I recently finished teaching a BJJ class and I asked the students, “Now that class is done what do you plan on doing with your seeds?” They looked at me somewhat befuddled by my question. So I continued, “If you had a seed and you wanted to harvest your seed…what would you do? Would you give it the right conditions: sunlight, earth, water and attention? Or would you just toss it aside and say…good luck little seed?” When you come to class each move and technique is a “seed”…an opportunity for something even greater. In a typical Jiu-Jitsu class you may start with a warm up and then do some self-defense or drills and then move onto 1 or 2 techniques that tie together. Within each move that you learn there are 5 or 6 supporting pieces that really bind the move together. If you pay attention you’ll notice when your professor teaches a move they’ll highlight these pieces. Your job is to identify them.
I think of the supporting pieces as a sort parthenon. The parthenon was an ancient greek structure with several columns holding a building together. If you remove the columns the structure becomes weakened. A Jiu-Jitsu move is similar in that if you remove any of the supporting pieces the move doesn’t work effectively. If you took the example of the “americana” arm-bar (ude-garami) from the mount. If you were going to teach this move you would highlight the following pieces: 1. Pin the elbow, 2. slide under the arm, 3. connect your hands into a figure-four, 4. push their head away from you, 5. slide your arms towards your legs, 6. reverse accelerate (turn the wrist) to apply pressure. If you remove any one of these pieces the technique becomes considerably weaker if not completely inefficient. If you can begin to isolate these components your chances of successfully remembering a move improves.
Note Taking One of my favorite methods of remembering moves (and the one most often overlooked) is to take good old fashioned notes. I always strongly encourage students who train with me privately carry a notebook and take notes. Not a phone or tablet, but a paper notebook and pen. New research has shown, across the board that students who write notes versus typing, “retain far more… gain a stronger conceptual understanding and were more successful in applying and integrating the material”. The reasoning is that writing by hand takes different cognitive processes. Hand writing requires more mental effort and forces the brain to work harder to get to the essence and digest the material. This mental workout forces you to be more focused and cognitively alert when learning a new move. Versus tuning in and out and only retaining fragments of it. When you come to class always have your notebook within arms reach. Your goal is to first identify the supporting pieces that make up the move. If you’re not sure what they are, then ask your professor. Don’t be embarrassed or shy, they will appreciate your enthusiasm. I always recommend sitting in your car for 5 – 10 minutes after class and take any additional notes and also use this time for mental reflection on your Jiu-Jitsu experience.
Mental Reps Do not dismiss the power of your mind. Visualization is really just mental rehearsal. Mental practice is especially powerful because you can do reps anywhere (even at work), without a partner, and they’re just as good as the reps you practice on the mats! The key with visual imagery is to be as detailed as possible with your mental practice. Imagine watching a movie of yourself performing a move right down to every last detail. The key with visualization is be as detailed as possible and engage all of your senses. Essentially what you’re doing is performing a mental trick on your brain to make it think you physically performed these repetitions. Another great benefit of cognitive practice is that it doesn’t require physical energy which is great if you’re injured or temporarily sidelined.
Physical Reps Of course physical reps are always a sure path to strengthening a move. When you drill your moves do them on a semi-resisting partner. Ask them to put up specific “road blocks” to make drilling more challenging but not impossible. Your goal is to train your body and mind to effectively perform the moves under hostile / semi-hostile conditions. One of the things that makes Jiu-Jitsu so mentally attractive for many is that for every move there is a counter move and so on, creating an endless string of techniques. Your goal when you learn a move is to understand the various counters as well. In other words, you have to know how to get in and get out of a move. After you have identified what the road blocks will be, have your partner present them during drilling.
Make a Movie Technology is a powerful tool that can be of great benefit to your training. When I was starting martial arts 30 plus years ago you rarely ever saw a video camera in a dojo. If you did it was at a belt ceremony and the camera was the size of a toddler. Now a days we have high quality recording devices at our finger tips! Most instructors will not be okay with you recording them teaching a move in class. But you can have someone record you doing the move on a partner after class. This will help you dial in the details of the technique while it’s still fresh in your brain. I also like to video record students performing and drilling moves. We then review the video to look for small details that need to be addressed. Seeing yourself on video performing Jiu-Jitsu can be very insightful. On a personal level I have filmed and edited hundreds of videos of myself. This has helped me gain a better insight into my own movements and has helped me gain higher degree of mastery. Just watching yourself will make you better!
Remember, your Professors have spent years acquiring the gems of experience they dispense every class. It’s your job to take that seed of opportunity and give it life! Happy training ninjas. Be sure to check out our sponsor Origin Maine for the highest quality, hand crafted Gi’s, gear and apparel! They’re all made right here in the USA. Also, check out People Putty. People Putty is an external injury liniment specifically designed to assist the body in the repair and rebuilding of injured tissue (bone, flesh, or tendons), noticeably accelerating the speed of recovery, especially in sports related injuries. I have personally had great results using this product and I give it my full endorsement!