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.
another great post as usual, I am a technique collector as well, but always in rolling in class i always go for whatever move we have just learned. If the opportunity doesn’t present itself i still sometimes for for some fandangled move i learnt off the internet though.
Great post. This really hits home with me. I am the “blue belt technique collector” you described. You hit the nail right on the head. I usually have so many different techniques rolling through my head that I’m not focusing on or refining the proven basics. Thanks for putting the effort into the work you do here. I check your site every day & I appreciate it. You saved me months (maybe years) of grief. Keep it up!
I see myself in a lot of this. I have 3 days a week to train with other commitments. I spend a lot of time looking at things on the net, reading books, and buying instructionals.
I agree with what you are saying but I look at it this way: Why do I train and what are my goals?
1. First and foremost this is fun. I never want to lose sight of that.
2. To be the best I can be. This makes it more fun.
3. To compete and win at competitions. But I don’t do BJJ to compete, I compete because I do BJJ. I could still do BJJ without the competition but competition makes it more fun.
In the end it all comes back to fun. It just wouldn’t be fun for me to have the best arm bar from closed guard in the class. Nothing wrong with it. It might take care of the other two reasons I do this: to be the best I can be and to win competitions. But it just wouldn’t be as much fun for me.
So I am in a constant battle to spend time getting better at basic moves and still look for things that make my game fun.
I don’t disagree with anything you are saying but as long as the “newest technique from Brazil” makes it more fun for me then that is what I should do. Because as long as it is fun I keep interested. I hear people all the time say, “I haven’t trained for a couple of years.” I can’t even conceive that. I can’t see how someone could do something that is so much fun and lose interest.
It could be because someone has stopped tossing them new toys to play with. And you can perfect the basics all you want but if you quit training it won’t matter anyway.
This is just MY opinion about MY game and how I need something new to keep MY interest. I do not disagree at all about the points you made.
Excellent counterpoint from Leo.
Aesopian, your essay finally puts my Bullshido training log mugging into perspective. The “why” behind the “whoa!”
Yet Leo reminds me that if it’s fun and keeps you on the mat, maybe it’s ok to get new toys to play with from time to time.
BTW, you got paid a compliment the other day by an instructor who got your weblink from me – in short he said “that stuff’s good” and “who’s Aesopian?”
You came up when I asked him to teach me Brabo techniques and emailed him the link to your Brabo instructionals as an example of what I was looking to learn.
So although you decry the process of internet learning (hopefully with some tongue in cheek), you are also a part of the problem of which you complain.
Actually I don’t think I am disagreeing.
Aesopian, the master of the reverse omaplata, doesn’t seem to be saying not to play with new moves, but if you are playing with new moves learn them the right way: study them, drill them, and try to do them when you wrestle.
I have taught a morning class on Saturday’s for a couple of years. This is my class to work the things I want. twisters, X guard, cross guard, etc. things I do not see in the regular class. I can practice them, drill them, and then practice them when rolling during the week with people who have never seen them. This works perfectly for me.
When I first started doing X guard sweeps no one had ever seen them before except for the 2 or 3 guys who came to my Saturday class.
My point was that I have to do these things to keep my interest. I cannot use that Saturday class to drill triangles from closed guard (in most cases) But that is just me.
You’re misunderstanding the points that both Leo and I are making. They aren’t contrary to each other. Leo isn’t disagreeing with me, just offering his slightly different perspective on the same issue.
It does ultimately come down to having fun, like Leo said. That’s my main goal too. And I know how fun it is to learn moves from the internet, since I do it all the time. But that’s beside the main point here.
What I am saying is that you need to approach learning these moves in an intelligent way. Most people do not, and so they don’t progress smoothly. They actively screw up their own learning process.
If you really want to learn these fun moves (like I do), then you need to study, drill and practice them like any other. You shouldn’t just overdose on instructional DVDs between lessons, try a dozen random moves a couples times, then throw them into sparring.
Well said, both of you. Thanks.
