How to get the most from a Jiu Jitsu instructional.

This is pretty timely, right?

With so many members of the jiu jitsu community releasing free content, in response to the old pandemic, now seems like a good time to watch a tonne of jiu jitsu.

Cheers for the freebies Bernardo you big beautiful bastard.

While having a wealth of easily accessible information is great, its not hard to get swamped by it. I will outline a method I have used to internalise the information found in these resources. This is by no means definitive. It is merely a system I stumbled upon that works for me. The overarching concept of any information retention system like this is to find ways to force yourself to fully attend to the material you are viewing.

Obviously, to truly get the most from the instructionals would involve a detailed breakdown on drilling, positional sparring and the like. But we will leave that for another time when its a bit safer to be smearing yourself on other people.

So you have your shiny new instructional series what now.

Step 1) The Binge Watch

“Breaking Bad?”. Never seen it. “Did you see how GOT ended?” Nope. “You should get into Vikings”. Probably not going to happen.

I think I treat my first run through of a instructional series kind of like most people watch real TV shows. Its interesting, a bit relaxing and I will get a feel for the initial lay out and ultimately whether or not I think it is worth investing time in. This is the fun bit everything thereafter involves attention and effort so kick back and enjoy it.

Probably the best advice I can give in this stage is be liberal with speeding up the playback. When I watch something at 2-2.5x speed I don’t feel I miss a lot.

Step 2) Rough Note Taking

Instructionals are packed with jiu jitsu wizardry. This usually means you will be hit with a belt feed machine gun of information. It is up to you to decide what you record. Personally I only record new information that I have yet to internalise or have forgotten. If its a position I am particularly new too I will record everything in a step by step Ikea instruction manual style. If you are new to jiu jitsu this approach may be helpful.

The simple act of writing information down has a way of making it stick, even if you never review your notes again. What you are producing at each of these steps is not as important as the process involved in creating it. If you just looked at someone else’s notes you probably wouldn’t get a lot from the experience.

The way in which you record your notes will be very individual. Over time you will develop your own nomenclature and systems for doing it. The John Danaher instructionals have been great for introducing a standard system for describing positions, concepts and grips which fall outside the common positional parlance.

My rough notes. Basically Gibberish.

I particularly like “if your opponent is naive…”, versus “if your opponent is shite”.

Step 3) Systemising

Many instructionals these days are incredibly well thought out and structured.

The DDS guys, Lovato, Lachlan Giles and more and more coaches are putting their stuff together in a logical way which is super helpful for those trying to make sense of a particular aspect of the sport. You use the rough notes you created and try to build some sort of coherent structure.

Here is an overview of how I do it when watching guard based instructional.

  1. Guard Maintenance-
    • How do I hold the guard and use it to maintain distance?
    • Which directions can I off balance the opponent.
    • What base positions can my opponent put themselves in while I maintain the guard. These will usually be kneeling, combat base, standing (head low) and standing (head high).
  2. Primary Attacks from base positions.
    • What are the high percentage technique from each base position? You should try and have at least two techniques to switch back and forth for each base position.
  3. Troubleshooting-
    • how will you deal with your opponent attempts to dismantle your guard and the subsequent guard passes? You must be aware of what your opponent may try and do from the guard structure and have appropriate options to maintain or capitalise on their actions. This is a hall mark of a good quality guard instructional.
  4. Entries and engagement phase-
    • . You will want to have guard pulls and transitions from other positions.
    • Getting to guard becomes easier when you are confident you can be effective from that position.

With Guard passing instructionals I do pretty much the same thing. If you replace the word guard with checkpoint you will get the idea. A checkpoint is a position where you can launch a variety of guard passes and your opponents ability to sweep, submit, get up or off balance you is limited. Think Knee slides, head quarters, double unders, flattened half etc. If you are in a guard you are losing, but if you are in a checkpoint position you are winning.

Step 4) Video Editing

I am not even sure this is legal but I find it super useful. I can take an 8hr instructional and turn it into a 30min visual reminder. I already have my notes so all I need is to see the main movements performed in a couple of different angles.

Over the course of video editing you will probably watch the whole series through a few more times. By engaging with the material actively in this way I feel that I retain information better as its really hard to zone out. And now If you cant recall something you now have a delightful video reference.

Stage 5) Match Footage

If the guy who is virtually instructing you is a competitor watch their footage and see how they apply their stuff on high quality opposition. With so many resources out there, one of the filters I often use is, whether or not the guy releasing the video series does what he is actually coaching. If Rudson Mateus releases a closed guard instructional I want to see it, did I buy Lachlan Giles Leglock anthology after ADCC? Yep.

Step 6) Flow Charts

This the final thing I do and takes the least amount of time as by now you know the material inside out. I take the systematised notes and redo them in an abridged mind mappy format. Its just another method to ram the information into your brain. Its also the first thing I look at if I feel I need to review.

And Done…now I can move onto Lapel Guard JOOOYYYY!!

So that’s what I do to get the most out of the instructionals I own. I have found it massively beneficial to my development, its time consuming but after all that effort its pretty hard to forget the most important parts. A year ago I did this approach with Gordon Ryan’s Systematically Attacking the Guard series and if I was given a test on it today, I am pretty sure I would ace it. That is despite the fact that I haven’t looked at any of the material I created in that time.

