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Learning How to Learn With Jiu-Jitsu

Updated: Jan 4


“Jiu-jitsu is a philosophy that is expressed physically. It’s kind of the development of the mental in physical capacities working in unison to move efficiently and flowingly in a giving situation with a resisting opponent.” — Ryan Hall

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Learning Jiu-Jitsu

One of the hardest things I have encountered is understanding the process my brain must undergo to learn. For years, I made up excuses to justify my shortcomings. However, after a long period of self-reflection, I understood that no matter how amazing my coaches or teammates are, I will not grow and progress until I find the best protocol to aid my learning skills.

“We like to think of our champions and idols as superheroes who were born different from us. We don’t like to think of them as relatively ordinary people who made themselves extraordinary.” — Carol Dweck

Jiu-Jitsu Takes Time

While a small number of physically gifted individuals are more adept at attaining greatness with minimal effort, most of us require endless hours of practice to achieve a deep understanding of any subject and become efficient at applying said subject.

Jiu-jitsu is not an exception to this rule. It requires long periods of studying positional advantages, submission entries, transitions and strategies to become proficient in this martial art. However, there are a few “tricks” to speed up the learning process.

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” — Benjamin Franklin

Hands-on Approach to Jiu-Jitsu

Learning jiu-jitsu requires a hands-on approach. While from purple belt on, you will find yourself doing a great deal of learning away from the mats, as a white belt and blue belt, you will see the need for involvement. A kinesthetic learning approach works wonders here.

By applying the techniques and having them applied on us, we begin to understand the move on a more molecular level. Understanding the need for control of peripheral limbs or oscillatory joints becomes more obvious when we apply it than when we simply observe the move.

In fact, I have found that most moves require controls and grips that are almost invisible to the untrained eye but primordial to the success of the move. At this stage, it is also crucial to begin to familiarise ourselves with the anatomy of the human body, our own body mechanics and our strongest assets.

Body’s Language With Jiu-Jitsu Rolls

As white and blue belts, it is also necessary to prioritize our “rolls” and work toward understanding our body’s language. It is easy to get lured into rolling only with higher belts. At those levels, it is hard to decline a higher belt. But if we dedicate our entire sparring time to rolling with higher belts, we become defensive in nature, and we rob ourselves of the chance to practice our attacks.

The Black Belt List

60/40 BJJ Roll Rule

In my opinion, at white belt and blue belt, you should roll 60 percent of the time with folks who are your level or below and the other 40 percent with people who are higher ranked than you and/or bigger/stronger players.

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” — Albert Einstein

Finding Your Jiu-Jitsu Voice

I am not going to lie: I did with jiu-jitsu as I did with my job when I started. I copied and pasted when doing many of my assignments. At first, it was out of fear that I would mess up. I would find a memo previously written by one of our associates, and I would simply adapt it to fit the task at hand.

I did the same with jiu-jitsu. For the longest time, I simply copied and pasted moves and sequences I had memorized from watching my coaches. And as much as I respect my coaches and think the world of their games, that was not a sustainable approach. It took a serious injury to get me to change my approach and find my own voice.

Copy and Paste Jiu-Jitsu

After a bad knee injury, I could no longer copy and paste. I began to analyze the game. I began to prioritize what was needed to perform a successful move and then apply those principles mixed with my own twist. I no longer felt pressure to perform the move in the linear way I had memorized it; instead, I began exploring new paths. It was at this moment that my passion for jiu-jitsu was magnified.

Prioritize learning the strategical, physiological and psychological aspects of jiu-jitsu, and let your imagination and inspiration fill in the gaps. Find your voice and use it loudly.

“If you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit” — Banksy

Learn to Rest With BJJ

It’s easy to become obsessed with Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I am a perfect example of it. I went from a two-times-a-week hobbyist to a nine-times-a-week obsessive practitioner. And while there are many professional athletes who train at that rate for years, the reality is different for those of us who have full-time jobs, a family and social obligations to fulfill.

Learn to rest when necessary. Make sure to give your body the breaks it needs and time to heal. Listen to your body and your aches. Pay attention to the signals of overtraining: lack of sleep, increased resting heart rate, excessive soreness, irritability, etc.

“The sweet spot: that productive, uncomfortable terrain located just beyond our current abilities, where our reach exceeds our grasp. Deep practice is not simply about struggling; it’s about seeking a particular struggle, which involves a cycle of distinct actions.” — Daniel Coyle

MA Drills

Neuroplasticity for Jiu-Jitsu

Neuroplasticity is defined by as the capacity of neurons and neural networks in the brain to change their connections and behavior in response to new information, sensory stimulation, development, damage or dysfunction.

Myelin sheaths insulate the neural fibers and the neural circuitry. The more we practice a skill, the more myelin increases, thus creating a more defined neural pathway that helps us perform at higher levels.

But beware! If you are practicing inaccurate techniques and movements, that’s the way you will recall it. Wrapping myelin does not reinforce only our good skills. It reinforces whatever we do the most.

“Becoming is better than being.” — Carol Dweck

Enjoy the Jiu-Jitsu Journey

Do not be driven solely by results. Learn to enjoy the process until the process becomes the reward. If you can embrace the suck, the suck eventually becomes the inducement. This is what allows us to switch to a growth mindset.

Trick yourself into believing that you love the process — and even the ass beatings — and watch your dopamine baseline rise with every practice.

Dive Into Jiu-Jitsu

I could write a book on tricks that will aid your learning disposition, but it all starts with a willingness to attentively listen, check your ego at the door, become an active participant, look past the surface knowledge and dive right into the muddy waters.

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