Make everything as simple as possible but not simpler

That quote is generally attributed to theoretical physicist Albert Einstein. When someone as brilliantly intellectual as Albert Einstein says that simplicity is a good thing, I think the idea is worth looking into and that it may be worth considering applying this concept to all aspects of our lives….. including jiu jitsu.

To come to a mutual understanding of what we’re talking about let’s take a look at how this might apply to something simple that almost all of us use almost every day: A car. There are features such as four-wheel steering that have been around for years but are not widely used. Why? There may be many reasons, but I would suspect that it boils down to the fact that it would be a steep learning curve for most drivers, might be prone to failure, would be difficult and costly to repair, etc. – in short, it would be too complicated. On the other hand, in an effort to make cars easier to repair, easier to operate, and cheaper to build you could start removing many of the features that are currently available. If you started removing blinkers, lights, mirrors, all climate control, etc. I think we could all agree that that would be too simple. In either case the driving experience would not be as good as it could be.

Now let’s talk about jiu jitsu. From my perspective, while we practice jiu-jitsu as a sport, it is at its core a martial art that should enable us to defend ourselves in a fight. Even if you don’t completely agree with my assessment of what jiu jitsu should be, I think the idea of evaluating your game to ensure that it is neither too simple nor too complicated can still be of some benefit to you.

Let’s look first at what elements need to be in place in order for jiu jitsu to not be “too simple”. In my mind, there are some things that must be in place for jiu jitsu to be complete and not too simple. This is not about a list of techniques, but more about having a complete system that allows you to defend yourself (or compete) at all ranges of combat.

  • I believe first of all that you should be able to manage distance and control an opponent on your feet. Greco Roman wrestling may be king in the standing clinch, but a jiu jitsu practitioner should at least have a level of proficiency. Takedown drills and sparring that starts on the feet will help with this. You should be able to determine if the fight goes to the ground or not.
  • If your specialty is ground fighting then you should have more than one reliable method of getting a fight to the ground. Pulling guard is one option, but in a fight in a parking lot or at the beach, might not be the place for guard pulling. If you can take the fight to the ground and immediately be in a dominate position, that might be a good thing. You don’t have to become a judo expert or an Olympic caliber wrestler, but having a decent throw or takedown is, in my mind, essential.
  • You should be able to fight from every position at all ranges on the ground. You don’t have to master the De La Riva Guard, x guard, single leg x guard, etc. but you need some tools for dealing with an opponent who has knocked you down and is attempting to stand over you and punch you or pass your guard. You don’t have to be an expert at closed guard, half guard, butterfly guard…. but you need to have some tools to deal with an opponent who is trying to flatten and crush you. You should have offensive options from all top positions as well as bottom positions. You should have defensive answers from all positions as well. Part of your strategy for dealing with every position and all ranges may include means of transitioning to your strong positions. Disengaging from the fight is also a something you may want to ensure you are capable of. Going from side control to knee on belly to standing and disengaging, or breaking your opponent’s guard to standing and backing away, or using the technical stand-up are all good strategies for disengaging from the fight.
  • Your jiu jitsu should not fall apart if punches are introduced. I’ve come to be of the opinion that you don’t necessarily need to train with punches, but you should at least be aware of them. You can be a sports jiu jitsu specialist and still be aware of which techniques you are good at that are designed specifically for the competition mat and which techniques will save your ass in a fight.
  • Ensuring that all of the above elements are incorporated in your jiu jitsu game will ensure that it is not too simple, but how about the other half of this quote? How do we ensure that it is “as simple as possible”, or not too complicated? Are there certain sport techniques such as inverted guards and flying triangles that don’t belong? I don’t think so. All of the techniques that I see currently being practiced on the competition mats are valuable and legitimate jiu jitsu techniques. However, if you are so obsessed with having the flying armbar, flying triangle, and multiple variations of the berimbolo incorporated in your game that you are neglecting some of the core elements of jiu jitsu then perhaps you’ve allowed your jiu jitsu to become too complicated. If you are trying to be the resident expert at every variety of guard that can be played and have become a jack of all trades, but master of none…you might have allowed your jiu jitsu to become too complicated.

