When your first starting out in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, it can be overwhelming. There are so many new techniques and ideas to learn that you don’t always know where to start. Even as you improve, knowing the best way to improve can be difficult. Sometimes I felt like I was never going to be able to improve on everything, but I eventually did (still, I have a long way to go). I even won third place in a NAGA tournament!
So, if you’re looking for ways to improve your skills, here are some tips to keep in mind, no matter your skill level:
1) Don’t Be Afraid to Fail
This isn’t just a tip for BJJ — this is a tip for life itself. We live in a world now that views any sort of failure as bad. But it’s a simple fact that failure is one of the best teachers. Often, you have to try something over and over again before you get it right. Every time you mess up, you learn what not to do, which all comes together to help you eventually learn how to do something the right way.
2) Measure Success Internally, Not Externally
Another common fear we have is that of losing to someone else. We get so wrapped up in whether we win or lose that we forget that’s not really the point. Sure, that person you just rolled with might be better than you — but are you improving?
The easiest way to start to feel down about your abilities is to constantly measure your skills by comparing them to others. This is a trap, because you will always find someone who is better than you. Instead, measure your skills by comparing how you were in the past to how you are now. Have you improved? Are you making progress? Have you learned something new or mastered a skill that you didn’t know before? These mean you are getting better, and should be the only marks of progress you’re concerned about.
3) Roll Consistently
There’s a difference between learning something with your head and learning something with your heart. To first understand a new concept or skill, you have to learn about it and try it out in a controlled environment, trying each new move until you understand how it works.
That’s head knowledge.
To really, truly acquire the skill, though, you have to try it out on others in a less controlled situation. In other words, you have to roll (or “spar”) with others. A rolling session is where all of the training you have been working on during your own time finally gets put to the test. You try out your new moves, see how they work in a real situation and practice until you get them right. The more you work on them in a rolling session, the easier and more natural they become until you can do them right, each and every time, almost without thinking.
That’s the knowledge of the heart.
4) Feel No Shame
When you’re rolling, your first instinct is to win at all costs. This isn’t a healthy way to approach these sessions. Sure, we all want to win, but that isn’t always the point. Every time you roll, you learn. And one of the most important lessons to learn is that it’s okay to admit defeat.
Sparring with someone better than you? Take this opportunity to learn from them and see how they work. You can learn valuable tips and tricks from a more skilled opponent, even if the odds are stacked against you. There’s always something more to learn.
5) Realize There’s Always Something More
At times you may feel like you really understand a concept or you’ve mastered a skills. When this happens, it is good to rejoice in the fact that you are improving. The problem comes, however, when you decide to rest and stop learning for a while. The reason is simple: no matter how good you are, or how much you’ve learned, there’s always another level. There is no such thing as being “finished” when it comes to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. So, relish your success, but realize that every plateau being reached is just a step in a much longer staircase!
Of course, these are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to mastering BJJ. We didn’t even scratch the surface when it comes to actual moves or anything of that sort. However, if you notice, they all one thing in common: they aren’t about skill, they’re about attitude. Skill improves with practice and time. That’s a given. But without the proper attitude you can’t hope to master something that requires the time, love and dedication of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.