I’ve had my attention on this, so I’m going to drive the point home: I wrote this with you specifically in mind.
I haven’t really raked you over the coals much, since I know you have the best intentions and endless enthusiasm. But we’re reaching a point where those don’t matter, since you’ve shown that you’ll happily run face-first into one mess after another.
Having read your training log since its inception, I’d say your single biggest problem is not understanding the learning process. You are (over)eager to learn, but the problem is how you go about it. That you saw mine and Leo’s points as contradictory further confirms this.
Calling me part of the problem is half right and half wrong. The problem is not simply techniques from the internet — it’s what people do with them.
To give you my perspective, you need to understand who I write this journal for; it’s open to everyone, but I have specific people in mind when I am writing content or creating tutorials.
First of all, I write for me.
Secondly, I do this for my close friends, though I may only know them over the internet. This includes people like Leo, Jeff Rockwell, Jon Gunnar, Indrek Reiland, Christian Graugart and a few guys over on Bullshido. I doubt I would keep this journal if I didn’t have them.
I don’t mean to insult all of the others I know enjoy this journal and find it helpful, but I honestly don’t think I’d do all of this if I was just writing to a faceless mass of internet people.
The reason I’m willing to put up all these techniques, some of them quite complicated, is because I have faith in these people to go about learning them the right way.
But a couple weeks ago, I took a step back and looked at what else was going on. That’s when the beginnings of this article started forming in my head. The problem with writing this at that time was that it wouldn’t jive with the recent flood of material I’d put out.
So I took a break from the journal. I only put together pieces on the topics I was working on, and since I wasn’t working on any new techniques, I didn’t put out anything new.
Practice what I preach and all that.
Leo and I both have the luxury of running our own open mats, so we get to work on all the new moves we want, so we may not be the most realistic role models for this.
So here’s a third example of how the learning process can contain normal class and internet jiu-jitsu that would fit into a normal schedule:
You find a move online (or wherever) that you want to learn, so you read or watch it until you can remember it. You go to class and learn the lesson of the day, clearing your mind of anything else. You do your instructor’s lesson in the positions that call for it. But you’re doing a lot of sparring, and you roll with some lower belts, so you have chances to pull out the move and give it a shot. Maybe at the end of class you really do sit down and work it out and drill it some.
This is still far from “the best” way (if such a thing exists), but it works well enough. It’s fairly close to the “bad” example I gave above. The key difference is the mindset. You need to be able to switch from one mindset to another, often within a single round of sparring or even within a few seconds.
I do this on a daily basis. When I’m learning from my instructor, I’m learning from him and that’s all I’m thinking of. When I’m in a position to do that move (or any other ones he’s been trying to teach me), I go for them, not outside stuff. But if I see a good opportunity for trying a new move, especially when I’m rolling with someone with less experience, I’ll take it.
There is some flexibility in how you learn moves from different sources, but it’s all too easy to screw it up if you don’t understand the underlying process.
What I want you to do is just take the time to seriously think about how you’re learning and what you’re doing with all the instructionals and techniques you’re collecting.
Again, it’s not the act of collecting that is bad, or even trying out moves that you throw away because they don’t suite you. It’s when you slow your own progress because of you go about this the wrong way.
Maybe you’ll find you’re completely happy with how you do it and can’t see why I’ve acting like such a sourpuss.
Regardless, I felt I needed to at least try to impress this upon you or I’d be doing you (and others like you) a disservice.
Very good article. I feel that all of these sources of instruction should be used three ways.
First and foremost, they should be used as a source of inspiration. That might sound a bit weird, but I find that using all of these alternative sources really opens up my mind about how many ways there are of doing things, and that really aren’t any rules set in stone about how things should be done in BJJ, except possibly for the most basic moves.
