all knotted up, physically and mentally, during your BJJ training session. Trust me, it does more harm than good. But what if I told you that taking a deep breath, easing those tense muscles, and relaxing your mind could be the secret weapon in your BJJ arsenal?


You know what happens when you drop a pebble into a quiet pond? The impact creates ripples that flow effortlessly around every leaf or twig in their path. That's the beauty of relaxation in physical movement. It's not about charging into your opponent like a bull, but more about moving around their energy, turning the tide in your favor. Imagine yourself as the water, not the pebble. You'll see that being relaxed, both in body and mind, lets you move fluidly, which is the very essence of jiu-jitsu.


Here's the thing: the more relaxed you are, the better you'll get at reading your opponent's movements. It's like turning your body into a well-tuned radar system. The signals it picks up can help you develop impeccable timing, letting you react just right to your partner's actions.


Ever tried grabbing a blob of jelly? Not that easy, right? That's another perk of being relaxed. If you're too rigid, your opponent will find it easier to control and manipulate you, just like the before mentioned jelly. However, don't mistake relaxation for being completely lax and sloppy.


Of course, there are times when a certain level of tension is beneficial, even necessary. It's all about timing and placement. The right amount of tension in your arm frames can limit your opponent's forward progress. Squeezing your legs when executing a submission or tensing your arm when defending against a joint lock can make all the difference. If you were to stay loose all the time, you'd have no resistance to offer. On the flip side, if you were tensed up throughout, you'd be slow to react and tire quickly, which in turn clouds your judgment.


Relaxation leads to clarity of thought, and a clear mind can spot opportunities that a clouded one cannot. During the hustle and bustle of sparring, it's easy to forget this. That's why I make it a point in class to frequently remind myself to breathe, relax, and then react. Not only does it lead to better performance, but it also makes training a more enjoyable experience. While I roll and train, I focus on the following sequence: breathing in - relaxing while breathing out - moving/reacting.


Finding that sweet spot between relaxation and tension is like mastering the art of walking on a slackline. Most practitioners could improve their jiu-jitsu game simply by weaving in more relaxation during practice. So next time, instead of going into Hulk mode, how about trying a little of Bruce Lee’s “Be Water My Friend”?



Way 4. Stick With It: Regularity Defines You More Than You Know


Practice makes perfect. I’m sure you’ve heard this age-old saying. Well, it's not just a cliché, it's a fundamental truth, especially when it comes to mastering skills like circus arts, playing an instrument or martial arts. Let me share a bit of my personal journey with you.


Once upon a time, when I started with jiu-jitsu, our academy offered classes only twice a week - on Tuesdays and Thursdays. You might think that such limited opportunities would make the dojo crowded on these days, but that wasn't the case. The attendance was often sparse, and the faces weren't always the same. Some folks dropped in once a week, while others vanished, like magic, for weeks or even months.


I pondered over this puzzle and thought, "Hey, what if I simply make it a point to attend both the sessions, every single week? Wouldn't that mean I'd log in more hours than most others, and consequently, polish my moves faster?" Simple math, right? In a world where technique is our superpower, it sounded like a winning game plan.


As time passed, it turned out that my hunch was spot on. While my peers were playing catch-up or worse, dropping out, I steadily improved my technique. Why? Because I chose consistency over sporadic bursts of intense training.


But here's the twist in the tale. It's not about outdoing others or turning life into some kind of race. Sure, if you train intensively in the short term, you might initially race ahead. But can you keep it up? It's a marathon, not a sprint, remember? Competing in Ironman triathlons over two decades ago, I discovered that maintaining a consistent average speed throughout the day was more crucial than surpassing competitors or preventing them from overtaking me.


The secret sauce, the real magic potion to progress in your training, lies in not pitting yourself against others, but against the person you were yesterday. I know, it sounds like something out of a motivational poster, doesn't it? But trust me, it works!


Does this mean you have to train relentlessly, every single day, until you drop from exhaustion? Absolutely not! The idea is to be consistent, to keep at it regularly. Isn't it better to make steady strides rather than giant leaps only to stumble and fall? And as you watch yourself get better each day, you'll realize that the only competition that matters is with the person you see in the mirror.


Now, isn't that an analogy worth living by?



Way 5. Sweat Smarter, Not Harder: How to Squeeze Every Drop of Value from your Session


You've set aside a couple of hours for your weekly jiu-jitsu classes. Now, those precious minutes are like gold dust, right? So, how can you make sure that every single one of them counts?


