Break your path, Wear your Path

You are shown the technique and practice it. You are corrected in your technique, usually several times, and adjust accordingly. You are praised for “getting it” and are now searching for the next. This is the usual routine for most students learning a new technique. And this is where most students fall short.

Learning a new technique is finding a new path through the woods, from one village to the next. You are told where you need to go and accept it readily. Through instruction and repetition, you are given the landmarks and shortcuts; avoiding the thorns, animals, and sketchy bridges. Through correction, most students navigate their way through the technique or the woods, arriving at the technique’s completion or next village.

But a freshly worn path is only as good as the moment you made it. Soon after it will be overgrown and slow moving. It’s not enough to break the path, you must wear the path. Your movement along it gets smoother, quicker, and with little hacking along the way.

You see this manifesting when 2 grapplers do the exact same technique, village to village, but one looks so much more slick, smooth, and “quick”…the other looks janky, jerky and almost painful.

The repetition that counts most in learning a technique, are those that happen AFTER you “understand” and can imitate the technique, AFTER the path is broken. Once you think you have it, THAT is the time to drill it most.

Traveling a freshly worn path frees your mind to relax, and more easily find new paths along the way. 


Source: Jon’s Jiujitsu Thoughts

When the hand is raised

steve hand raise In defeat: If the opponent’s hand is raised. Blame no one, for there needn’t be blame. You put in your effort during and up to this point, the rest is out of your hands. Be thankful for the opportunity, and respectful of your opponent’s hard effort before and during their contest against you. They were on the same mat at that moment. Be thankful for his willingness to put himself in the same position as yourself, where only one can win today, in front of everyone, and one must lose. Cherish his courage that matches your own. Ignore the shallow comments of the bleacher peasants and on-line warriors, they are spectators and you’re the sportsman. Be proud, take credit for all the hard work and planning you put into the weeks leading up to this moment.

In victory: take the moment to absorb what happened, record it for later review, take pride in being there, shake hands, acknowledge their skill. Don’t run around like an idiot… beating your chest, digging them an air grave, flipping them off or throwing your mouthguard. No dropping to your knees, pointing to and thanking the gymnasium ceiling. Shake their coaches hand, walk off and recharge. Avoid the temptation afterwards to gush over details of your victory, especially to someone who has just lost. A person can be judged better by how they handle victory than by their ability to achieve it, because the latter is all you.

Would an outside observer be able to tell if you won or lost, if no hand was raised, based only on your immediate post-match behavior? The goal is no.
Source: Jon’s Jiujitsu Thoughts

Jiujitsu is without pain.

Jiujitsu is painless, technical, and flowing. That is a beauty of Jiujitsu.

It can be done by all walks of life, with anybody, regardless of stature, and without pain.

A jiujitsu technician can go from training with a power lifter to a child, small-framed lady,  and an old man, without skipping a beat, and without a break to change gears between them. It is formless and always finds the easiest flow, whether you can follow it or not.

Nobody is perfect, however, and through our imperfections, we ALL get hurt, but the pursuit of the painless, technical, and flowing beauty of Jiujitsu is our mission.

To “fail” pursuing the path of least resistance is divine and constantly evolving. To “succeed” smashing your way through limbs, nose and teeth, is temporary and weak. Avoid the urgent, cheap thrill of temporary “success”. Jiujitsu doesn’t hurt, but the lack of its mastery can.

Source: Jon’s Jiujitsu Thoughts

When that move “doesn’t work on him”

We’ve all overheard this one. Two grapplers will be either finishing their rolling or momentarily pause during it, with one of them explaining “that move never works on you”.

There are 2 likely reasons for this:

1) The most likely is that your technique was just shitty and that particular partner just happened to see through it and defend accordingly. Most times it isn’t what is different with the partner you couldn’t get it to work on, it’s usually the weakness’ or inexperience of all the others whom it DID work on that should concern you. The worst technique ever will usually work on the new dummies, and it can start to foster bad habits as you are repeatedly rewarded (in the form of a successful tap or pass etc) for a technique with too many holes. For sure, this would be exposed by someone with more experience. And when it does, it can tempt the “that move never works on you”. Just because someone tapped or the move worked on the others doesn’t mean it was a good technique, and that this particular grappler is just an exception.

2) They have some outstanding physical attribute(s). They are too heavy or too strong or flexible. This just means that your techniques just needs to be more like the way you learned them, and not the abbreviated way you‘ve gotten away with in the meantime.  The previous victims were likely lesser experienced partners tapping out of discomfort, fear, or possible sympathy or boredom. The defense to any attack isn’t what the defender does, it’s what he notices the attacker isn’t doing. Likely, you didn’t apply the correct technique in the first place, at the proper time, with all the proper details applied, in order, technically.

Regardless, which would you wish to correct in your own training? Would you attempt to change your partner’s attributes, defenses, natural, technical, or otherwise? Or would you train your own technical savvy, that would apply to all other grapplers you are to evolve with, which includes the “exception”?

It’s totally natural to wonder why that move didn’t work on them, and why they are such an exception. But be thankful that they exposed what you were doing wrong all along.

Ask: What am I doing wrong with this technique, exposed by the “exception”, that is going unnoticed or not seized upon by the others?! A constant state of adjusting, tweaking what we think we know.