In conclusion: your jiu jitsu system should be expansive enough to allow you to work at every range from every position, but limited enough to maintain and manage. I believe a good rule of thumb is a good jiu jitus practitioner be proficient at 2-3 moves from each position or range of combat.

Find more articles by Joe Thomas here

Micro Jiu Jitsu

I am not the originator of the phrase or concept of “micro jiu jitsu”, but as I’ve come to understand it, I am a huge proponent. What is micro jiu jitsu as I understand it? In every technique, move, or sequence thereof, there are always one or two small details that everything else hinges upon. Get these details correct and your technique will be unstoppable. Neglect these details and you will either fail all together or be forced to muscle the technique to complete it.

An example of an individual detail that will make or break your chances of succeeding might be the initial cross collar grip when setting up the cross collar choke from closed guard or the scissor sweep. Once you reach for that collar a good opponent will work to break the grip and/or prevent you from improving it. So, developing a method for getting that initial grip deep is crucial. If you use your left hand to pull the collar while sliding your right hand in for the grip, the coordination between your two hands and getting the timing right needs to be refined to the point where it becomes automatic. Once you have the grip, understanding the nuances of the grip (do you curl the wrist? Flare the wrist? Do you grab just the collar or do you grab a handful of extra materiel? etc.), is equally important. Something as simple as this single grip can be explored and improved upon for many years.

A few other examples: If you like the kimura and hip bump sweep then the initial move to dominate and secure your opponent’s arm might be that key detail that everything else hinges on. If you like the armbar from closed guard or the flower sweep (pendulum sweep) then getting your opponent’s elbow across the center line while controlling the arm and moving your hips to create the right angle might be the key detail. I don’t presume to be enough of an expert to identify definitively what the key detail is for every move/technique, but I am sure that each athlete (perhaps with help from a coach or teammate) can identify key details to master based on their favorite go-to moves.

Not only can you improve the rate at which you succeed when executing individual techniques by mastering micro jiu jitsu it can also be the foundation to building your own grappling “system”. I often see people who prefer the cross-collar choke from the guard, knee on belly to kimura from side control, and the armbar from mount. If you like the cross-collar choke from guard, why not also make that your go to move from mount and maybe consider knee on belly to baseball bat choke (similar to a cross collar choke) from side control. You can also use the cross-collar grip from standing for throws or takedowns. That way, you get a little better at one thing (getting that grip and getting it right), and your game gets better from almost every position.

This, to me, is the essence of training “smart”. There’s no way one person can master every technique there is in jiu jitsu…. why not work on the ones that have some basic fundamentals in common and master those fundamentals?

Train hard. Train Smart. Get better.

Joe Thomas

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BJJ Seminars…. get the most out of them

Attending seminars is a great way to get instruction on specific aspects of the game from athletes and experts who have mastered (or in some cases revolutionized) that specific aspect. It’s also a great opportunity to meet some of the best athletes in our sport, and meet other athletes that are passionate about jiu-jitsu. However, with prices ranging between $40 and $100, you can be left wondering if it’s worth the expense. Here are a few ideas that may help you feel like you’re getting your monies worth.

Do some homework and prep. If you’ve read any of my other musing on jiu-jitsu you’ll know that preparation is a common theme. You will usually have an idea of what’s being covered in the seminar before you go. Get familiar with the basics beforehand. Example: Are you going to a seminar that’s been advertised as featuring submissions set up from spider guard? Make sure you are proficient with the various grips and foot placements utilized from that position. Get comfortable transiting between the various options for grips and foot placement. This will make it much easier to focus on the finer details of the submissions being taught. You can also find out easily what kind of culture follows a particular instructor — which may influence your decision to attend or not attend a particular seminar.

Have reasonable expectations. If your instructor (who I’m sure is a qualified and proficient instructor) cannot revolutionize your game in a two-hour class 2-3 times a week, don’t expect that a slightly better jiu jitsu instructor can do it in a three-hour seminar. If you are attending the seminar to get one on one instruction and coaching from one of the giants of our art…. keep in mind that 100 other people are doing the same. If you can get a few personal tips and maybe a picture with the instructor….be happy with that.

