Yesterday I drove down to San Jose to train with Dave Camarillo at AKA in San Jose. I have not been down there for about a year simply because the drive is about an hour each way and with my family it is very tough to make it. On this day though I had some time and was fresh on the heels of my decision to work harder on progressing in bjj, so I got down there.
I arrived at the class during warm-up and joined right in with shrimp drills and a breakfall rotation. After that Dave demonstrated a basic guard pass which progressed into a sneaky choke from the mount. Both high percentage technical moves. We then moved on to some light drilling (see progressive resistance). In my view, this type of training is the key to improvement. This is where you really find out if the move works for you and how to make it your own. It is also a personal test I have for new instructors. If they don’t drill in class, I doubt they will help their students too much. Without resistance, there is no knowledge.
Afterward the drills, it was time to roll. I rolled with a variety of partners – a few white belts (one advanced, one beginner) and a blue belt. It was nice to see that the game we have developed here at the club held up well. At the time, I was just in the moment of rolling, but it should have been obvious to me that Dave was watching the whole time, and in some cases directing me to roll with different people – no doubt to gauge my game.
After 30 minutes of rolling, we all sat on the edge of the mat for Dave’s closing comments and I noticed he had a new blue belt in his hand. He started in “We have a new blue belt at the school today…” and proceeded to talk about our relationship of private lessons over the years and I began to realize that this was in fact the day I had been waiting on. It was surreal, but it was happening. I am honored to be a blue belt under Dave. Not only is he a great teacher and has helped my game immensely, but he cares. He genuinely wants his students to improve and asks nothing in return. A rare commodity.
Informal, yet with deep appreciation, respect and care. As it should be.
Many people start this journey. For some it’s about fitness, for others respect, for others still self-defense, and a million reasons more. No one should feel pressure to make their training fit someone else’s goal. It is what it must be to you.
However, for those of you wishing to move up in rank, these are my thoughts on the path.
Get on the Mat: I have been a student of bjj for a long, long time. In those years of almost fanatical interest my game never moved one notch forward because I wasn’t on the mat. I was in my head, reading books, watching videos, etc, etc. You cannot talk your way into jiu-jitsu. It has to be done physically and sometimes that means facing your fears of tapping, getting hurt, being intimidated, etc. Believe me, I have felt all those, but to improve you must work through them. It’s one of the lessons that bjj teaches.
Be Consistent: Over the years, I had a spotty record at best. I would attend a class once, then take 3 moths off. At one point, I took years off. It is a bummer to look back and think of where you would have been had you stuck with it. Don’t let this happen to you – Only this year with the formation of Norcal BJJ have I been consistently training. Week in, week out. I have been on the mat at least 2 and usually 3 times a week. This keeps the game fresh in your mind.
Roll: I have a friend who trains bjj. Years ago I would consistently beat him in rolling. At one point he decided to compete and so he became slightly more consistent than I in class, but more importantly, when the time would come to roll, he would be there, looking for partners long after I sat on the sidelines. His cardio became better, his technique became better, and he became a better grappler. It wasn’t long before he was tapping me out. This was all due to a willingness to get in there and roll.
Teach: No matter who you are, you can teach. It may not be as formal as running a class, but there are a thousand opportunities to teach every day in class. You can point out a detail to a training partner at any time. Watching people execute moves will help you understand the move better, what its key elements are, and why&when it works. Teaching has been instrumental in my progress as it forced me to really understand all the facets of the basics. So help your partners and come from a place of learning and real helpfulness, not arrogance.
Walk in Scary Neighborhoods: When we first begin in BJJ we fear losing. Some never let this go, and it will stunt their growth. If you want to improve you simply have to go in places where your game is not as strong. You have to let people get superior positions so you can work out of them. No, you don’t always do this, but it should be a part of how you train. Remember, in class we roll to learn, not to win. Rolling to win every time is a recipe for a long, slow progression in this art. Take risks. Good advice in life and jiu-jitsu.
Think Actively: A mind is a terrible thing to waste. Most people are passive (see lazy) learners. They walk into class waiting to be spoon fed. Week in, week out they see hundreds of moves but find that when they roll they forget what they know. I am certainly guilty of this. Correcting this takes some work, but it is well worth the effort. As a student of the game you should think about the attacks you know from each position, the escapes you know from each position, and so-on. This will clearly show where you are weak. In my own game for example, this has taught me that I have very little game from North South bottom. I know it’s an area of weakness, but since I know that, I will work it.
Understanding where you are strong and weak is one of the most important things you can do simply because it allows you to focus your (limited) time on the right areas. Once you have a complete basic game you should then work on stringing moves together, but that should not be the beginners’ focus.
Be a Sponge: One of the key things that separates advanced society from primitive society is the ability to pass knowledge on from generation to generation. Unlike animals, we don’t start from scratch with every generation. Each learns from the next and we progress accordingly. In the modern age we have taken this reality even further with the availability of information on every conceivable topic. Jiu-Jitsu is no different. There are hundreds of videos and books out there expounding upon bjj. Use those tools. Attend seminars. Talk with your training partners. There is more than one way to do an armbar, believe me. Hear all perspectives, try the moves out for yourself. See what works. Don’t be dogmatic about your techniques, this sport is evolving. Every day I pick up a little detail on moves I thought I knew. No matter the source, it is the openness to hear new ideas and question current notions that enables growth. Now go get Saulo’s dvd set – you’ll thank me later.
Laugh: Okay, this one seems a bit odd at first, but its’ simple. It comes down to the vibe of your gym. Accept the fact that you are a part of that vibe, and you can make it a fun place to be, or not. We are all training in our spare time. It should be fun. Smile. Be welcoming. If you see a new person, introduce yourself. When you get tapped, congratulate your partner. Tell them how cool that move was. Ask them to show you. We are all there to learn, and people learn better when they are having fun. In my experience, no place to train has a better vibe than ModernCombatives in Berkeley or the Dave’s classes at AKA. So be fun to have fun.
One last thing, if you run a class, play music. Babies learn better with music and aren’t we all just grown up babies. I like to listen to Amos Lee, OAR, Bob Marley, John Butler Trio, and Jack Johnson when we roll. It’s just fun.
See you on the mat.