First off, think of each session as a race against the clock. Every minute is an opportunity, and every second counts. Say you're given five minutes to practice a move. You'll want to milk those minutes for all they're worth by drilling non-stop. Don't treat this time like a casual stroll in the park! You wouldn't take pit stops for water, or pause to adjust your belt or gi, would you? And let's not even get started on idle chit-chat with your partner. It's like leaking precious time straight down the drain! Keeping the rhythm going means more reps and better muscle memory, which is the secret sauce to pulling off those moves when you're up against the wall.


Now, when it comes to learning from your instructor, imagine you're a detective trying to crack a case. You wouldn't hesitate to ask questions, would you? And why should you? Your instructor is there for you, not perched on some high pedestal like a guru. A good teacher cherishes questions as much as a plant loves sunshine. So, squeeze out every bit of wisdom you can from them!


And how about sparring? Pay close attention to your breath, the tension in your muscles, and moments of relaxation. By gently, yet persistently stretching your limits, you'll discover that your endurance and ability will increase with each session.


In the long run, sticking to these tips will supercharge your progress. It's like planting a seed and watching it grow - a tiny step today can lead to a massive leap tomorrow. So, get ready to take your jiu-jitsu journey to the next level, one minute, one question, one roll at a time!



Way 6. Capture Your Moves: Self-Improvement Through Video Analysis


Let me tell you a story about a little secret weapon we used back when I was a part of a basketball coaching team. You know what it was? A video camera. Yes, you heard that right! We didn't just use it for replaying amazing shots but to analyze and enhance our individual and team skills. And it did work wonders! The same magic trick came in handy during my triathlon training to perfect my swimming, cycling, and running techniques.


Now, think about this: Have you ever imagined yourself surfing like Kelly Slater in your mind, but when you watch the video, it's not exactly the wave-riding spectacle you thought it was? Well, I have many times! You see, there's often a pretty wide chasm between what we think we're doing and what we're actually doing. That's why recording your practice can be such a game-changer.


Ever thought about filming yourself while practicing your martial arts techniques or sparring? Trust me, it's like finding a hidden treasure trove of missed opportunities. It's hard to see everything when you're right in the middle of it all, focused on not getting your butt kicked. But when you watch it later? It's like having a superpower. You can pause, rewind, and analyze every move at your leisure, understanding what works and what needs some fine-tuning.


I know it might feel weird at first, but why not ask your instructor or your training buddies if they'd be cool with you filming your sessions? Just grab a small tripod, stick your phone or camera on it, and keep it nearby as you practice. And while you're at it, record yourself practicing the day's lessons, so you have a personal tutorial for later.


Watching these videos can become a mirror reflecting your movements - the rhythm, the speed, the balance between tension and relaxation. You'll see where you're nailing it and where you're falling short. You'll spot the successful techniques your opponents pull off and identify the specific ones you could do better at.


Imagine having an MMA or a street fight. Things happen so quickly, it's like trying to remember every word of an Eminem song. But what if you had a recording of that song? You could listen to it as many times as you wanted, picking apart every movement and moment. It's the same with having a video of your drilling or rolling. You get to be Sherlock Holmes, analyzing every detail, allowing you to upgrade your skills faster than a software update. And the best part? You can use your free time outside the class to improve, not just when you're physically there.



Way 7. Gaining Grace: Become Smooth Through Quality Repetition


Imagine you’re learning a new technique in your class. You drill it once, twice, maybe three times, then you forget about it, and guess what? When you need it the most, it's gone, vanished, like a dream you can't quite remember. Sound familiar?


It’s like trying to remember the lyrics to a new song after hearing it only once - quite a challenge, isn’t it? That's why it’s so crucial to keep practicing the same moves over and over again, like rehearsing the lyrics to your favorite song until they're ingrained in your brain and you are ready for karaoke night.


By the time you hit your 7th, 8th, or 9th repetition, you'll notice a transformation. You won't just be going through the motions anymore. Instead, you'll be smoother, more efficient, like a well-oiled machine. The moves will become a part of you, rooted deep in your muscle memory. They’ll be there when you need them.


And here’s the real kicker: it’s all about quality, not quantity. You could learn a hundred different moves, but if you don't drill each one into your muscle memory, they'll evaporate, just like that song you heard once but never sang again. So isn't it better to have a handful of well-drilled, effective moves that you can count on when the going gets tough? It's like having a few, well-chosen tools in your toolbox that you can use with finesse, as opposed to a cluttered mess of “one-time use only” implements. That’s why a self-defense curriculum with too many techniques will never work.


So, are you ready to ditch the one-and-done mentality and embrace the power of quality repetition? Because that's the secret sauce to sustainable improvement in the art of jiu-jitsu.

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