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
There have been dozens, maybe hundreds of these lists made. Some are short and concise (the top 5 things you need to know…) and some are longer, attempting to encompass more of the jiu jitsu journey. This is one of the latter. I have compiled this list based on my own experiences and feedback from my friends and training partners. When contemplating how long to make this list I settled on 22 in a nod to Mission 22 which is an organization that works to raise awareness concerning U.S. Military Veteran suicides. On average 22 veterans take their own lives every day. For more information about Mission 22 check them out here: Mission 22
1) Track your class attendance. There’s a particular number of classes per week that’s ideal for each student. Tracking your attendance will help you find this number and be consistent in hitting it.
2) Journal your class performance. This can be a simple as a note pad app on your phone where you just jot a line or two about the highlights or a more complex approach like using an Evernote template commenting on every technique, drill, and roll.
3) Create a word document that you review periodically. Some things that could be included in this document: Three “go to” moves/techniques from every position. In order, your three best positions to work from. A week area or two you’re working on.
4) Hydrate. All your bodies functions and processes are more efficient when you are properly hydrated. You will process nutrients more efficiently, clear toxins more efficiently, dissipate heat more efficiently, etc. etc. all these things will improve your performance on the mats. Proper hydration will also aid with appetite control.
5) Sleep. Most adults can function at a high level on 6-7 hours of sleep a day. For an athlete that should be considered the bare minimum. During periods of high intensity training 8 hours or more a day may be required. Most people not getting enough sleep only have themselves to blame….you do not need to watch one more episode of the Walking Dead. Turn off the TV and go to bed.
6) Cook your own meals. Cooking your own meals at home is a great way to make sure you’re eating the right portions, eating the right things, consuming the right amount of calories, etc. It will also save you money…..that you can then spend on more jiu jitsu.
7) Eat clean. No big secret here. Foods that are over cooked, highly processed, loaded with preservatives, or containing a long list of ingredients you can’t pronounce are not the ideal base for a healthy diet.
8) Eat the right foods at the right time. What you eat before training, after training, on your days off, etc. matters. Do some research and come up with a plan that fits your training schedule.
9) Supplement. As this is a very personal choice I won’t elaborate much except to say I’ve benefited from smart supplementation as have many of my training partners. If you chose to supplement: do smart research and don’t pay for hype.
10) Yoga. When polling my friends about off the mat activities they do that they feel improve their jiu jitsu performance, yoga was the number one option. Several of my friends advocated for “hot” yoga and some follow a more traditional yoga routine.
11) Stretching. If yoga is not your thing try a 10-minute dynamic stretching routine a few days a week
12) Lift weights. After yoga, this was the number 2 response I got from my friends. Most people I know chose a simple routine based on the fundamental lifts i.e. bench press, dead lift, squats, military press, pull ups, etc. These are compound movements that will build muscle mass and improve core strength.
13) Sprint/HIT training. Short bursts of intense/explosive movements are an excellent way to condition your body for the rigors of high intensity grappling. Most people I know who compete incorporate at least some HIT training in their routines.
14) Distance running. This seems to be the least popular option for off the mat physical activity. There are however some benefits worth considering. If you’re one of the many people who have never run more than a mile or two. Working your way up to a longer distance, maybe 5 miles, will burn fat and improve your cardio conditioning. More importantly it will test your will and prove to yourself that you can do more than you thought you could. It can also help with developing an overall healthy lifestyle.
15) Listen to a podcast. There are literally dozens of podcasts on jiu jitsu or more generally health and fitness. While this may be an off the mat habit that has minimal returns…. It also takes almost no effort. Find a few podcasts you like, subscribe, listen on your way to and from work
16) Watch tutorials/instructional DVD’s. While DVD sets can be quite expensive I know people, who have bought sets and have had their game transformed in as little as 2-3 weeks. If you don’t have the money or time to invest in purchasing and watching full length DVD sets there are many high quality 5-10 minute tutorials on youtube.
17) Watch competition footage. There’s nothing like watching the top athletes at your age/belt level in live action. In this day and age, it is as easy as going to youtube and searching “BJJ blue belt masters” or whatever age/belt/weight you are at.
18) Watch footage of your own training. My wife helps me with this, but if that doesn’t work for you there is almost always someone available that you could hand your phone to and say “can you film my next couple of rolls?”. This is most helpful if you save and date the video files for later review. If you review footage of yourself rolling in Jan, May, and Oct of the same year you should be able to identify some mistakes you’re continuing to make that need to be addressed as well as some areas of improvement.
19) Read something. Reading a little bit everyday will improve the quality of your life no matter what you read. I would suggest biographies of people who have accomplished great things, books on excellence, and motivation.