Source: Jon’s Jiujitsu Thoughts

Showing up Is Not Half the Battle: Mathematics of BJJ Skill Acquisition

Jiujitsu is so open-ended, ever expanding…without clearly defined edges. Progress is difficult to measure as it is difficult to have a clearly defined measuring stick that isn’t also in constant change with you. An ultimate differential equation to math nerds. Judging progress can be like judging an art contest; it’s complexity this way makes it beautiful. Everything is qualitative: better, smoother, gentler, more. It might be refreshing in the gentle world of unknowns to at least have something we can measure. By the numbers, trackable, and a constant reminder of how somebody training once a week can get more experience than somebody training everyday.

We can start with a live rolling session. Let’s say 30 minutes, switching partners every 5 minutes, with the option to take breaks as needed. And within every separate roll there are any number of movements and positions within it. Movement is the essence of jiujitsu, but can also be hard to measure. Positions, however, can be measured by a number, not the infinite variations of positions, but a number of positions employed in a given roll, and this is where everything starts.

Any position acquired has that 3-5 second window of escape, to avoid scoring and, more importantly, to kill momentum. As an example, if you can hold a cross mount after a guard pass for the 3-5 seconds to score after they’ve done their best to escape during their greatest chance to escape, it is very likely you can hold it for 3-5 minutes. Once that window closes, the passer reinforced his pass, and the passer learned his lesson (the point system exists to remind them both). They both gained invaluable experience and can evolve from it, perfect, and will both walk from it a better grappler.

After this position is established, you could either move on to the next opportunity for more experience or could let that position lay stagnant, “let em burn” for a bit. Sure, there is a skill to continuing to maintain position for minutes on end, and we’re not saying otherwise. It’s just that drastic diminishing returns on experience occur shortly after the position is established and scored. The hard part is letting go of that security you now have, them not moving and no further cues to crush. Fear of losing that safety in exchange for getting smoked in transition, getting crushed and submitted instantly afterward can freeze the flow. Instead, however, looking forward to the new experience, be it defending from somewhere new, getting tapped or swept is the paradigm shift necessary to get past the “lay and pray” mentality. Part of Jiujitsu is to remind ourselves that the lesson goes for both players, regardless of who attacks/defends/scores/taps. Whether playing Kasparov or Dumdum 5.0, neither game is interesting, and nobody learns on either side of the board, without the pieces moving.

With this in mind, it’s what happens next that brings in the math.

Starting with all the grappling time available to you in the 30-minute session from above. If you take a break, every 5th round, 4-in 1-out, your chance of experience for the day drops by 20%. You’re already at 80% experience for the day!

Even worse, if in each roll you decide on holding each position or submission attempt for 10 seconds or more cuts your experience in half! It’s disgusting to think that five extra seconds now has you experiencing 50% potential!

You can see how heartbreaking it can project if you did both (now at 40%) or considered taking more breaks than 1 or holding onto positions longer than the 10 seconds!

You can see how just a couple small changes can have a drastic change to your overall technical experience. It is easier said than done, but the math doesn’t have permission to lie.

I’m not saying never to take a break, or that you won’t get stuck in a position for longer than 5 seconds. That is part of the game for sure. But the more you control what you can, and how you roll, the better control you have over your training.

This, of course, is without considering:

  • distillation of knowledge
  • reflection on what happened in the previous round(s)
  • the important skill of dealing with a partner not letting you move
  • your physical exhaustion or injury
  • psychological aspect
  • and anything else hard to put a number on 🙂

You can lie to yourself but the math won’t. How long do you stay in a single position or submission attempt? How long and often are your breaks? Control what you can.
Source: Jon’s Jiujitsu Thoughts

Your Jiujitsu Alphabet

One of the first things you learn in school is the alphabet. If asked what letter comes after “p” you’d most likely say in your head “l-m-n-o-p…Q” It’s so ingrained in us that for the rest of our lives we run that shitty song over in our heads countless times, for countless reasons. And most of us don’t remember even learning it.

A way to look at the basics of jiu-jitsu, the absolute fundamentals that should be learned first on your path, is as your “alphabet”. They comprise your fallback safety net to catch you when your brain gets confused. Before you learn the jokes or swear words of your new jiujitsu language, as fun as they may be, learn the 2 and 3 letter words. And before you learn those, learn the alphabet that those words are made of.

When learning a new technique, most people work on memorizing and practicing these new techniques as is, and unrelated to anything. It is treated as an awesome looking movement they want to master. And at best, you’ve learned THAT movement, for THAT moment in THAT position. At worst, and usually, it is imitated for a bit and fizzles out of existence.

An exponentially better approach is to see how what you’ve learned previously, the very basics, could be analyzed and arranged to give you at least the clues to figure it out. Use what you DO understand of your jiujitsu language already and go from there. Once you’ve begun looking at every new technique as a combination of the same basic movements you already know, you’ll find yourself coming back to your “alphabet”, and new ideas won’t seem so new. Instead of memorizing and practicing these new techniques as they are, you’ll be able to break it down as a combination of much simpler techniques. This technique is a skill in itself. Much more effective than taking each technique as is…This way of technical navigation will give you a much fuller understanding of the total language of jiujitsu.

The basic movements are your alphabet…learn them…you will need them to fall back on.