Q: I’m a leve blue belt and had the chance to roll with my instructor last night (despite his broken arm). Once we were done he complimented me and said that I have a good game but use too much strength; that all my movements were a bit hulkish (my words; he just showed movement and grunted). I’ve been very interested in training attitudes, mentalities, and psychologies for a while, and would really like to hea your take on how to train. Do I take the American Wrestler approach and go hard (but respectful, safe and controlled), do I go light and try an figure out what everyone would do to submit me? How much time should be spent on things you know will work vs. things that I need to get better at.How much time should be spent pushing the comfort zone in both physical fitness and techniques? Basically, what’s the best training path for ablue belt to take so I can facilitate my progress rather than hinder it? I’d also like to hear about the paths that you’ve taken too.

A: You sound like you’re at a normal point in your development. That you’re asking these questions shows that you’re already working to resolve your issues, whether or not you’re fully aware of how. As long as you continue training with a thoughtful attitude, you’ll figure it out through the natural learning process. So that’s my first bit of obvious advice: Keep training.

The trouble is that progress doesn’t usually come as sudden rushes of insight and smashing success, which is frustrating (and that’s why you’re asking me about it). BJJ is a long, winding road that doesn’t always have a clear path.

How I see you gaining more direction and control is by understanding your own goals and balancing your life and training to match. Answer these questions for yourself:

  • What are your short, medium and long term goals for BJJ?
  • What are your motivations for doing BJJ (self defense, fitness, fun, competition, any combinations of these, etc.)?
  • Do you want to compete a lot or a little or not at all?
  • How often can you train while maintaining your other commitments (work, family, friends, etc.)?
  • How athletic are you, and how well does your body stand up to the rigors of training?
  • What do you want to achieve outside of BJJ?

Once you have your answers, you can use them for guidance. They will help you answer day to day questions like these: Should you spend more time drilling or sparring? Should you work on a new move or an old one? Should you do conditioning or rest? If you are a competitor, are you doing what is needed to prepare for your next tournament? Those are questions for you and your teacher to answer, but your answers above should give you a clearer direction.

As a blue belt, you have a good grasp on BJJ, but there’s still so much to learn. The balancing act here is to keep expanding your knowledge without neglecting your fundamentals and familiar techniques. How you will do that depends on how you answered the questions above. Your approach will be unique to you, though it will be built on the same foundation of all training: drilling, sparring, conditioning, reflection, gameplanning—all the standard practices. BJJ has very few secrets. It’s all in how you apply yourself.

Without have trained with you, I can’t tell if you should be more aggressive or not, but it sounds like your instructor already gave you his advice, so you should go with that. Try being less aggressive for a while and see what happens. Each person will find the level of aggression and athleticism that works for them if they keep training and have good training partners who can keep them honest. The ideal I strive toward is technical aggression, which has more to do with assertiveness and being in the right place at the right time than it has to do with strength or speed. You will find your own balance.