Second, they should be used to personalize moves, because very small changes in how you do a move can completely change how successful you are at it. For example, there is one half guard sweep I use a lot (Eddie Bravo calls it old school), and another one my instructor had shown me that I simply couldn’t get to work because I just couldn’t get the entry right. Then I watched Jiu Jitsu Revolution and saw how Saulo did Old School, and with just one small detail done differently than how I was taught it. All of a sudden that sweep became a perfect entry into the other sweep that I had never been able to do before, and now I’m absolutly mauling guys that are in reality way better than I am with that sweep (althought I suspect this will be short lived, haha). It worked because I learnt a small variation on another move I already knew.
Third, while you CAN learn an entirely new move from instructionals, it requires a lot more of a time investment than most people are willing to make. I could do this while I was still in college and could train five times a week and could stay as late as I wanted after class. Now I have a job with long hours and if I get three sessions, it’s a good week, so that’s just not possible.
To summarize, I think the main problem is that most people don’t really get just how much time goes into making a move work consistently. I’ve been using the main same guard pass for two years now I’m STILL improving on it’s details. Hell, even just standing up and breaking someones guard is a lot more complex than most people realize, and after doing BJJ for 2 and half years I still think about the details of that move. And in the end, what is really going to make the difference is your basics. For example, there is this one guy I just can’t seem to touch in class. Why? Because he has amazing shrimping skills which gives him insane guard retention. Couple that with him being hellishly good at the basic armbar from the guard and two simple sweeps, and he makes me go tippety tap, tippety tap every few minutes.
Thank you very much for putting the article together, and especially for the followup comments, which show as much thoughtfulness as the original article.
It’s – blush – a little embarrassing to be one of the “bad” inspirations for one of your articles, but I think you realize that whatever mistakes I make in the learning process come from throwing myself whole-heartedly into jiu jitsu. A friend recently asked me if I was letting jiu jitsu interfere with my life, and I responded, only half-jokingly, that I was trying not to let my life (wife, kids, another baby on the way, a job) interfere with my jiu jitsu.
I will go back and re-read your article, and these commments, let them sink in, and re-read and re-assimilate them once each week for the next couple of weeks. Re-visiting stuff after letting sink in is the only way it works for me.
I still remember one bit of wisdom imparted in a fictional context to me when I was just 14 – “the first thing you need to learn is how to learn.”
Thanks for nudging me in the right direction instead of clobbering me.
The thing is that some of us have ok instructors, some of us have great instructors, and some of us have no instructors. I have had all three. When I first changed from karate to BJJ in the early 90’s I visited the Gracie Academy for a day. I went back to Southern Illinois and tried to learn grappling on my own. I even asked a Dan Zan Ryu guy to teach me submissions. They did ground submissions but with no grappling or live training. No one did grappling at that time. It was a year before UFC.
When I moved to South Florida I started learning Shootfighting from Bart Vale. After 5 years I changed to BJJ, but another 5 years later I left my instructor’s gym when I didn’t feel like my instructor was supporting my decision to train with Marcelo in seminars and privates. I lived in South Florida where we have a ton of black belts and it didn’t make sense for me to stay where I was.
This is an individual sport and I do it for me and my son first and foremost. I pay for it and need to get my value from it. But, I spent 3 years on my own, 5 years with Bart, and 5 years at another gym before I moved on. I gave them all the benefit of the doubt, did what they told me, paid for everything and supported their gyms. It was only after I felt I was getting no further value that I moved on.
I always seek knowledge from as many sources as I can, I train hard and drill and practice what I think will fit into my game. I never stop trying to learn.
I am very comfortable now. My instructor is a competitor and world champion. He encourages me to learn from other sources and I have internet friends like Matt and some of the people that he mentioned who I exchange information with.
But, it took me a long time to get here. Nowadays there are so many sources for information and I feel that Matt is right on in his initial post. Sometimes it is information overload. I had a good top game, a decent guard, some really good guard passes, and some submissions that I was pretty comfortable with before I started expanding my horizons and looking elsewhere for information. If I hadn’t done that I probably would have just screwed up everything.
I will ezekial/key lock all you from my vicious half guard.
