How To Actually Maintain An Illuminating Jiu-Jitsu Journal
If you train Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I’m sure you’ve been told to keep a journal. I’m also sure that if you made the attempt to keep a Jiu-Jtsu journal, you most likely did it for a while, and then stopped (not abruptly… more like a slow fading stop). The best I’ve been able to do at my gym is about 50% – half the Advanced Class students were keeping regular training. So I know its not an easy habit to develop.
Black Belt World Medalist Tim Spriggs Talks About the Importance of Note-Taking
For the past 6 months, I’ve been keeping a journal. This is my fifth or sixth attempt at it now and its been sticking – so I wanted to share a few tips that have allowed me to succeed this time!
TIP #1 – Be clear as to what the purpose of the journal is.
A journal should be a study of your jiu-jitsu experience rather than a perfect how-to guide for the moves that were taught in class.
As a Blue Belt, I remember that the morning class instructor taught a bullfight pass differently than the evening class instructor. The point of difference was whether you push the knees down to the ground or to push the knees up to his chest. When I was looking through my notes a few weeks later, I noticed the discrepancy. I had the same technique listed but with one detail being completely different (I didn’t even realize this at the time I was writing the actual entry)
I was very focused on the move being “right” so thinking more about the difference causes a series of positive epiphanies.
A. I recognized there was actually a difference.
B. I began to make theories about why you would do the first one vs. the second one. Was it preference? Was it a particular situation? Is one “old school” and one “new school” ?
Examples of Two Different Types of Bullfighting
This contemplation is what you want to foster. As Dan Coyle, author of The Talent Code writes, “What matters is not the precise form. What matters is that you write stuff down and reflect on it… a notebook works like a map: it creates clarity.”
TIP #2 – KISS: Keep it simple stupid.
The #1 problem that you face when starting a journal is getting into the habit. Which why its important to Keep It Simple.
Don’t write down everything that occurred in practice. You don’t have to be Jane Goodall; putting to paper and noting the specific behaviors of animals throughout the day for future scientific research. If you make your journal entry too complicated, you will create a lot of resistance to writing it. The most important thing is that you get into a habit of writing it – not writing it well.
Imagine that you have to compile your entire journal entry into a single 140-character tweet. It can be as simple as that.
TIP #3 – Focus on wins.
Focus on personal victories. I like to limit myself to three – this requires me to reflect on practice and focus on the positive. When you look back on your entries, you should feel motivated not overwhelmed.
I’ve found that when I focus on mistakes, looking back at the notebook can lower my energy level:
“Ugh, I have so much things I have to fix.”
By focusing on the victories, your mentality will shift to “wow, I’ve come a long way.”
Wins can be wide-ranging.
Submitting a person you’ve never caught before. Helping a new student understand a particular technique. Training hard each and every round. Hitting a technique you have been drilling. Getting in an extra 20 minutes of drilling that day.
I recommend focusing on processes as well as outcomes. In other words, putting in effort into the process of getting better is important. Submitting someone by putting your chin in their eye shouldn’t be considered a success unless your goal was “submit partner at all costs.” Drilling your sweep with full focus for 15 mins can be considered a success even if you don’t hit the sweep in live rolling yet.
Once a week, I compile a short summary of each of the daily entries. At the start of each week, I read through the previous weeks’ summaries to get an idea of where I am.
TIP #4 – Emphasize “positive counterfactuals” rather than “negative counterfactuals”.
WTF are these?
It’s a fancy way of saying Things you should have done vs. Things you shouldn’t have done.
Focusing on things you should have done makes you better. “If only I had grabbed my opponent’s ankle during the Berimbolo…”
Focusing on things you shouldn’t have done makes you worse. “I shouldn’t have gone for that single leg.”
I have a student – very strong guy. He loves Kimuras which always gets him in trouble. Everytime someone starts passing him, he reaches over the back and tries to roll them or get the Kimura.
I’ve been on him about it: Stop doing that. Recently, I’ve started telling him to frame and post on his opponent’s shoulders. The second way works a lot better.
These four tips have helped me keep my note-taking habit intact longer than ever before. If you don’t have a notebook yet, go get one. If you have any questions, ask me on Facebook by clicking here.
This Video From Tim Spriggs Finally Convinced Me To Get A BJJ Notebook
This video came out a couple of weeks ago. After I watched it I remembered seeing coach Danny Ives and Julius Park teaching from their notebooks. I decided it was time to give note taking a try, even if the endeavor was nothing more than an experiment.
I can now confess to you that I am in deep regret of not having taken enough notes over the past 4+ years. I used to come home from Jiu Jitsu and would immediately go into “chill mode”. Now I take the time to recall the day’s technique (which facilitates memorizing the technique’s details) and I write it down inside of my new BJJ notebook. Also in the notes I write down who taught the class and what the date and time were.
