The revival of aesopian.com continues with another Q&A. Here’s how it works: You ask me questions using the “Hey!” tab at the top of the site. You’ll get a personal reply, and if it’s a good topic, it’ll turn into a post on my site. Over twenty thoughtful questions have come in already, and I’m doing my best to answer each one fully. The plan is to try to reply to two to three per week. Let me know how you like this new format.
Q: What are the most common bad habits/mistakes/wastes of time/etc. that you see throughout all skill levels?
A: Rather than go into specific technical mistakes, let’s cut to what I see as the root of all these problems:
- Lack of focus and discipline
- Not enough drilling
Most problems in jiu-jitsu can be solved by improving those two points.
Before we accept that answer, we have to admit that people train for different reasons. My answer is not going to appeal or apply to everyone. Some people go to BJJ for a workout, casual stress relief, and sparring for fun. Those are all good reasons to train, but they don’t usually give you an attitude toward training that will accept my answer.
People often balk at the “discipline, focus and drilling” approach. They work all day, they have screaming kids at home, they have all the worries of modern life weighing on them. Why would they be so strict with themselves when they can finally escape? That’s normal, and in the end, I’m happy with whatever gets them on the mats.
But I also assume everyone who gets on the mats wants to get better at jiu-jitsu. If you show up on my mats, and just want to chat with friends while wearing a gi, then roll around a little, you came to the wrong class. When I train, I want to do as much as I can to develop and deepen my understanding of jiu-jitsu. Discipline, focus, and drilling are how I do that best.
Do I love drilling? Yes and no. If I take a short term view, then no, I don’t like drilling, because I am lazy, and it is repetitive hard work. But when I take a longer view, and look at the results it gets, my real answer is yes, because it makes my jiu-jitsu better.
Story time: when I was in high school, I was not especially talented in math and algebra, but I got A+ on tests. This earned me a reputation for being good at math, so classmates started asking me for help. They were routinely disappointed because I didn’t have any special tricks to teach them. Instead, they heard this advice:
- Really read the textbook, not glossing over or skipping anything.
- Try the example problems yourself instead of just glancing at them.
- Understand the concepts being taught, don’t just parrot the answers.
- Write with good handwriting, and don’t get sloppy.
- Check your work.
Other kids hated this. It’s slow, and seems like too much work. Where’s the trick, where’s the cheat?
That had been my attitude when I was getting much worse grades. One day, a teacher impressed upon me that I was doing even more work when I didn’t do it right the first time. Sloppy work meant I had to restudy, retake tests, redo my work, and take extra classes. The change came once the teacher appealed to my laziness, and showed me how I got out of more work if I improved how I studied. That’s when the switch flipped, and I saw how I wasn’t too lazy, just too lazy to do it wrong.
To bring this back to BJJ, people want to have fun, and nothing is more fun than winning. If you can find the direct connection between focused, disciplined drilling and winning, it will take the “work” out of it, and you’ll just be happy with the results.
Speaking of drilling, check out the Jiu Jitsu Laboratory’s fantastic new article and contest Drill to Win: the quickest path to success and a new T-shirt.
I’m a low blue belt, and I’ve noticed that there is a huge gap between my level and the purple belts or high blue belts. To me, this gap in skill seems to be not just better technique but rather they just roll in a fundamentally different way. Showing up at class and doing the drills and rolling sufficed to get me to blue, but I feel like something different is needed to get to the next level. Other people also seem to feel that this gap represents a really qualitative change in how one approaches BJJ. Do you agree that this is one of the big jumps in learning BJJ and how do you recommend approaching it? Is it still just more drilling or do I need something new? Thanks for your website!