The draw of this journal has been its constant tutorials and techniques. Some of you may have been disappointed lately, with the frequency of updates slowing down and fewer tutorials being put up.

As you may have figured out, this journal is largely a reflection of my personal interests. I only share techniques I use, and I only talk from my experience. So as my focuses change, so too does the direction of my journal.

Maybe I’m merely acting out the predestined mindset that befalls all purple belts, where I look back on my time as a blue belt and see how wrongheaded I was for collecting techniques instead of refining them. But lately, I’ve been returning to “old” techniques, working over all the details, and trying to increase their potency.

And it’s been one of the best things I’ve done in a long time.

Perhaps because of this, I’ve been worried about what people are actually doing with all of the information on this journal. My concern is that they’re getting lost in the euphoria of learning new techniques, or that they’re just collecting techniques for the sake of collecting them, but not putting in the work needed to improve their game or effectively incorporate new moves.

Because of this, I think it’s time to bring more attention to how to learn, not just what to learn.

I confess. I consume inordinately large amounts of BJJ information and techniques: dozens upon dozens of books, DVDs, magazines, blogs, forums, online tutorials and more. This is in addition to regular instruction. Its my nature to dig into a subject, compile research and compare data from different sources.

Do I recommend this for everyone? No.

For most, this is a sure way to suffer from information overload.

The only way I can handle this much intake is by balancing it against an equal amount of mat time. I train 5-7 days per week (including open mat), get to class early and often close up for the night. This isn’t to brag, but to give you a point of reference for comparison.

The average person with commitments like a full-time job, a family, bills, a social life, etc., gets in 2-3 classes per week. For them, sinking as much time, effort and thought into BJJ as I do isn’t possible (or advised). Should they also try to squeeze in watching and reading instructionals?

I’ll bet that if you’re going to regular classes under a qualified instructor (which, alas, not all of you are), you don’t really need much else. It’s nice and can be pretty helpful, but it’s not going to make or break you.

The best grapplers I know personally hardly study outside of normal classes (if they do at all). I suspect the vast majority of elite competitors don’t watch too many instructionals either. They all just put their heart into training and have superb teachers.

Even with all my extra mat time, I reach a point of “information saturation” where seeing more techniques won’t mean anything. There was a time when I could sit and watch an entire “BJJ A-to-Z” style instructional. These days I am only interested in ones on specific topics and techniques (lately the brabo choke).

The real value of instructionals to me is in troubleshooting and exploring certain aspects in depth. They can supplement your instructor but they cannot replace him.

I’ve talked with Eduardo, my instructor, about the abundance of BJJ media we have today. While he thinks it is for the best, he also feels something is now missing because of it. What he said stuck with me and I’ve given it a lot of thought.

When he first started, the instructor was only source of knowledge. This made you value each individual class and technique. You committed yourself to learning every move, since you couldn’t simply look it up again later; each lesson was invaluable since you couldn’t get it anywhere else.

Today, someone can go to class and be taught a move, and instead of taking ownership of it, he can think “Oh, I’ve seen this already” or “I’ll just watch this again later.” Their overexposure to techniques makes them mentally lazy. They see a fundamental move and find it mundane. Nevermind that they’re terrible at it — it’s just not as cool as the stuff they see online.

The point is not that instructionals are bad. Sometimes you honestly do need to review books and videos, and by being able to draw from multiple sources, students are less likely to have their instructor abuse his status. There may be topics that your instructor doesn’t address enough for your liking. The lesson is to be judicious in how you use these resources.

Let’s take a quick look at an ideal way to learn a new technique:

You are taught a technique and drill it. If you’re lucky enough to have a good teacher, you’re give a chance to isolate it with positional sparring. Or you may need to show initiative and try it in sparring.

What’s important is you go for it, regardless of whether or not you succeed. No matter how clumsy your attempt may have been, you thought of it and tried it. This plants the seed in your mind. The next time it comes up, you’ll think a little quicker and do it a little smoother. Repeat this enough times and suddenly you’ve got skill.

Now let’s see how misusing instructionals can pervert this process:

You find some interesting techniques in a book or online. You glance them over and make a note to try later. At class, you’ve got your attention split between what is being taught in front of you and the half-forgotten tutorials floating around in your head. When sparring comes, you drop whatever the day’s lesson was and fumble to piece together something else entirely.

Add to this the potential for the tutorial to be by an awful instructor, or to have been shot poorly, or it being a crumby gimmick. Why ruin your own learning process for it?

Again, don’t misinterpret this to mean that you shouldn’t try material from outside your school — I’m all for that. Some of my favorite moves are ones I picked up from the internet, magazines and DVDs (again, like the brabo).

What I am saying is you need to be smart about how you do it. Spoiling a class for yourself just so you can go for the clichéd “Newest Technique from Brazil” is a waste of time and money, to say the least. There are better ways to learn these moves.

Personally, I set aside the material I want to learn and wait until I have extra time, such as an open mat, to work it over. Then I try to approach it in an orderly fashion. I have to avoid indulging myself by testing out a ton of new moves. That can be a lot of fun, but it doesn’t actually improve my performance. I’ve got to have the self-discipline to properly drill each technique and limit myself to a reasonable number.

I’ll go into specifics of how I learn these techniques at a later date. For now, it’s enough that you’re thinking about this in a general sense. The topic of how to learn is an important one that deserves careful thought.

Ask yourself if your performance is improving by collecting instructionals and techniques or if you’re just gathering clutter.

Feel free to send me your answers.

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