Take notes. 10 minutes after the seminar you will probably not have enough time or be in the right frame of mind to make detailed notes and two days later you will probably have forgotten many details. I would suggest taking notes in two parts. Scribble down as much as you can as the seminar progresses, or as soon as it’s over. Within the next day or two, take those scribbled down notes and re-write them with as many details as you can recall. Another way to capture your immediate thoughts would be to use your voice recorder on your phone and just talk through the seminar on your way home.

Shoot some video if it’s OK with the person running the seminar. Make sure and ask before you shoot video or take pictures. Many jiu jitsu practitioners make their living selling instructional content and don’t want to take the risk of uncontrolled material turning up on the internet. While it’s unlikely that most instructors will let you simple record the entire seminar, some instructors will be open to letting you record portions. Often there’s an “open mat” portion of the seminar and if nothing else you can have someone record you drilling the technique that was taught.

Review and rep the material as soon as possible after the seminar. There are many ways to do this. If you have mat space at home—invite a friend over the next day to share with them what you learned. No mat space at home? Try to get to class early within the next few days and show a friend before class. Even better: if you’re qualified and your instructor is OK with it, ask if you can show the class what you learned. Teaching others is the one of the best ways to really internalize knowledge gained. In conclusion: How much you benefit from attending a seminar, just like any other training opportunity, will depend largely on what you put into it. If I had to condense my thoughts down to as few words as possible to express my ideas about getting the most out of a training opportunity (a seminar, private lesson, camp, etc.), I would say preparation, executions, and follow through.

Train hard. Train smart. Get better.

Joe Thomas

Find more articles by Joe Thomas here

Why I Do Jiu-Jitsu

Joe Thomas

Everyone goes through periods of time in their jiu jitsu journey when they wonder “why am I even doing this?” It costs you $1,200 – $1,500 a year (or more) for gym fees and gear, you’re always sore, you don’t have a lot of time for other hobbies, etc. etc. It can leave you wondering if it’s worth all the effort and sacrifice. It doesn’t really matter what you’re pursuing, if it’s a difficult and long journey, and you can’t answer the question “why am I doing this?” you probably won’t see it through to the end.  I personally found myself at this crossroad two years ago when I was 48, and I didn’t immediately have an answer.

For many practitioners success on the competition stage is an answer to this question. I thought about that, (I have competed and find some satisfaction in it) but having the * “senior division” next to my results makes it somehow less satisfying to me. I considered that perhaps one day I could own and run my own school, but it seemed unlikely that getting my black belt in my mid 50’s and starting a school would be the best recipe for success. For some guys just being the toughest guy at their rank in their own school is reason enough to stick with it, and it might be for me too, but heading into my 50’s I don’t see that as likely to happen either.

I spent many months thinking about this question and my future on the mats. I started approaching the question from different angles and reflecting on the circumstances surrounding the times when I felt like the journey was worthwhile and I was “succeeding”. It occurred to me that I got as much satisfaction from the success of and progress of my teammates as my own. In fact, I one time spent an entire year purposefully giving up position and letting my training partners dictate the direction of our rolls, so that they could choose what they wanted to work on.  If I could see they were working to set up spider guard, I’d let them get grips and their feet in place before I started trying to pass – If they were top side control and I could see they were looking for mount, I’d make them work for it, but not fight to deny them the position at all costs – etc. The year I spent focusing on my training partners development wasn’t completely sacrificial – I did it in part so I would have a higher level of training partners to work with, but it helped me answer the question “why”.

I love to watch people grow as martial artists and as individuals and know that I played a part. My “why” is to be a mentor. That’s not the same as coaching and it’s certainly not instructing. Those might be good reasons for other people, but for me, contributing to the growth of my teammates in a more general way is what makes the journey worthwhile.

Do you want to see this journey through to the end? Do you want to get through the tough times when you wonder if it’s all worthwhile? Find your “why”. I would speculate that the less your “why” is about specific results and the more it is about big picture personal growth type things the more effective it will be. If your answer to this question is “I want to win worlds at every belt” then a few losses and tough tournaments might just be enough to convince you to call it quits.

Train hard. Train smart. Get better.

Joe Thomas Find more articles by Joe Thomas here

A Complete Victory by a 1% Margin

I just was reading this article about the Pareto principle which you’re probably familiar with, or the 80/20 rule.

The 1 Percent Rule: Why a Few People Get Most of the Rewards

I was just thinking this is good theory to back up why the “BJJ Brick” technique is such a good idea.

