In this segment of Ask A Black Belt, Prof. Dean Lister shares his perspective on the question, “What is the #1 mistake people make in their BJJ training?” This question was submitted by Mitchel – thanks for contributing the question, Mitchel!
Prof. Lister’s response centers around the importance of listening to people that are more experienced than you. He concludes that you need to minimize the negative in your life, and the way you can do that is by listening to those people who are doing Jiu Jitsu who have already been there and learning from their experience.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or BJJ is the greatest thing that a man, woman or child can practice. This sounds like a bold statement but I would like to explain how a base of BJJ can open certain doors wide whilst closing doors that might be harmful. If you investigate the lives of those who practice BJJ you will notice a common thread; that Jiu-Jitsu is one of the most important things in their lives.
Why is BJJ so great? It is great for the youth because it teaches them coordination and confidence. It instills in children a mindset of antibullying and teaches them to defend themselves. For men it teaches us how to protect ourselves and our families. It makes us want to get in shape and stay in shape. It makes us throw down the cigarette and pick up protein powder. Women gain the ability to not only defend themselves against men, but to literally wreak havoc on the untrained male regardless of size. It allows women to have the confidence to act freely as they want without fear of repercussion. She will wear the two piece bikini and dare a gawker to act out of line.
So what are the main reasons every person should practice BJJ?
1. BJJ teaches people to deal with adversity
According to Merriam-Webster.com, adversity is defined as “a state or instance of serious or continued difficulty or misfortune.” The definition perfectly sums of a wrestling season. Each day presents difficulty and challenges. There is adversity in making time for BJJ in some cases, and making the money to afford it in others. There is adversity in learning a new skill. There is adversity overcoming the ego, which you will need to do. The sport of BJJ is filled with adversity, and a person can only become more resilient by it.
2. BJJ teaches people a strong work ethic
I would rival any grappler’s work ethic to most that of any other martial art. It’s inevitable that if a person sticks with BJJ, they will do things physically that most people will never do. We do more in our warmups then most people do all day. Most people will never go 100% in live combat with another person. Most people’s success will never be measured on the mats against another opponent. You either win or fail. There is only one winner and one loser in each match. That alone teaches a grappler the value of working hard and pushing themselves. To be successful in Jiu-Jitsu, you have to work hard.
3. BJJ teaches people to struggle
I value struggling when accomplishing a task. It is a trait that I learned doing Jiu-Jitsu. BJJ is a struggle. You start out getting beaten by everyone every time. You are put into terribly uncomfortable positions and are forced to find a way to survive. Everyone needs to learn how to fight, grind, and continue to move forward. Being OK with struggling (and pain), toughens us up and allows us to work through times when things are not going well. The average person usually quits when situations get difficult. We who do BJJ learn to thrive off of struggle.
4. BJJ teaches people to sacrifice
I know people will say that losing weight, “starving” yourself and working out while famished is unhealthy or dumb. However, you can learn a lot from all three. When I started BJJ, I lost a significant amount of weight. I DO NOT ADVOCATE SIGNIFICANT OR UNHEALTHY WEIGHT LOSS, but I learned a lot from doing it myself. I learned the value of sacrifice due to a weight management program. I learned how to go without. I learned how to be conscious of my body weight and what I can and cannot put into it. I took that learning experience of sacrifice and have applied it to nearly every area of my life. Sacrifice means to do things that you do not always want to do, but you do it anyway regardless of the difficulty or challenge. It also means that sometimes you have to deal with things that suck to get better.
5. BJJ teaches discipline
Losing weight or maintaining a certain weight requires discipline even for someone who is grappling frequently at their natural weight. Our body weight fluctuates daily. Some days you weigh 150 pounds and others 153 or 154 pounds without changing a thing. Jiu-Jitsu requires you to weigh a certain weight each contest. Right there is discipline in knowing that you have to be alert to your diet and fluid consumption. But the more considerable discipline is the daily grind of the sport. It is competing when you are tired, sore, and not 100%. Most people who practice BJJ hardly ever compete at a pure 100%. It’s almost impossible due to live combat in practice, conditioning exercises, and competition.
