Optimal Learning for After 40

I’ve never thought I was good at learning moves. In fact, over the years I have often described my process as a “slow learner”. It takes me a minute (or often much longer) for my brain to process the information. It probably didn’t help that throughout my childhood I was in “special ed” classes in school. I was diagnosed with a “learning disability” in the seventh grade. In school, teachers often described me as “aloof”. Which I didn’t really even know what it meant back then.(Aloof: conspicuously uninvolved and uninterested) The label stuck with me and I continued to struggle through High School. But when I reached college I graduated with high honors. Why? I was finally doing things I was interested in. College sparked my interest in acquiring knowledge. When you’re excited about a topic, the process of learning can be more fluid (but not necessarily quicker).

How many reps does it take to get better at something new? 10,000 right? I bet you already knew this, didn’t you? In fact this is known as “the 10,000 rule”. Right? (and rules shouldn’t be broken) But if you’re a hobbyist training three times per week this might be an insurmountable task. Think about it this way. If you drilled one move for twenty solid reps three times per week you would have have around 250 reps per month. That means to reach the coveted 10,000 mark you would need to drill for over forty months! That doesn’t include practicing the alternate side, the counters, the ‘what if’s’ and more.

10,000 isn’t realistic goal. I believe it’s why we don’t develop the personal catalogue of moves we could really use to advance our game. We tend to stick with the same 4 or 5 moves every session.

So what’s the answer? More reps?! NO… it’s not quantity but quality.

Let me share my favorite tips to expedite the learning process.

  1. Building Blocks: The quickest way to learn is to add things to what you already know. It’s like building a house. Once you have the framework, you can add the walls…the floors, etc. Once that is created, you can add the embellishments. BJJ training is very much the same way. Every move that I teach is built upon something that I already taught my students. This is not just a better way of learning (it is), but it’s literally how Jiu-Jitsu plays out in real time. One thing happens, the other person counters… then you counter that move and so on. The better you get at this concept, the greater improvements you’ll see on the mats.
  2. The Magic Drilling Number: You want to drill the move until you reach a state of Comprehension. Think of it like a math problem. If you could understand that if you have one thing and add another that would equal two things. You now have comprehension. You recognize what is happening. You don’t need to master it, you start by understanding it. So the answer is that there’s no magic number. If you can adequately explain the move so someone else who has never seen it can now understand it… then you’re close to the next stage of mastery.
  3. Watching Videos: It’s great to drill with a partner but it’s not always going to be possible. Watching a video can have the same impact as physical drilling when done the right way. First watch the video over and over until you can almost memorize the language the instructor is using. Then reduce the volume and you speak through the steps. Keep a notebook and write out the steps using vivid details. This will help to create neural pathways in your brain that you can call upon later when you’re physical drilling with a partner.
  4. In-Person Drilling: When drilling you want both partners involved in the process of learning. For example: The uke (receiver of the move) can speak through the steps as the tori (demonstrater) can perform the move. If you have three people, have the uke speak the move, the tori does the move and the third person acts as quality control (to make sure everything is perfect). This is also a great time to video record the move for later reference and study.
  5. Performance: The final stage of mastery is to be able to execute the move under hostile conditions. If you’re a colored belt then I recommend working through the kinks of rolling with it on a lower belt. Another great tip is to drill it with your partner adding road blocks. It’s not 100% live rolling, but working your way to it and addressing real time obstacles. Eye’s closed drilling and rolling with the move can also help expedite the acquisition process.

The key with learning any new technique whether it’s a seminar, your home school or through an instructional – it has to fit into your game. I call this “PLUG & PLAY Jiu-Jitsu”. This is exactly how I teach Jiu-Jitsu. In my BJJAFTER40 course offered by BJJ Fanatics I drew heavily upon this teaching method. I asked myself, “How can I help people who I will never see, plug my moves right into their game. So they’re not mine any more but their’s forever?” That might sound like a lofty goal…

But we hit it on the mark with this course. Every move connects together flawlessly, addressing every possible ‘what if’ scenario. In addition, we added sections on how / why to drill. Including all the teaching techniques that I’ve successfully used in-person for the past 26 years in BJJ and 40 years in the martial arts. This course was designed exclusively for the 40-plus crowd and is a must have for anyone. For more info click here

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