In situations like these, being just a little bit better than the competition can lead to outsized rewards because the winner takes all. You only win by one percent or one second or one dollar, but you capture one hundred percent of the victory. The advantage of being a little bit better is not a little bit more reward, but the entire reward. The winner gets one and the rest get zero.

And

The margin between good and great is narrower than it seems. What begins as a slight edge over the competition compounds with each additional contest.

And

We can call this The 1 Percent Rule. The 1 Percent Rule states that over time the majority of the rewards in a given field will accumulate to the people, teams, and organizations that maintain a 1 percent advantage over the alternatives. You don’t need to be twice as good to get twice the results. You just need to be slightly better.
So obviously this fits in with the brick move, by having a move which you have refined from being good to great, you could theoretically go from getting not many submissions at all, to a majority — outsized advantages.

This was an email sent to us by John Lehmann in Dallas, Tx

Visiting another school…. Getting the most out of a drop in

Anyone who has trained jiu jitsu for any length of time has probably had the itch to drop in at another school for a visit. Maybe you just want to meet new people, maybe you want to be exposed to a different training environment, or maybe you are just going to be out of town for an extended period of time and visiting another school will be your only opportunity to train. Whatever the reason, visiting another school can be a great experience. It can also be a little intimidating or overwhelming for some people. Whether you are excited about the opportunity or are a little nervous about it – here are a few tips that may help you get the most out of it.
1. Identify as many schools in the area that may be worth visiting. This will give you the best odds of finding one that will be a good fit for you. It sometimes takes multiple web searches to find all the schools in a given area. Sometimes, some schools will show on a search for “BJJ near…” and other schools in the same area will show for “Brazilian Jiu Jitsu near….”. It is also worth just asking around. If you know other people that do jiu jitsu and live in the area you are looking to visit shoot them a text and ask. Jiu Jitsu forums and message boards can also be helpful.
2. Do some research. You can find out a lot about a school by visiting their website, social media sites, checking reviews, and just asking around. You can get a pretty good idea about a school’s jiu jitsu style and the training environment by checking their website and social media and by asking a few questions on the phone or via email/messaging. This will help you find a school to visit that’s right for you.
3. Call ahead. Some information I try to get on a phone call: A) Is the class I’m interested in appropriate for my skill level and open to drop ins? B) What’s the drop-in fee? C) Are there any uniform requirements? Some gyms prefer white gis. D) Make sure I have the correct address and directions.
4. Go with an open mind. No matter how much research you do and how many questions you ask sometimes you show up at a school and find the class is nothing like what you were expecting. You can still have a positive experience and get a lot out of the class…. but this is unlikely to happen if you are not open to trying something new and doing things a different way.
5. Be humble. You don’t have anything to prove to anyone and most people don’t like a visitor coming in and trying to be king of the mat. Start off slow and loose during sparring. With each round as you get to know the group and they get to know you, you can ratchet it up a notch. I’d rather leave the class feeling like I didn’t do my best jiu jitsu than leave the class feeling like I wouldn’t be welcomed back.
6. Make some connections. Jiu Jitsu is largely about the journey and the friends you make. At a minimum, make a social media connection so you can follow them and keep in touch. If things went well and you felt like things really clicked, exchange contact information. You never know when you’ll be back in the area or when someone from that school might be in your area and you can get together again for some training.
7. Leave the school a good review online. It’s not easy building a team and running a business. Good reviews help. If they treated you well and you were able to get some quality training in, the least you can do is take five minutes to leave them a good review.
One final thought: The visit will be what you make. Some things are out of your control—the size of the school, how accomplished the instructor is, the skill level of the other students on the mat, etc. However, you do have control over your attitude, your effort level, your preparation before the visit, etc. Put as much effort into finding the right school and properly preparing for the class as you do once you get there and you will have an awesome visit.
Train hard. Train smart. Get better.

By Joe Thomas Find more articles by Joe Thomas here

Live Sparring/Free Rolling: Get more out of it than just a good fight

Live sparring, for most of us, is why we do jiu jitsu. Live sparring is where things get fun, where we pressure test our techniques, and where we find out which moves work for us and which might not. Live sparring, however, is not the easiest environment for newer students to make technical improvements in their jiu jitsu. Here are a few suggestions that might help.