20) Create a morning routine. Studying the habits of highly successful high functioning individuals I’ve come to find that most of them get up early and follow a routine to get their day started. Here’s what has been working for me: Get my body moving, read something, and clean something. Time depending, I dedicate 15-45 minutes to this. Right after getting out of bed I do some stretches, yoga poses, and maybe some jiu jitsu movements. Next I read a chapter of a book. Then I do 5-10 minutes of house work. That last one really makes the wife happy. It’s amazing how much more productive the rest of my day is when I start with this routine.
21) Have another hobby …. surfing, hackie sack, parkour, etc. Having healthy hobbies is a part of living an overall healthy lifestyle. It will also give you something to do to stay in shape when you are injured or otherwise cannot do jiu jitsu.
22) Mentor another student. It’s common for students who have been doing jiu jitsu for a while to take someone under their wing in the gym—take the next step and take it out of the gym. Get their phone number and/or hook up with them on social media. Text them or message them when you see they’re making progress in the gym and hitting jiu jitsu milestones. Text them or call them if you haven’t seen them in the gym for a few days. Offer them some encouragement now and then and hold them accountable when needed. I saved this for last because not only can it help your jiu jitsu and the jiu jitsu of the student you are mentoring….it could possibly have a much larger impact on the life of the student you are mentoring. You never know when someone may be desperate for a friend or for someone to take a personal interest in their life.
No one is going to take a list like this and incorporate every suggestion into their daily lives. Many people reading this will, in fact already be doing some of these. I’m confident though, especially if you’re new to jiu jitsu, that you can find something on this list that if added to your daily routine will help to improve your jiu jitsu. Good luck and keep on rolling.
By Joe Thomas Find more articles by Joe Thomas here
Recently while listening to Steven Covey’s audio book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People I was introduced to the concept of P/PC Balance, or Production/Production Capacity balance. The idea is that we need to strike a balance between the amount of energy and focus we put into production right now, and the amount of energy and focus we invest in doing the things it takes to ensure we will continue to see production in the future.
In business, it is necessary to invest in capital improvement, employee compensation, training, surplus inventory, etc. One could shift their focus entirely to production, ignoring the need to reinvest and restock inventory, and for a short period see a dramatic increase in production and profit. This of course, would ultimately lead to the failure of the business.
This concept is applicable to almost any pursuit in life including Jiu-Jitsu. There are things you can focus on to see results right now ie. going to class, attending seminars, participating in tournaments, studying video, etc. and then there are things off the mat outside of the dojo that must be attended to for continued progress in Jiu-Jitsu long term. There must be a balance between these two areas of focus.
Maybe the most important off the mat investments we can make is in the maintenance of our bodies. One does not have to be a health nut or stud athlete to be good a Jiu-Jitsu–but if you do not take care of your body, your pursuit of Jiu-Jitsu will inevitably come to an unfortunate end. Spending additional time and money on quality food and meal preparation will not make you better at Jiu-Jitsu today and spending an extra hour a week stretching/doing yoga will not make you better at Jiu-Jitsu today… but these are the kinds of investments that will allow you to pursue Jiu-Jitsu long term. Also, along these lines, when it comes to training Jiu-Jitsu sometimes less is more. Training 5 plus days a week will most likely result in rapid gains–but for many of us it will also result in over training which leads to nagging ongoing overuse injuries, fatigue, and burnout.
For many people, having your family in your corner is a key element in the long-term pursuit of Jiu-Jitsu. I know that’s true for me. My kids are grown, but I still value and need the support of my wife. I strategically choose which classes I’m going to attend so as not to be taking away too much time from her. I could just go to class whenever I wanted with no regards to her, but it would only take a few weeks before I got the “it’s me or Jiu-Jitsu” ultimatum. It’s easy to jokingly say “I sure will miss her”, but the reality is my Jiu-Jitsu would be, at least temporarily, derailed. So making sure that she gets the time she needs is ultimately an investment in my ability to progress on the mats long term.
I’ve seen young people struggle to balance their pursuit of education and career with their pursuit of Jiu-Jitsu. I’ve known a few who put some things on hold to train Jiu-Jitsu. That might be fine if you’re one of the few people who have a legitimate shot at being a top-level competitor or successful gym owner. But for most of us, Jiu-Jitsu will be a lifelong part time hobby that requires ongoing financial investment. Putting your career or education before Jiu-Jitsu now may put you in a position in 10 years to comfortably afford to travel for tournaments, attend seminars, and take private lessons with high-level instructors.
Each person’s Jiu-Jitsu Journey is different. The off the mat investments that you need to make may be completely different than mine, but the fact remains, you will need to invest in “production capacity” if you want to continue to see “production” or progress.
Sharpening the ax
In 1885 there was a champion woodsman in a logging camp in the US Midwest named Olaf. He could fall more trees in any given day than any other tree faller for 500 miles. One day a new woodsman, Sven, showed up and after two weeks it was obvious he was in the running for the title of “best faller” in the camp. So Olaf challenged Sven to a contest: the two men would fall trees on Sunday when the rest of the camp was idle and whoever fell the most trees in 12 hours would be the champion.
