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The Science of Jiu-Jitsu - Secret to better jiu-jitsu

By Tyler Bishop | Columnist for Knuckle Junkies

Is there a secret to getting better at jiu jitsu? Most of us learn early in our training that there isn't a special move or strategy that will make you better on the mats. You accept that everyone starts out at a "zero point" and that only time, energy, sweat, and dedication on the mat can change that. And while that all holds true throughout your journey through jiu jitsu, one thing is clear. Some people get much better, much faster, than others. Is it because they put more time into training? Sometimes, sure- time is the answer, but it's not always a matter of time.

We can all think of someone who has been training for a very long time, or trains frequently every week and hasn't improved very much relative to the time they've put in. We can also probably all think of someone who has put very little time in and some how improved significantly week to week. So what is the difference between the two. You could argue that genetics, brain capacity, etc. are the root cause, but while those elements are alive in this puzzle, they are not the main reason why one student improves over the other.

The secret to rapidly improving jiu jitsu isn't just time and energy. It is quality time and energy. Not the secret you were looking for is it? Let me explain…

If I come in and train 4 times per week, each training session probably looks very similar. I warm-up, learn a couple techniques, practice them each 8-10 times, then roll with others in the class for between 20-45 minutes. Does this sound like a normal class, it should? This is how most day-to-day classes are structured. It's the best way to teach jiu jitsu in a class setting, but what are you doing to get more out of each time you come in. Did you really learn those moves you just practiced 8-10 times, probably not. Did you apply them when you rolled after class, probably not. Did you continually find ways to put yourself in a position of repetition when you sparred, probably not? You see, if all you do is go to the class, practice a few "moves", and roll around for 25-45 minutes you probably won't see a vast improvement week-to-week. The reason is you didn't do anything to significantly improve your jiu jitsu.

Here are a few tips that you can use this week in class to help you improve week to week. If you use these principles correctly you will get better after every class.

Come to class with an idea of at least one thing you want to work on that day, and figure out how you will position yourself in sparring to repeat that position/submission/technique multiple times.

Practice each technique in class as many times as possible. If the instructor gives you time to do the technique 50 times then do the technique 50 times.

When you spar in class, practice the technique that you decided before class that you wanted to practice, but also work on applying the new techniques you just learned. You may have just practiced something 50 times, and at no other time will it be more fresh in your memory. If it works well, you will build on it and get better, if not- fix it. If the techniques didn't work figure out why, otherwise you just wasted the entire class.

Utilize your time efficiently, if you're given 45 minutes of rolling time, use every second you can to train with a variety of partners. Train with opponents that are lesser than you, better than you, and close to your skill set.

Go the extra mile and add these elements into your weekly training as well. The people that truly improve by leaps and bounds use the following strategies to do it.

Focus on your strengths. If you are good at a few positions, continue to improve those until they are elite. This will become your "game", and what you use in competition to gain an edge over your opponents. Too many times we obsess over improving weaknesses and remain average overall.

Drill, drill, drill. Positional sparring has been a long-time tool for the top camps, teams, and competitors looking to improve. When I roll I may only practice a real-life guard pass once in the 5 minute time period, but during positional sparring that is all I'm doing. Practice starting in guard or half-guard and have one guy sweep and the other pass. You can get a lot of live reps very quickly this way. This is the epitome of quality time on the mat. This can be done to practice attacking, passing, sweeping, escaping, defending, etc. This should be a part of any competitors weekly regiment.

Watch film. It seems simple to just watch YouTube, but seek out something particular you'd like to work on and completely skip the instructional videos. Focus on finding a live match in which you can watch a good competitor apply the techniques successfully. Notice the details they use, and what exact positions they use them from.

Other great jiu jitsu folks could probably fill a book with additional information, but these things have led to fast and successful improvement for Jena and I. I believe if you take the above information to heart you will truly get better at jiu jitsu everyday.

Tyler Bishop is a Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Brown belt who runs, a website devoted solely to the science of jiu jitsu. He is also an assistant jiu jitsu instructor at Gracie Humaita St. Louis. As a competitor he is a 6x State jiu jitsu champion, 8x NAGA champion, and former amateur MMA champion among many other accomplishments.

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