The topic of this discussion is a bit ironic, given the recent scarcity of my blog posts. Irony aside, I thought I’d dedicate a post to the single factor that has improved my (admittedly still novice) BJJ game more than anything else: consistency.
Before experiencing the effectiveness of jiu jitsu, I thought the key to winning fights was strength and speed. I figured that if I just put in enough time at the gym, or if I could force myself to do enough push-ups, I could ensure that I would be bigger, stronger, and faster than anyone I’d come across. Of course, this was a fantasy I clung to in high school before realizing that I seriously hated working out. Not to mention that I was smaller and skinnier than pretty much everyone I knew, which meant I was already at a massive disadvantage in the muscles category.
Eventually, I decided to try out Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. After my first class (and after sparring with 2 or 3 people) I was breathless, exhausted, and demoralized. I had been choked against my will by people half my size (so clearly it wasn’t a matter of strength), was unable to do anything about it, and was determined to find out the secret to becoming better at jiu jitsu. In my mind, there had to be some physical attribute that was allowing these people to beat me.
For some reason, I latched onto the idea that the key was flexibility. I saw Youtube videos of jiu jitsu legends like Nino Schembri and Eddie Bravo folding their bodies in half to secure unbelievable submissions.
Naturally, I began stretching religiously. During class, at parties, sitting in front of the TV – any time I had a chance, I’d find some way to stretch my legs, hips, or arms (to the annoyance of everyone around me). Unfortunately, even after I had improved my hip flexibility, I wasn’t “winning” my sparring matches. I began trying to accelerate my progression in other ways as well – I’d spend hours each day watching countless youtube instructional videos. I’d go running and do rounds on the speed rope to boost my endurance. It wasn’t long before I found myself overwhelmed with “new techniques” to try in class. I was also always tired and sore, and although I was improving as a practitioner, I was discouraged at my progress.
Eventually – and very slowly – I began to put pieces together. After drilling arm bar setups over and over, I was finally beginning to catch people with a smooth setup. A few dozen classes later, I was beginning to notice openings for other techniques when my arm bar setups failed. Suddenly, I came to a realization that I wished I had arrived at months earlier: there is no magic secret to becoming better at jiu jitsu. Like almost everything else in life, you have to put in lots of time and hard work. At least in my experience, success on the mats is a direct function of the effort you put in.
However, there’s more to it than just spending time on the mats. We’ve all seen students who show up to class and spend their time talking rather than drilling the techniques. Personally, I’ve seen the fastest improvements in my game when I’m both consistent in my class attendance and in my effort while in class. By effort, I don’t mean using every ounce of energy to smash your training partners – I don’t think that kind of training is sustainable for you or your training partners. Rather, you should be trying to make the best possible use of your time while in class. Maintain your focus while you drill and while you train, and ensure that you have goals for each. Then, with regular attendance, you’ll continue to improve by leaps and bounds.
Of course, flexibility, strength, and a knowledge base will certainly help you progress. But luckily, these will come as benefits of consistent training rather than as prerequisites. Don’t burn yourself out by trying to improve as fast as possible. Be consistent in your training and eventually you’ll find yourself miles ahead of those “twice a month” badasses that used to demolish you.