Check your ego. This advice is repeated so often that it has become a bit cliché, but at no time on the mats is it more applicable than during live sparring. Not having your ego in check can cause a you to make choices on the mat that can be detrimental to your progress. Some examples would be: Not rolling with teammates (especially those of lesser rank) who frustrate you and/or tap you often. Not rolling when you’re tired so as not to get beat by a lesser skilled, but fresher or more athletic teammate. Not taking chances or trying new techniques that might leave you vulnerable.

Breath and relax. Only when you’re calm can you see what’s happening. And when you can see what’s happening you can start to learn. You will learn more “losing” calmly than “winning” by spazzing and scrambling like a wounded cougar.

Have specific and achievable goals. This seems to be especially applicable if you find yourself (like I often do) rolling almost exclusively against grapplers with more skill and ability. If you’re working on your kimura and there’s no one in class that you can actually submit, try to just dominate the arm and catch the kimura grip. Maybe you’re training partners are too good for even that—what position do you want to set the kimura up from? Set a goal to at least get there.

Roll with everyone. It’s easy to fall into the habit of rolling almost exclusively with a few training partners that give us fun and reasonably competitive rolls. There’s nothing wrong with rolling with our favorite training partners, but we also benefit from those training partners who are behind us a bit in athletic and technical ability as well as those who can crush us. When rolling with a training partner you can easily beat, don’t take the easy way out and just throw on your best submission every time—use this roll to try new techniques or roll from a position you are week from. When rolling against someone who can easily beat you, don’t put all your focus on not getting tapped at all costs—concentrate on things like good postures, good movements, good fundamentals, etc.

Don’t be afraid to use positional sparring during open mat when it makes sense. Positional sparring during live sparring might make sense if you’re working on a specific move or specific piece of your game—this could be especially helpful if you roll with a more advanced training partner who is especially good at what you’re working on who can give you feedback after the roll.  It might also make sense if you’re nursing an injury and are concerned some positions may leave you vulnerable to aggravate the injury. Positional sparring may also make sense when rolling with a new student who is not comfortable engaging—you can save time and get to the actual sparring if you just let them start in side control.

To wrap things up: Live sparring is a great way to evaluate your jiu jitsu, make adjustments, and refine your technique. To get the most out of it you need to treat it as a learning and training exercise as opposed to a competition to be won or lost. Always remember—there is no honor in gym wins.

Train hard. Train smart. Get better.

By Joe Thomas Find more articles by Joe Thomas here

Positional Sparring: Getting the most out of it

Drilling is a great way to practice new moves and memorize the sequence of movements necessary to complete a technique. However, it can lack the element of “aliveness” necessary to prepare you for executing techniques in a real-life scenario. Whether it be a competition or an actual altercation you will need to be prepared for a much more chaotic environment. Free rolling, or live sparring, most closely resembles real-life scenarios, but the jump from drilling to free rolling can leave a gap—this is where positional sparring can be very helpful.

I’m sure most people reading this are familiar with positional sparring, but just in case there is someone new to jiu jitsu who is not: Positional sparring most commonly starts with two teammates in a static starting position like full guard. The student on top is challenged to pass the guard while the student on bottom is challenged to sweep or submit. Once one student accomplishes their goal they reset back to the starting position.

Here are a few suggestions, based on my own experience that may help you get more out of positional sparring. Keep in mind that these suggestions are in the context of learning and refining technique. There may be other reasons for positional sparring and other strategies may be more suited at those times.

Try the technique that was taught in class. Often positional sparring follows the technique portion of class and will be from the same position. It will be hard to hit the technique (after all your training partner just saw it as well) but the best time to work on a technique is when the instruction is fresh in your mind.

Focus on accomplishing your goal more than preventing the other student from accomplishing theirs. Sure, you’re more likely to be swept when attempting a pass, but that’s how flaws in your technique are revealed. If you’re training with a better grappler you will probably get passed when you open your guard—embrace it, that is the best way to see the flaws in your game.

Always be making progress towards your goals. If your training partner is passing your guard and you catch their foot in “1/4 guard” you may be able to hold them there preventing them from completing the pass—but is this the point of the exercise? Maybe it is if you’re preparing for a tournament—maybe you’ll find yourself there in a match and preventing the pass could mean the win, but you can literally spend most of a positional sparring round stuck in this position. For me, I’d rather concede the pass and re-set so I can work on my game.

