Category: Questions and Answers

The two biggest mistakes

The revival of 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:

  1. Lack of focus and discipline
  2. 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:

  1. Really read the textbook, not glossing over or skipping anything.
  2. Try the example problems yourself instead of just glancing at them.
  3. Understand the concepts being taught, don’t just parrot the answers.
  4. Write with good handwriting, and don’t get sloppy.
  5. 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.


How to keep your grappling club from turning into a crapplefest

Welcome to the first of many Q&A sessions. I’ve added a contact form to the side to ask for comments and questions from readers. If you send me a message and it turns into a useful discussion, it will appear on my site, like you see below.

Roy Harris used to be great about answering questions, even boring, basic questions, and I admired that. He had nearly limitless patience for answering questions. Hopefully I can help revive the tradition.

Let me know what you think of these Q&A’s. Most will be written but I’m also filming my replies if your question is lucky enough to deserve it.

Q: We have a small(ish) club at work.  My company employs at my office about 1500 people, and we’re in the midst of creating something on licence from zuffa, so there’s plenty of people becoming interested in bjj.

I’m one of two blue belts, and there’s one purple.  But, me and the other
blue “host” “lessons” on Tu & Th morning to a small group of people,
sometimes only 2, sometimes up to 6.

I am very pro-basics, pro-defense, pro-position.  The other blue is a
little more risque/exotic/avant-garde (e.g. inverted guards, dlr, rubber
etc.).  Which IMO is fine, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with it, I
just prefer basics.

What does bug me, is when these brand new people want to be shown how to do
a berimbolo, or whatever.  Particularly, before there’s any understanding
of basics, let alone the little bit that I actually know.

How do I/we make it fun and motivating when we just concentrate on basics.
Breaking posture / maintaining posture, holding hips and shoulders flat /
moving out on to your hip, etc.

A: First off, that sounds like a fun company to work at. I’m lucky enough to get free yoga at my office, but I haven’t been able to get HR to okay midday BJJ sessions.

Your issue will be difficult to fix because it’s unlikely the people showing up to an informal training session are very serious about learning BJJ. That’s nothing against them; it’s just normal for people in free grappling clubs. Ask anyone who runs a university club.

As you’ve already seen, your coworkers aren’t there to build a foundation. That’s boring and feels like work. They are showing up because it’s “cool” and they want to see cool moves. In these situations, you’re going to have trouble making people do the “boring” (but important) basic moves. You can’t command the same authority as a black belt in a formal school, and even then, those black belts have trouble keeping white belts from going off into goofy moves.

So without being able to use authority or logic to sway them, what can you do? Teach the basics with great enthusiasm, and make good use of live drills and positional sparring (if you can do that at work).

If you are confident that you are showing them good, solid BJJ, don’t ever apologize for it being basic or act like it’s uncool. When you get a question about advanced or flashy moves, maybe show it briefly, then redirect them with “Hey, you know what would be great for you?” and show them a similar but simpler move.

What else impresses people? Getting beat by simple moves. When they try the fancy moves but aren’t competent enough to succeed, and they are instead defeated by simple moves, they will start giving the basics respect. What’s the safest way to do this? Live training.

Live drilling (also known as isolation training, specific training or positional sparring) is my favorite training tool. Take whatever you worked on that day, make a simple “game” for it (like passing closed guard) and let them do it live. Have them reset whenever someone succeeds or if they go off into positions that aren’t part of the day’s lesson. People love these games, and it makes simple techniques more exciting because they get to do them against resisting opponents. A “boring” drilling session can be saved by making everyone get a good workout in live training.

While I’m big on isolation training, I don’t encourage allowing much free sparring for people this new to BJJ, especially not with each other. Two zero belts (that’s even less than white belt) learn very little from flailing around and headlocking each other, and they have high chances of injuring each other in scrambles. The Fundamentals program at my school Gracie Barra Clearwater is big on specific training for this reason.

Here’s my last bit of advice. Stock up on business cards for your real school and shove those into all of your coworkers’ hands. Your club can encourage their enthusiasm and give them a taste, but you can’t (and shouldn’t expect to) give them everything they need.