I hope this is helpful in some way and if you have any other techniques you use to get the most out of your instructionals please let me know. Hopefully we can all get back to sweating and breathing on each other while simulating murder soon.

Getting better, faster. The Purposeful Practice Series part 2

You may have heard of “Deliberate Practice”. It is the gold standard method for developing expertise.

Anders Ericsson is the guy who coined the term and did all the research into expertise that has since been popularised in books like Outliers and Talent is Overrated. Unfortunately, for us, it requires a field that is already well established, where optimal training practices are known.

The Suzuki Method for learning the violin is one such form of deliberate practice. Follow the steps, do the work, under the watchful eye of a skilled instructor and after a prolonged period you will be an expert.

People have been playing violins for centuries and have had the time necessary to develop optimal practice, culminating in programs like the Suzuki method. Jiu Jitsu is a sport in its infancy (particularly no gi jiu jitsu) with a huge range of training methodologies. Some are excellent and some are not so much.

Although many coaches and teams are pioneering a more thorough systems based methodology and regularly producing world champions. We have a long way to go before we reach the deliberate practice level in the sport of jiu jitsu.

That being said the way in which you train or practice anything can be improved even without the established deliberate practice structure provided you follow the principles of purposeful practice.

Purposeful practice (deliberate practices unruly little brother) is defined by 4 principles that will enable you to consistently improve in any discipline over time. There will be a degree of trial and error involved as optimal training methods are developed but with time creativity and commitment to the four principles outlined below you never have to stop getting better.

4 Principles of Purposeful Practice

Always have an aim for the practice

The first step in improving in any field is often to identify the aim of the practice. If you are drilling in your own time you should make the effort to actually decide what it is you want to improve. If you are in a class structure your coach may state the aim and if not hopefully its self evident. Maybe you will be working on finishing the bow and arrow choke from the back or resetting your guard from the headquarters position.

Having an identified aim for the practice allows you to determine whether or not you have used your time well. If your aim is to improve your ability to recover half guard from side control and you were able to do so more effectively after the session you have evidence that you have improved.

Whatever the aim is there will be smaller components that comprise the overall goal. In our half guard recovery example one such component, which is vitally important, could be getting inside the cross face. Establishing set aims makes the game smaller allowing for more detailed understanding of positions and techniques. This is more effective than going through the motions and hoping to get better by accident.

 

Focus

This is pretty obvious, but unless you are giving what you are doing your full attention you are probably limiting your ability to improve. This is particularly common in group classes where the material may not be to your liking and you are with all your friends. There is a social aspect to jiu jitsu and its important but if your training partner wants to tell you all about some gym gossip while you are trying to figure out a crab ride sequence, they are inhibiting your ability to improve. Try to keep talk focussed on the task at hand.

Since having kids I have come to value my training time much more due to its scarcity. I can no longer spend all day in the gym training and farting around in equal measure. I come in with an aim for the practice and focus on achieving the steps that will allow me to complete the task… usually.

 

Feedback

All this planning and focus is not going to help if you are doing movements incorrectly. This is why it helps to get feedback. You can get feedback from your coach, your training partners and yourself. When you are comfortable with a technique you have mental representation of how it should look and more importantly what it should feel like. What separates expert performers from the rest of us is often the quality of these mental representations.

If your mental representation for what you are working on is refined enough you will feel when you’ve done a bum rep and can alter accordingly. Feedback from training partners and coaches is also invaluable, some of the best guys I have trained with are constantly asking training partners how a movement felt, where was the pressure and how they could improve.

Gettting outside comfort zones

Living in the land of good enough is positively delightful, you don’t have to think that hard and you get to play your best stuff. The jiu jitsu hierarchy, and the social status engendered by that, makes tapping out to lower belts unpleasant for many people in gyms where that culture exists. This promotes the automated “A game” approach that preserves egos but kills improvement.

To improve your overall game, finding weakness and working on them is imperative. This will often mean letting people onto your back to work defence there or getting your guard passed while playing a new type of position.

It is important that you don’t get too far out of your comfort zone. If your training partner is a 100kg black belt and you are a 65kg white belt looking to develop side control escapes, this might not be the right plan unless you have spoken about your aims before hand.

Putting it all together

In our bow and arrow example we have established an aim. After rolling, a few of your training partners have noticed getting to the back might not be the problem but staying there and winning the hand fight is where you are coming up short.

With this feedback you have identified the main ways you lose the back and what is preventing you from completing the choke. You do some research and talk to your coach and figure out a couple of back retentions and hand fighting drills that may help. You drill these techniques until they become smooth, then work on several drills to improve retention and hand fighting.

Drilling with progressively resisting opponents bridges the gap between compliant technique practice and live rolling. After a few weeks of focused practice you have greatly improved your ability to finish with the bow and arrow choke. So much so that your training partners are bailing to mount rather than have you any where near their back. Maybe its time to start working on your ability to hold mount and finish from there?

Taking your training seriously and following the principles of purposeful practice will take your ability to murder hug folk to a new level.