Don’t automatically default to your comfort zone. If the positional sparring starting position is butterfly guard — transitioning to x-guard to a sweep, is probably a legitimate strategy. But if x-guard is part of your “A” game and you already have consistent method of getting there from butterfly guard then you are missing out on one of the main benefits of positional sparring which is to become proficient from all positions. Take advantage of this positional sparring session to work on traditional butterfly guard sweeps, arm drag to back take, or something else you can add to your game.

If your school does not include positional sparring as a regular part of class give it try on your own time. You may find it helpful. You may also find positional sparring to be a safe way to train if you are nursing a minor injury—pick a position you feel safe in and work from there.

Train hard. Train smart. Get better.

By Joe Thomas Find more articles by Joe Thomas here

Drilling: How To Get the Most Out Of It

Drilling is a common method for learning and refining techniques in jiu jitsu. While drilling is not complicated, there are a few concepts and fundamental aspects that once understood, will help you get the most out of it. Here are a few suggestions I would make based on my own experience.

When you are the one drilling the technique:

Ask questions and make sure you’re getting it right. The way you drill a move is the way you will execute it when rolling. Don’t drill bad technique. If you’re confused about a move or sequence, ask your coach for clarification. Ask your training partner for feedback.

Use proper positional fundamentals when setting the move up. If your drilling a back take starting from half guard knee shield position. Make sure your knee shield is strong and you’re using good frames so as not to get flattened out. In live rolling you’ll never pull the move off if you’re constantly smashed and flattened out every time you’re in bottom half guard.

Finish the move. If you are drilling a sweep, don’t settle for just knocking your training partner off his base, follow through until you are in a dominant position. If you’re drilling a pass continue until you’ve secured side control or knee on belly and are setting up the next transition or submission. If finishing the move is not a part of your drilling, you will find yourself constantly in live rolling “almost” getting the sweep or pass.

Experiment and pay attention to detail. Let’s look at the scissor sweep. Will gripping the sleeve at the wrist or elbow work best for you? When gripping the sleeve at the wrist, does a pistol grip, or a pocket grip work best for you? Does it work best for you to have you shin across your partner’s torso parallel to the floor, at a 45-degree angle, or something in between? These are just some of the details of one move that need to be looked at and experimented with. Drilling gives you the best opportunity to do this.

When playing the role of Uke, or, “the one who receives the technique”

Apply the appropriate amount of resistance. The only thing worse than having a training partner simply fall over before you’re even half way through setting up a sweep is when they go into full lockdown “you’ll never sweep me” mode. Initially you should apply enough resistance that your partner must do the technique correctly but no more. As you progress and train with more experience training partners the level of resistance will increase slightly.

Think about your defense and counters. The key here is think about your defense and counters. You are not actually trying to prevent your partner from completing the move or counter them. At a bare minimum, when your training partner drills a sweep or pass, assume the correct defensive posture including frames and hand positions as they complete the move.

Provide some feedback for your training partner. I never presume I’m qualified to tell others (especially those at, or above, my rank) how to do jiu jitsu, but I’m more than comfortable providing simple feedback like “when you gripped behind my elbow I felt like the technique was stronger than when you grabbed my sleeve at the wrist”.

This is not an exhaustive list or a list of the most important…. It’s just a list of things worth considering to help you get more out of drilling.

Train hard. Train smart. Get better. 

By Joe Thomas Find more articles by Joe Thomas here

Are You Doing the Right Things Before and After BJJ?

What you do before matters, what you do after makes a difference.

Tell me if this sounds familiar: It’s Tuesday, you know you go to jiu jitsu on Tuesdays, but you go about your day without giving jiu jitsu a second thought. It’s after work and you’re at home engaged in some mundane task and all of a sudden – “crap, I gotta be to class in 30 minutes”. So, you grab your bag, hit the road and get to the gym with just enough time to suit up, line up, and start class.  After class, you rush home to finish up a work project, catch your favorite TV show, or engage in some other non-jiu jitsu related task. Been there? You’re not alone. But what if we treated jiu jitsu class like it was one of the most important appointments we had this week? What if we determined that, “I’m investing a good bit of time and money into this hobby, I’m going to do absolutely everything I can to get the most from my investment”? I propose that there are a few simple things we can do before class and after class to maximize the benefits we get from each training session.