I haven’t posted here in awhile (I read the site all the time though). This post in many ways describes why. While I’ve always admired Matt’s ability to integrate “esoteric” (the quotes are there for a reason) techniques into his game, many of these have generally been difficult for me to properly work into my own rolling and in how I train.
With my job and family commitments I’m thrilled when I make more than three days of training. As such I have to form concerted goals for a day’s training. In addition to focusing on what my instructor has to teach on a particular day, I have particular areas I focus on. These are holes in my game that deserve particular attention. My rolling with lower blues and white belts is when I’m able to begin developing new (to me) moves, but even there certain things, like having decent arm bars from the guard, take precedence. I’ve refined my tricks to the point where I’ve been banned from using them on anyone that’s not at least a purple, but my focus is still on “the basics”. I have however seen this phenomenon in many of the guys I train with (who I usually stomp through with “simple” techniques). Even though I occasionally envy the ability of some people to work in crazy shit, I realize I’m a tortoise, not a hare.
Anyway, I got rambling and forgot my point (I’m too young to be senile, aren’t I?). Great article about how to approach rolling and learning.
Ok, the first thing I notice in my self-inventory, as prompted by this article, is that I do NOT take ownership of group class moves, and even have problems taking ownership of private lesson moves.
I’m still stuck in the residual egomania of thinking I’m smarter than my instructors (although rationally I realize I’m not, there’s still the “little egomaniac inside” that won’t relax, chill, and get with the program).
Now in my defense part of my reluctance to take “ownership” of moves we are learning is due to the fact that when we drill them, we are also learning how to spoil them or shut them down, so when it comes time to roll and try them out, not only is the element of surprise missing, but our rolling partners know what we are going to try and how to best oppose us.
Still, I don’t take ownership.
For example, if we are working a pass that is basic, I tend to tell myself “this won’t work for me, I’ve tried it before and it doesn’t work. I need something a little trickier.”
Or if we are working on a pass that is complex, I tend to tell myself “this won’t work for me, it’s too complicated and the simpler passes are the way to go.”
I think I am afraid of failing.
My instructor has told me “you need to believe in the move!” but I thought that was some metaphor or Zen-like thing he was saying.
Ok, I don’t have an answer, but I’ve found a problem.
I’ll keep working on this and report back.
(BTW, on a side note, it isn’t all dismal. Moves that failed me countless times in the past, like a simple escape from mount, work now. Sometimes.)
My two cents: I am one of those folks that, when I am interested in some thing, or in the case of BJJ, slightly obsessed, I like to find out as much about it as possible. Let me mention that I am very new (less than a year) to BJJ. I go to class anywhere from 3-5 days per week. But, sometimes when I’m not in class my mind starts replaying rolls where I could not get something to work or something worked really well. For either situation I feel like I need to pinpoint why. It’s just the way my brain works I guess. But, because I am so into BJJ it becomes tortuous to have to wait until the next class to work stuff out–that’s where the web instructional material comes in. I am a technician at heart and want to dissect what’s going on down to the most mundane detail so that I am more apt to reapeat it (in the case where something worked really well) or tweak it (when it is not working). Many people might say that I’m dooming my training by watching so many videos but I am not just watching them–I am trying to take a body of data on, say guard sweeps for example, and analyse it. Basically, distill all of it down to common themes or principles. Guard sweeps is a pretty broad topic but you get the point. I am too new to BJJ to get caught up in thinking that one move or another will help me to beat all the other white belts in class. Anyway, I just wanted to share what I feel is my way of “responsibly” collecting techniques… and maybe I’m also hoping to get a little affimation that I am not dooming my training.
I would say that believing in “the move” is one of the most important things in BJJ. I know this one guy who beats guys who are, in certain ways, WAY better than he is. However, he performs every move like there is no fukcing way it could ever fail. He never gives up on anything. I, on the other hand, have a contrasting style, where I give up on a move I’m performing if I reach the slightest resistance. I want everything to be perfect, but face it, it’s never going to be, so I’m trying to adopt more of his tenacity in my game.