6. BJJ teaches self-reliance
Being an individual sport in nature, you learn to rely on yourself. It is a team sport, though, and you need teammates to be successful. No great grappler can do it without teammates. However, when it comes to competition, it is you and that other person. You learn a lot in those situations. Beating a tough opponent is exhilarating, and losing can be devastating. Those five minutes (the length of the average BJJ match below black belt) ultimately teach you how to rely on yourself. You have coaches and teammates supporting you from the sidelines, but it is you and only you. Many times in life it is you and only you. Do you see the similarity?
7. BJJ makes you stronger, more balanced and develops kinesthetic awareness
BJJ will make you stronger, lower your body fat, and improve your cardiovascular endurance. From grappling, you learn how to use and move your body effectively. The skills you learn in BJJ are transferable to every other sport. You see many successful professional athletes getting in extra training time by practicing Jiu-Jitsu.
8. BJJ teaches mental toughness
Although this is redundant to all the other reasons thus far, it needs explicitly stated. By default, a person will get mentally tougher from Jiu-Jitsu. The practices and competition alone will build mental toughness.
9. BJJ’s rewards are readily apparent
In many team sports, only the star player or skill players are recognized and rewarded for their efforts. In BJJ, it is easy to see success as a participant. When you win a match, it is you who won not a great quarterback or hitter that won the game for a team.
10. Grapplers are ALL shapes and sizes
Jiu-Jitsu is one of the few sports that anyone can compete due to weight classes. The shortest person can compete. The slowest person can compete. How many short, slow people are on a basketball team? How many 110-pound people are linebackers on the football team? Jiu-Jitsu doesn’t discriminate due to size or speed. With multiple age and weight classes at regional and national tournaments, anyone can do BJJ and be successful.
11. BJJ changes your mindset
Call it mental toughness or positive thinking, but after you have grappled, your mind changes, and it changes for the better. You see life differently. You view situations that were once difficult as just another common event. I can’t explain it, but wrestling has made me into a person who sees challenges as opportunities, tough times as things to be embraced, and hard work as the standard to be successful. Because of this, a grappler develops a certain air of confidence and self-esteem that makes them feel that all things are possible with time, perseverance, and working hard.
The points above are why all people should try Jiu-Jitsu. Please reach out to us if you have questions about the sport of BJJ. It is hard. It will be challenging, especially when you start out. There is a lot to learn to be successful. Most people lose much more than they win in the beginning. It is never too late to start. BJJ is school for adults. The lessons grapplers learn stay with them for a lifetime.
In the early days there was no real separation between jiujitsu and vale tudo. To train jiujitsu was to be ready to fight, in the street or in the ring, against anyone at any time. It was this way when I came up through the ranks.
Over time there became an unhealthy division between modern tournament jiujitsu, mixed martial arts, and self-defense. Development in any system always comes with specialization, but at what point is it necessary to step back and understand that fractured systems are damaged ones. That something once designed to be expressed in many contexts has disintegrated into isolated pockets of knowledge.
The true art of jiujitsu can be found in those techniques which require minimal or no modification whether performed for self-defense or the tournament game.
The true mindset of jiujitsu is budō. To be ready to fight or compete at any time, in any rule set, without weight classes or time limits, and if necessary to the death. It is also to live as a warrior and face every adversity in life with courage and honor. Without these ideals jiujitsu is nothing.
The majority of Jiu-Jitsu academies have less than 15 people on the mat in a given session. At these academies most students will be white or blue belts with very few higher belts on the mat. These numbers are likely to be even lower if you live in a small town or a remote part of the country. The lack of higher level training opponents can sometimes make it more difficult to improve your skills once you reach a particular level.
Major gyms such as ATOS and Renzo Gracie’s that have dozens of black belts and lots of high level competitors on the mat at every session are extremely rare. People who train at these academies tend to move city and even country in order to train at these locations. However moving city or joining a new gym is not an option for everyone. Most people train BJJ for fun and do not wish to pursue it as a career.