Here’s a few things you might consider doing before training to get the most out of each class. This is not meant to be an authoritative or all-inclusive list…. just some ideas that might be helpful.

  1. Ensure that you are well hydrated considering the water you will lose due to perspiration. This is first because ideally you will drink a little more water throughout the day. Drinking two additional 16 oz. bottles of water in the last hour before class will only result in a full stomach and a full bladder. If you are routinely adequately hydrated simply consider adding an additional 16 oz. bottle during the day.
  2. In anticipation of the additional calories you will burn, make sure you have consumed an adequate amount of fuel. I’m not a nutritionist and won’t offer any specific dietary advice, but I can’t state strongly enough how important it is for each athlete to do their own research and come up with a plan that works for them. For me the most important aspect of this is timing: If I eat anything substantial within two hours of class I feel bloated and slow, on the other hand, if it’s been more than 5 or 6 hours between my last meal and a training session I feel like the gas tank hits empty midway through class. So, I try to eat a full, well rounded meal 6 hours or so before class and a light snack 3 to 4 hours later.
  3. Engage in some pre-class mental preparation. If you had an important work meeting where you were required to give a report and would be expected to participate in a round table discussion wouldn’t you review your notes for your report and make sure you knew something about the topics for the round table discussion? My instructor puts out a monthly training schedule—we know a month in advance what positions we will be working from in every class. I take 10-15 minutes late in the day to watch a few tutorial videos on whatever position we will be working that day. If you keep a training journal or take notes, 15 minutes before class would be a good time to review them.
  4. Get to the gym early enough to do something productive before class. This will look different for each athlete. I’m older and my joints don’t work as good as they used to. For me an extra 10-15 minutes of stretching makes all the difference in the world. If you’re a 25-year-old competitor, maybe you need some higher intensity warm ups to be ready for class. If nothing else…. grab a partner and rep some techniques.
  5. Establish a pre-class routine. If you do “A, B, and C” before every class, like eating at the same time, watching some tutorial videos, and taking the same route and listening to the same music on the way to class soon “A, B, and C” will become triggers that help get your mind right and focused for class. See Pavlovs Dogs

And here’s a few things you might want to consider doing just after class to maximize the benefits from each class and prepare you for the next.

  1. Take a few minutes to stretch and reflect after class. Lately I have been noticing that many of the top guys I train with find a quiet corner somewhere to spend 15 minutes after class stretching out. Knowing these guys like I do, they’re not just stretching….they’re analyzing their performance and making mental notes so their next class will be more productive.
  2. Get some help/advice from your coach or training partners. After class is a great time to ask your coach for clarification on something he taught that night or to grab one of your training partners and say “hey, you seemed to sweep me really easily from ½ guard, you mind showing me what you did?”.
  3. Document and journal what you did and what you learned. Journaling is not for everyone, but if you do it—the sooner after class the better.
  4. Fuel and rehydrate. You should drink plenty of water during and after class and if you cannot get home and eat something right away consider taking a recovery shake with you.
  5. Address any injuries or aches and pains. If you didn’t tap soon enough to an armbar or foot lock, getting the joint iced and elevated ASAP and taking some anti-inflammatory meds can be the difference between taking one day off or needing to miss 3-4 days.

You may be asking yourself how will making these changes to my pre and post training routine make a significant difference in my jiu jitsu game. The truth is, these types of changes can make a difference, but you won’t see the difference overnight. If you make improvements in your pre-training hydration and dietary practices you may find that you have enough energy to put an extra round of sparring in at the end of class—this won’t result in significant improvement over the course of a month or two…but over the course of a year, this will add up to hours and hours of additional sparring which will result in significant improvement. If you stretch and address aches and pains right after class you may find that you can make it to a few extra classes in a month and a few classes each month turns into 20-30 extra classes a year which will result in significant improvement. The key is: make incremental improvements, trust in the process, and be patient.

Train hard. Train smart. Get better at jiu jitsu

By Joe Thomas Find more articles by Joe Thomas here