After doing this for about a week I went back and read over my notes. I could not believe what happened. Every note took me right back to the class that I was in and I was able to visualize the technique as if I were actually there! Many times before I would come home and watch a video on YouTube that was similar to the technique that I had learned. That did not help me remember anything at all really.
I’m not kicking myself too hard however for not having taken notes thus far, because my early notes would have read something like this:
Coach taught a choke today. I couldn’t really figure it out and was too afraid to ask. Thankfully the other white belt and I made it through unnoticed and we eventually rolled. Rolling was great. I didn’t really land anything. I didn’t really survive either. It was super fun though.
Ya. Pretty much. Now that I know the terminology involved with Jiu Jitsu; note taking is much easier, enlightening and useful.
Thanks for the great video Tim!
My New BJJ Notebook. Hand-painted with Cryptic BJJ runes that only I know the meaning of.
So An Incredible BJJ Documentary Was Released Today! Jiu Jitsu Vs. The World
Eat films has released their “Jiu Jitsu Vs. The World” documentary today. The film was largely funded through an indiegogo campaign and the result is incredible. I had plans this afternoon but inadvertantly got stuck watching YouTube for almost 2 hours.
Kudos to the filmmakers! I will definitely watch this one many more times.
This is obvious. If you’re going to actually develop Jiu Jitsu skill, you’re going to have to show up.
That feeling when your instructor is showing an advanced technique, but you’ve missed too many classes.
Apply energy outside of class to improving your Jiu Jitsu
When I wrote this originally, I had specific out-of-class activities to recommend. Watch your diet. Do strength & conditioning. Keep a Jiu-Jitsu journal. Take private lessons. But for every single recommendation, there was a person who has been successful NOT doing it.
The only common characteristic was that every person was doing something extra.
So, my recommendation is to apply energy to an activity outside of class that will improve your Jiu Jitsu. It can be directly applicable or not. Just do something – whether its eating better, studying film, starting a S&C routine, taking private lessons.
Ask for constant feedback
You get a certain amount of feedback by rolling. You try something and get submitted. You try something else and it works. But what YOU perceive and recognize is not the whole story. Your coaches and training partners will notice other things and recommend different adjustments. So ask them for feedback.
A journal is a good way to keep track of feedback. You can record your reflections and compare them to the observations of others.
When asking for feedback make sure to ask your instructors and upper belts – not just other white belts.
Fight hard and tap
Don’t be afraid to roll hard but don’t be afraid to tap either.
Every gym has a guy who refuses to train hard. I’m not referring to someone who suffered a injury or has a “real” reason. I’m talking about the guy who always wants to be “technical”. The BJJ student who believes that if his heart rate gets about 140, he is somehow offending the Jiu-Jitsu gods.
Taking this approach all the time is harmful.
When I was a Blue Belt, one of my classmates never took it out of first gear when he rolled. He didn’t make a lot of mistakes – but he didn’t have a truly threatening offense either. In retrospect, I think I enjoyed training with him because if he put me into a bad situation, I could out-hustle and out-work him to escape.
The anti-thesis of this guy was a student I’ll call “the Russian”. The Russian was 110% all the time. Training with the Russian, you could expect upkicks if you were passing the guard, full pressure regardless of gender or weight, and if he locked on a submission, prepare to scream-tap. This guy was all about getting the tap and not being submitted himself. If he got into a bad position, he would immediately cross his arms and ball up. It wasn’t about escapes – it was about not being submitted.
Both guys plateaued at the Blue Belt level.
The purpose of skill training is to develop coordination under stress. As you increase speed or weight, it becomes more and more difficult to stay coordinated i.e. have good technique. Being able to execute a beautiful seio-nage in a demonstration is different than being able to execute the same throw in a match.
Your training has to reflect this difference. If you give up every transition and refuse to go hard, then you’ll have trouble when you need to transition or go hard (duh). If you go hard all the time, you won’t be able to develop proper technique . So don’t be afraid to train hard – but don’t be afraid to tap either.
Just another training session with the Russian…
Learn and experience Jiu Jitsu in an expansive way
When I was thinking about this article, I realized that I couldn’t think of any Black Belts that have NEVER competed. I also can’t think of any Black Belts that have NEVER done No Gi or Judo or Wrestling etc.
The reason I’m bringing this up is to point out that Jiu Jitsu is a BIG art. There’s lot of ways to experience it and lots of aspects of it to learn. The successful people that I know have experienced it largely in its entirety. Whether its competing, traveling around, wearing a gi, not wearing a gi, training for time limits, dealing with no time limit, doing hard practices, doing technical practices, etc. they’ve done it all.
About Julius Park: I am a Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt. I’ve produced BJJ World Champions from Blue Belt up to Brown Belt. My next goal is to get a student to the Black Belt World Champion level and into the UFC. I have an English Bulldog, Ghostface, who has so far resisted all training methods. I teach out of Crazy 88 Mixed Martial Arts gyms in the Baltimore area.