I won’t pretend not to have enjoyed specific techniques (i.e., “How to Be a Better Butt Scooter”). But mostly I read to learn about the journeys other jiu jitsu players are going through. Not so much “what” is working for them, but for the fun of reading how other people figure out what is working for them is what I like about jiu jitsu blogs.
For me, the fun in jiu jitsu is in learning how to win with the most basic submissions possible against the most difficult opponents possible. That idea is what originally fascinated me about jiu jitsu and I haven’t gotten over it.
I couldn’t agree more with the primacy of “having fun” while learning jiu jitsu.
I would like to say that often I watch instructionals just to get motivated. I work 5 days a week and train 5 days a week. Sometimes I just don’t seem to have the energy to even put my gi in my bag. But then when I see someone do jiujitsu I’m all fired up.
Also, it’s not allways about the single technique but about seeing the underlying principles.
In my opinion you only suffer from information overload if you want to imitate every move you encounter. If you’re aim is to apply the correct principles behind the moves you can finetune your game without adding even one move.
I’ve decided to work on the “blue belt curriculum” one academy has published and go through 3 moves a week until I’ve been through the list once, then go back and start over. I need some solid fundamentals. I’ll do this in a private lessons setting so I’m not just jerking off with another student (blind leading the blind).
“…in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it”
– Herbert Simon
My personal filter is to heavily prioritize information that comes from “Real World” Practitioners
It’s that simple. I’m sure that I miss out on “some” information by ignoring other sources — but I think it’s an acceptable trade off
This is a great source for techniques,reviews,etc but I know where you’re coming from,Lloyd Irvin put’s it this way:
“don’t get bored with something that you’re doing well now
because you can carry it all the way to Black Belt and beyond.
It’s really easy to get sidetracked with trying to learn the
next new move of the month and 5-10 years later you realize
you’re really good at NOTHING.
there are moves you’re doing really well in class
but they may not be working as well as they once did. Don’t
worry, it may just be that your entire school is on to your
game and your particular move. But trust me, if this is the
case, your move will still work if you go somewhere else. Don’t
give up on it, just make some new combinations to confuse your
You’ll find that the new combinations that you make up to counter
what your teammates are doing will broaden your arsenal
There are many students that will give up on a move that could
very well have taken them to the Black Belt level but somewhere
along the way they lost confidence in it.
Understand this principle. There’s a reason that the Champions
always do the same move, the same pass, the same take down, the
same sweep, the same choke. It’s their move. Of course you can
try to add new moves here and there but they must fit into your
game. The problem is that people are trying to put a game piece
into their arsenal and it just doesn’t fit. As a matter of fact
it’ll end up unbalancing the entire game sometime.
What’s your move?
What’s your sweep?
What’s your takedown?
What’s your guard pass?
If you don’t know, make sure that while your practicing that you
look out for them.
If you know what they are, you need to continue to develop them and
remember that you’re trying to get them to work on the Black Belt
level students. Once you make it work on your own belt level
classmates make sure you keep tweaking it because you’ll always
have room for improvement. Talk to you Soon.”
One more thing: I was at a leadership conference once and heard one of the speakers
say that he regularly read between 150-200 books per year. During
the break, he was swamped by people asking him how he read so many
books and wanted to know what speed-reading program he used. So,
he revealed his “speed-reading” secret in the following four steps:
1. He picked a book.
2. He found a quiet spot to read where he wouldn’t be
3. He started reading the book.
4. He didn’t stop reading until he was finished.
And that was his “speed-reading” secret. Of course, most of the
group was disappointed in the answer (just like you probably were
after I told the story), but I got his point. People spend a lot
of time looking for overly complicated solutions to problems that
they don’t even consider following the simple instructions they were
given to succeed.
Now that I’m deeply committed to fundamentals, group classes are all about spider guard and other complicated stuff.
On the other hand my private lesson drilled my ass off with escapes from side control and mount. I was really tired. Then I was really frustrated. Then really tired and really frustrated.
Private lessons are keeping me on track. It’s hard to screw up so badly when you have one to one time with a good instructor.