How I progressed at BJJ going to class 6 or 7 times a month

joe-thomas-2I was listening to my favorite podcast (The BjjBrick Podcast) the other day and realized that the host Byron Jabara frequently asks the guests he’s interviewing “what advice would you have for a BJJ practitioner who can only train once or twice a week?” For most of my BJJ career I have had very unorthodox training schedules that severally limited my training opportunities so I thought I would share a few things that have worked for me.
For our purposes here I will focus on a two year period when I worked a 14/14 schedule on a vessel in the Gulf of Mexico offshore oilfield. For 14 days I lived on the ship with no option to get to town and train and for 14 days I would be home. Of course when I was home I had to catch up on yard work, home maintenance, spending time with the beautiful wife, spending time with the kids, etc. so it’s not like I could train every day. My goal was to train 8 times every time but life gets in the way and a rarely met that goal. Yet still I progressed. Here’s what I did and what I would suggest for others.

1. Find a way to continue learning even when you’re off the mats. I used a couple books, a couple DVD sets, and youtube. Youtube is great because it’s free. I tried to spend at least 15 minutes each day “studying” jiu jitsu. A couple of suggestions on this point:
• Ask your coaches and training partners who they would suggest you learn from. You want to make sure you’re using quality sources.
• Study techniques that are right for you based on your experience level, age, and body type. If you’re just starting at 40 years old I would not suggest spending a lot of time studying inverted acrobatic jiu jitsu.
• Be systematic. If you’re off the mats 4 days and watch 2-3 youtube videos a day, don’t study 10 different things. If your school follows a program and you know ½ guard is the topic of the week, maybe stick to that at home. My school didn’t follow a program but I would study one move or position for 3-4 days before moving on.joe-thomas-1

2. Find some time to work on your cardio and fitness. I’ve heard a lot of suggestions and theories on this topic and am not enough of expert to say I have the answer, but here’s what worked for me. I put a timer app on my computer set for 5 minutes of work and 1 minute of rest and would do 3-5 rounds every day. Here’s an example of a circuit I would do with about 4X6 feet of mat space available to me: Shrimping in place, technical stand ups, sit ups (simulating sitting up to kimura or hip bump sweep), push up to knee on belly drill, umpa bridges, and wrestlers sit outs. I would do 10 reps each and continue the cycle until the 5 minute bell rang, rest and repeat. I felt this helped my cardio and conditioning while at the same time keeping my body accustomed to doing jiu jitsu movements for 5 minutes at a time.
 Pro tip: consider combing points 1 and 2 just like you would in class. Watch 15 minutes of instruction, spend 10 minutes stretching and visualizing the techniques you just studied, and then proceed with the circuit training.

3. Minimize the amount of time off the mats. On my 14/14 rotation I always tried to train right before I went to work and as soon as I got home, keeping my time off the mats to about 15 days. When this wasn’t possible and I ended up with 18-20 days off I could tell it took more training sessions to get my timing back – to see opportunities and to capitalize on them. If you train 6 times a month, once every 5 days is probably better than lumping several training sessions in short period of time and then being off the mats for 10 days.
 Pro tip: take advantage of every opportunity you have to train. If you’ve got an extra hour during the week at some point and can catch even just part of an extra class….go train. 20 minutes of drilling or ½ hour of open mat is not as good as a full class, but its way better than nothing.

4. Stay connected socially with your school and training partners. One of the hardest things about being that guy who only trains a few times a month is when you show up for class, see a few guys you don’t know but they seem to know everyone else, and one of them walks up and welcomes you to the class as if you’re the visitor even though you’ve been training at the school for years. Social media makes it easy to connect with your school and training partners. Connect with the school and training partners on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. and stay engaged. When you see a fellow student got a stripe, congratulate them and tell them you can’t wait to get to class and have a roll.
I’ll end with a word of encouragement: Whatever the reason is that you can only train once or twice a week (kids in extracurricular activities, working overtime, a toddler at home and a pregnant wife, etc.) it will pass. Maybe you feel like you’re making glacial progress for three years – you’ve worked your tail off and you’re a 4 stripe white belt — then life changes and now you can train a little more. You may at this point set a school record for progressing from 4 stripe white belt to purple and you will be glad that you stuck to your training routine.

Contributed by our friend Joe Thomasjoe-thomas-3