Five Ways to Get Better at BJJ

This is something that concerns every student of BJJ!  Whether you’re just now starting out, or you’ve hit a wall in your training, here are five things to do in order to improve your jiu jitsu.

5.  Learn to flow.

Jiu jitsu is the “gentle art.”  What does this mean?

In a nutshell, it means learning to use your partner’s energy against them, to redirect their force into another direction so as to make them move a little too far, or a little to the left, or a little to the right.  This is how off-balancing and sweeping a larger, stronger opponent is possible.  Easier said than done!

So how do you flow?  The quickest way to learn to do this is to remember:  you must lose at the gym in order to win at jiu jitsu.  You have to learn to relax in order to let positions happen.  In the process of doing this, you will be beaten!   Remember that this is part of the process of learning, and that flowing takes time to figure out.  You have to balance the process of trying to execute techniques with trying to let your partner give you enough resistance.  Ultimately, you will have to learn how to use as little energy as possible in order to overcome force.

Relax while you’re training, remember that your goal isn’t to tap out your training partners every class, but rather to learn jiu jitsu, and you will surely improve.

Above is an example of some flow rolling.  Look at the positional exchanges.  Neither guy is overly tense, or especially trying to dominate for more than a few seconds:

4.  Ride the waves.

Every jiu jitsu practitioner goes through peaks and valleys in their quest to understand grappling.   Some days, you feel like the king of the world.  Other days, you feel like a first day white belt.  The interesting thing about this phenomenon is that you can actually use it to your advantage!

How?  When you’re on the top of a wave, you’re able to dominate seemingly anyone, and execute virtually any move you want to try out.  Things are really clicking for you.  This is the time to perfect your offense.

When you’re at the bottom of a wave (a “valley”), use this opportunity to work on your defense.  Let everyone dominate you, but figure out how to get out.  And remember:  even if you’re unable to escape, you are still learning how you’re being dominated!  This is all part of the journey.

3.  Watch other people roll, especially people who are better than you.

You can accomplish this at the gym, especially if there are upper belts rolling constantly at your gym.  At Revolution BJJ, there are generally always brown and black belts rolling every day.  Watch them roll, but also be sure to watch the blue belts.  Sometimes the brown and black belts are doing things that are more confusing than not, whereas the blue and purple belts are generally more easily understood and replicated.

You can also make progress on this one at home, by watching videos of high level guys rolling and competing.  There are hundreds of great videos of BJJ competition on Youtube, from local to international competitions.  Be sure to take advantage of being able to do this one as “homework”, one of the few things you can do on your own!

2.  Focus on one thing for a set period of time.

Jiu jitsu can be overwhelming.  Because of the wonderful underlying structure of the art, it is a never-ending process of change.  New positions and submissions are invented every day.  If you try to become a master of everything, you will surely become a master of nothing.  Note that the word “master” is relative here; you certainly will never understand a position or move as well as you possibly could understand it if you just worked on it a little longer, but you can certainly develop things that you make your own.   At Revolution BJJ, for example, there is a monthly theme for techniques taught in the majority of the BJJ classes.  Themes include passing the guard, the Kimura, armlocks, escapes, and many more.

1.  Keep at it!

I asked one of my brown belts for his advice to new students to jiu jitsu.  In his words, “I don’t know what to say to anyone, other than the 3 most wonderful words I’ve been told since I was a boy – ‘keep at it.’ “

Profound in its simplicity, this elegant- yet elusive- advice is the most important to follow from this list.  It’s probably also the most difficult.  A wise man once said, “A black belt is just a white belt who never quits.”  There is a great deal of truth in this statement.  Remember that if you are training at a good school, and you are dedicated, you are on the path to black belt, and (more importantly) to improving over time by leaps and bounds.  Be patient, and improvements will come.

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Andrew Smith