A Primer for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
When I plan a lesson for class, I think about how I would have liked the information presented to me when I first started. In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (sometimes spelled Jujitsu and Jiu-Jitsu), beginners are often thrown into the mix with advanced students, complicated techniques and little preparation on how to absorb all the counter-intuitive information presented to them. If instead the beginner can have their perspective properly oriented before stepping on the mat, they will learn more and be less frustrated. What follows is a list of important factors that will facilitate both learning new techniques as well as placing them within a context that makes retention and recollection easier.
- The importance of Strength. A common misconception at all levels is that strength and technique are opposing ideas. BJJ players are often told to refrain from using strength and instead to rely on technique. This imprecise statement leads students to believe that they should use the lightest touch and only the smallest inkling of pressure to accomplish their goals and any further use of strength means that their technique must be lacking. This is incorrect; what should be said is that the student should try to minimize the amount of physical force that they use and maximize the amount of mechanical force they utilize. Good technique is simply the proper use of body alignment and movement to maximize your own force and speed while minimizing your opponent’s ability to generate force and move freely. When a technique is performed correctly, it feels effortless not because you have removed strength from the equation, but because your using your strength efficiently.
- The importance of Speed. Another useful attribute to understand is speed. When sparring or competing, speed allows the player to retain the initiative over their opponent, causing the opponent to fall one or more steps behind and begin reacting to the player’s movements instead of being able to impose their own game. However, when drilling techniques, speed can be a crutch that is used to mask an incomplete understanding of technique. When students are drilling, they will sometimes use their speed to rush through portions of techniques they do not fully understand. Instead, I suggest that students isolate the part of the technique they are struggling with and drill that movement in isolation. Then, they should re-integrate that movement with the entire technique, this time practicing the entire technique with an even rhythm. This can be compared to learning to play an instrument; you do not play the part you know well as quickly as possible and then slow down on the difficult passages, the uneven tempo would sound terrible. Instead, you practice as slowly as you need to master the difficult sections, even if this means playing the portions you know well at a much slower tempo. If a student practices their techniques in this same way, they will acquire technical knowledge more quickly. Remember, in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, slow is smooth and smooth is fast.
- The importance of Strategy and Tactics. Strategy refers to the long-term developments that will achieve some objective. Tactics are the finer actions that accomplish a strategy. Knowing how to use these ideas can greatly accelerate your learning curve. For example, if your goal is to pass an opponent’s guard, you may attempt one or more passes and have some degree of success with them. You can then follow up your successes with increased use of the successful movements and you can follow up your failures by asking your instructor how to turn those failed movements into successful movements. The problem is you must get your instructor’s attention, re-create the entire scenario as well as hopefully emulate the responses your opponent would potentially use (which would probably be different than your instructor’s). A more efficient tactic would be reverse roles with your opponent and try to use the techniques your opponent utilized against you in the scenarios where you failed to pass the guard. In this way, you can begin to understand how your opponent would react to attacks that your opponent has become accustomed to using. For example, if your opponent has a good triangle choke and continues to submit you with it, then you should attempt to triangle them. Your opponent’s skill with the triangle will generally translate into some level of proficiency with the defense to the triangle. You can use this to improve your own triangle choke as well as your triangle choke defense.
- The importance of Visualization. Learning can occur outside of class as much as it occurs during class. The following is a link to a study where basketball players attempted to improve their ability to shoot free-throws. One group focused on improving their free-throw percentage by doing exactly that, shooting more free-throws. The other group focused on improving their free-throw percentage by visualizing the perfect technique instead of physically performing free-throws. The latter group improved their free-throw percentage more than the group that only did the physical work.
When a student is outside of class, the learning process can continue is a way that will make the next class or training session much more productive. Watching videos of technical instruction or high-level matches is an excellent way of streamlining and focusing the student’s thought process. In addition, if the student is having trouble performing or drilling a technique in class, visualizing the technique outside of class will often make the sequence and precision of the movements clearer and the subsequent practice of these movements will be more precise and productive.
- The importance of Sensitivity. The first phase of learning in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is done primarily by utilizing visual and audible cues. The instructor performs a technique and then the student tries to mimic the movements they saw and follow the instructions they heard. This method is useful at the beginner level because the student is becoming accustomed to large, unfamiliar movements. As the student gains experience, their focus shifts and they begin to appreciate and seek mechanical details that are not easily seen and difficult to describe. At this point, the dominant response the student seeks is tactile. By feeling the different movements and pressures of more experienced practitioners, the student can further refine and sharpen their technique.One example of this is the ability to gain sensitivity in different parts of the body. At all levels, the hands are very sensitive, in our daily lives most of the objects we interact with are constructed to be used by our hands. This is not because our hands are particularly strong, but because our hands have a great deal of dexterity and can perform complex tasks. However, relative to the rest of our body, our hands are weak. It is through dedicated practice that a student can begin to feel with their chest, head, hips, legs, etc. in the same way that one would feel with their hands. This development allows the student to make great strides in their technique as they are now able to use the most powerful parts of their body with the precision that they use the most nimble parts of their body.
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