Despite the lack of high level training partners you can still ensure that you are learning by training a little bit smarter. Here are some tips on how you can ensure that your rate of progress is maintained in such a scenario.
Creating a curriculum to follow is a great way to make sure you stay focused on getting better. Without a curriculum you are at risk of going from class to class without any significant improvement of knowledge. If you are not focused on learning specific new techniques there is the risk that you will continue to use the same few techniques over and over. This will help you perfect those techniques but it may come at the cost of your overall game.
A curriculum gives you a road map to follow. The curriculum can focus on positions, sequences, and submissions and have set periods dedicated to learning each different element/ A good curriculum will include constant revision and .
A journal is a great place to track your progress along the curriculum and is also a useful tool to help you remember what you have learned.
Compete (a lot!)
There is no doubt that competing helps to improve your skills. By competing you get a chance to test your skills against other grapplers at your level. You also get to put the things you have learned in training into practice to see if they actually work. Competition is also a great way of finding the holes in your game and giving you a clear direction on what you need to work on.
Another benefit of competition is that it gives you something for which to aim. If you plan on competing it will help to focus your training and keep you motivated to keep training and getting better. Try and book competitions a couple of months out so that you can do full training camps in which you aim to peak for the event.
If possible try and compete in different rule sets and formats. Competing in both Gi and Nogi with different rules will help you become a better rounded grappler. You can always choose to specialize in one format but initially it is a good idea to get experience in both.
Smoothcomp is a good place to check out upcoming competitions in your area.
Be prepared to travel
If you live in a remote location and are serious about improving your Jiu-Jitsu you need to be prepared to travel. You don’t need to travel everyday but you should try and identify training and learning opportunities and plan trips accordingly.
Identify high level training partners in nearby locations and connect with them on social media. This will allow you keep abreast of training opportunities and will also be useful if you want to organize your own training sessions.
Also try to keep an eye out for seminars and open mats. These are great places to meet other Jiu-Jitsu practitioners who may be in a similar situation to you.
Study the Pro’s
This is one of the best ways to improve in my opinion. When you see a high level black belt hit a move in competition on another black belt you know for sure that the technique being used works. YouTube tutorials can often be misleading and their effectiveness in live sparring may be limited.
The best place to start when studying the Pro’s is to pick a grappler that has a similar body type to you. Watch as many of their matches as possible and after a while you may begin to see spot sequences and moves that you can incorporate into your own game. Try to replicate the sequences and moves in your own training through trial and error until it starts to work. Keeping notes on your video breakdowns will help make the steps more clear and easier for you to incorporate into your training.
There is a ton of free competition footage on YouTube and when you run out of that you can look into getting a Flograppling subscription.
Train to your opponents strengths
This is a great way to fix gaps in your game and is a smart way to train when sparring opponents are limited. Take the example of when you face a strong opponent with good Judo. In this scenario your ground game is superior and it is tempting to simply pull guard and work your advantage. However in cases with limited training partners it is more beneficial to resist this urge. Instead take the chance to work on your standup and do this continually to point where your standup is equal to your opponent.
Every sparring opponent has their own strengths. Identifying these strengths and putting yourself in their favorite positions is a great way to improve quickly.
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Jiu-Jitsu is a journey down a long road that has many peaks and valleys. That being said at times we are super motivated and can’t wait to get into the gym. Other times motivation to get to the gym just isn’t there.
Our minds and hearts all want to train but getting off the couch can be difficult if you allow it.
In this video Black Belt No Gi World Champion Tim Spriggs gives some advice that will help you get and stay motivated to train.
Black Belt No Gi world champion Tim Spriggs sits down with White Belt BJJ to discuss what a day one BJJ practitioner should focus on.
1) Relax And Breathe
2) Learn to love shrimping because it will save your life 😂
3) Practice Skill, Not Strength And Speed
4) Don’t Be Flat
5) Get Good At Escapes
6) Use Your Hips More
7) Be Patient
8) Enjoy Practice
9) Roll More
10) Be Humble