Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Wrestling, Judo, or any grappling style, for that matter, are all challenging arts to learn proficiently, especially if you are not a naturally talented athlete or someone transitioning from a different grappling background. The foundation of a grappling art utilizes concepts that allow for easier management of an opponent or attacker who is physically larger or stronger than you are. Assuming that this person doesn’t also have the grappling experience needed to resist, it may be easier for someone who has at least two years of experience in grappling to subdue an unsuspecting attacker. This makes for a more challenging situation in a competitive environment where the opponents are matched by weight, age group, and experience. So, how do we leverage that obstacle?
There are a few things you can do to ensure your level of performance is superior in a competitive environment and self-defense situation against a large attacker. The following tips are almost sequential but not necessarily. I have broken them down into three phases: Discovery, Learning, and Testing.
Repetition creates muscle memory and allows you to find weak areas in your grappling style and strategy. Allowing yourself to train as much as possible within your schedule gives you more opportunities to train against people in different sizes and with different physical attributes. Pay attention to how your techniques work on each person and adjust as necessary. What works on some may not work on others, and you may need to supplement your method to make it work.
There are thousands of hours of video on YouTube and instructionals on the internet that you can harvest. Some are free, such as YouTube. The important thing here is to make sure that the source is reputable so that you are not wasting time on experimental techniques that others are doing. It may help you to focus on a specific subject of research rather than watching grappling videos of all sorts.
Your instructor should have a private lesson program in place that you can utilize. Have a list of issues you want to troubleshoot and have him or her critique them and fix them if necessary. Ask questions and ask how to they can strengthen it.
You’ve heard the term “Drillers Make Killers.” As cliche as it may sound, it is true. Drilling improves muscle memory. Admittingly, I am not a fan of drilling, however as I struggle recently to learn to play guitar, I have acquired a new-found love for drilling and understanding the need to repeat something over and over until it becomes second nature.
Start your rolls from the position you are troubleshooting or want to improve. I can guarantee you that you will lose a lot more matches in the gym to even white belts than you will win, but you are not there to win. You are there to learn. Say, for example, you are working on a butterfly sweep. Start from your sitting butterfly guard and attempt to sweep your training partner with only the technique you are learning. Once you have successfully done so, reset and do it again. This time it will be harder since your partner knows what you did the last time. The challenge increases, and this is perfect since the time will come when you will find someone with an excellent butterfly sweep defense that will see your move coming. As my instructor says, “Good Jiu-Jitsu is not catching someone by surprise; it’s hitting them with a technique so solid that they can’t stop it.”
Once you have completed the steps above, allocate 6 to 9 weeks of your training schedule to focus on overcoming this problem area even further. Do not allow yourself to fall back to your winning game; instead, try to employ these techniques you are learning and see if they work for you or require more tweaking. This step is different than situational drilling. You would roll as usual, except, you will find the way to chain, or implement your new techniques in your setups. Learn to navigate through your game to find the position you need for this technique to happen. That way, you know you can take your game there on your terms. Being proactive is more efficient than being reactive.
Once you have completed your Learning Phase, sometimes twice or more times over, it is time to put it to the test. Contact your older teammates that are training somewhere else. Or perhaps gyms you trained at before. Any local gym will do; however, one that you trained at before works best since you already know how you stacked against them previously. Ask for their open-mat schedule and visit. You are not there to win either; this is an opportunity to test your new skills against someone who wasn’t part of your learning phase and process. If you find something is not working, perhaps you need to circle back to troubleshooting those areas.
Competition is where you can step things up a notch. This is the winning time you were waiting for. By now, your technique should be cleaner and more efficient. You will also be able to add non-technical attributes to solidify the outcome, such as strength, weight, flexibility, speed, etc. All of which you were supposed to leave out when you were learning the technique. Only because you can harness physical attributes on command without the need to train them.
For the more serious and competitive athletes, it is essential to ensure that you are training your physical condition with strength programs and cardiovascular training. Contact a dietician and have them make a diet plan for your level of activity. This is not as expensive as you may think, and it is often a one-time consultation with a certified dietician.