The two woodsmen began chopping at 6:00 a.m. on Sunday morning. The men in camp could hear the axes striking the trees and the trees falling. After an hour and a half one ax fell silent—15 minutes later both axes were again heard at work. An hour and a half later, again, one ax fell silent. This continued all day.
At the end of the day Sven had felled 20% more trees than Olaf. Olaf was beside himself: “I heard your ax fall silent for at least 15 minutes almost every hour, how could you have fallen more trees when you stopped to rest so frequently?” Sven responded, “when you heard silence, I was not resting…. I was sharpening my ax”.
Grapplers that come to class and only want to roll and put all their effort into open mat are like Olaf who chopped wood for 12 hours and never sharpened his ax. Practitioners that put an appropriate amount of effort into drilling, positional sparring, and learning new techniques are like Sven, who saw the value in taking time to sharpen his ax.
Thank you to Joe Thomas for sharing this story.
Today I answer a question about developing an unpassable open guard. What are your thoughts on this topic?
Q: What are your tips for developing an unpassable
open guard, beyond the typical “mat hours”
response? What can I conscientiously do, drill,
practice etc. to better use those mat hours?
My guard retention is slowly but surely improving,
though I know I am lacking a lot of intentioned
So you want to get better at Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu? We have an APP for that! Well, not really an APP for your phone or tablet. APP stands for Attitude, Plan, Practice- three of the biggest factors that will effect the quality of your Jiu-Jitsu development.
Attitude– Your attitude is a huge factor in your success. A positive attitude will help you get past the many hurdles you will have in learning Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. A positive attitude will help you get back on the mat after a tough day of training. Your teammates are more likely to help and coach you if you have a great attitude. A humble attitude will keep you focused and motivated even after an accomplishment or milestone.
I recommend that you smile more, enjoy the training and make friends with your teammates.
Plan– Invest the time and energy to make a plan. Organized training is more effective than training moves and techniques randomly. Determine what areas of your game need to be worked on, and what areas of your game are already good but could be even better. Are the techniques you are good at complimentary of each other? Take time off of the mat to study the techniques you have selected in your plan. Your best techniques should work together, that way you can funnel your opponent to an area that you are very strong.
I recommend you get even better at your best technique, and it never hurts to add a few more ways to get to that technique.
Practice– Having a great attitude and a well thought out plan are excellent, but they will not get you very far if you don’t practice. Time on the mat cannot be substituted. If you are able to drill the techniques that you have in your plan you should do this. During the rolling phase of class it’s important to work your plan and not just go through random techniques on your training partner.
Make the most out of each time you step on the mat. Time with quality training partners on the mat is valuable.
This is an adaptation of an old saying “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”. In modern day thought, this means that it is better to have a sure thing than to risk the sure thing for more.
A choke that you know well and can perform at a higher level compared to your other techniques is worth two (well way more than two) in a book. In this day of BJJ and the internet, one of the biggest mistakes is for students to perpetually switch from learning different techniques and never mastering any of them. This style of learning is a mistake, and a common one.
Now for the original meaning of the phrase. This phrase comes from medieval falconry. The bird in your hand is your trained falcon, this falcon hunts other birds for you. The skills and tools you posses are worth way more than the rewards of a days work. Your skills, on the mat, at work, with people… falconry 🙂 are important to your successes. Spend time collecting powerful skills, not an overflow of knowledge you can’t use.
What are your thoughts? Modern meaning or original? BJJ related or off the mat?
This week we talk about making changes to your BJJ and developing a game plan. We break it down into 3 main steps: 1) Define the objectives 2) Get help 3) Do the work. You are the only person how is ultimately in charge of your BJJ development take responsibility and make it happen. To help you obtain your goal we strongly recommend that your write it down.
1) Define the objective– Make a realistic objective that is attainable but not too easy. Your objective can be a new move or you can try to change your style. You might decide to make one of your best moves (a brick) even better, or you could make a week area of your game stronger. Your objective could also be to drop a few pounds or become more flexible. It is up to you what you want to work on, make sure it is something that will pay off in the long run. Try to avoid picking a fad.
2) Get help– Tell your coach what you are working on, that way you two are on the same page. Get a small group of training partners together that will be able to help you. Find someone who is good at the area you are working on. Find a book that covers what you are working on, or watch YouTube videos(if you have not seen this YouTube thing, it’s pretty sweet).
3) Do the work– No one can do the work for you, and no one knows if you are working as hard as you can. The bottom line is you gotta work hard to make changes happen. At first making changes will be difficult, it will feel like you took a step backwards.
Toward the end of the show Byron explains how he is doing this 3 step process. He will be working on his back defense. He then goes through the 3 step process with his objective.
Quote of the week:“Do you listen, or do you just wait to talk?” Pulp Fiction
Article of the week: “Beware The Belt Chaser” Grapplearts.com