How many times have you reflected on a decision or event in your life and said “I shoulda listened to (fill in the blank)” conversely, how many times have you had to hear a parent, friend, significant other or teacher tell you “I told you so?” No one really likes to admit when they are wrong or made a poor decision; especially if someone along the way had been trying to help them avoid it all along.
Since I have recently taken over the Saturday classes at AKA in San Jose, I have found myself repeatedly telling students to do things that I myself had been told to do at their stage of learning but avoided doing. Take drilling for example, I have been requiring quite a bit of Jiu-Jitsu specific drilling in my classes in place of a traditional warm. When I was a white belt at Claudio Franca’s we did a lot of JJ specific drilling as part of our warm ups and the repetitive nature of drilling would drive me crazy…I just wanted to get to the part where we rolled! Now that I’ve been maturing as a Jiu Jitsu practitioner and part-time instructor, I’ve had the chance to reflect on things that my instructors have been trying to tell me all this time. Needless to say, in the back of my head, I have been hearing a lot of “I told you so’s.”
One of the main objectives I have when teaching a class is to help students avoid mistakes that I made when I was at their stage of learning. I now realize that many times I was listening to what my instructors were trying to tell me but I was not hearing them! Sometimes it doesn’t matter how many times our parents tell us that the stove is hot….we just have to get burned good once to realize that they were right. In no particular order, I made a list of the most common things instructors tell us that we listen to but don’t hear until one day we realize that…….they told us so:
Don’t be so tense when rolling that you can’t feel your partners reactions- Remember the guy who always grabs a hold of your gi so ridiculously hard that you think for a slit second that this might actually be a real fight? You try telling him to relax and just ease up, yet each time you roll, here comes the death grip. It takes a while to get used to and you may think that you’re letting your guard down, but it really is true….just watch the upper belts roll and see how less chaotic and tense their sparring sessions look. By relaxing, you also have the added benefit of not gassing in the first minute of your sparring match!
Don’t rely on your attributes- We’ve all trained with the guy who is incredibly strong, lightning fast, maybe has a solid base from wrestling, but those things only get you so far in Jiu-Jitsu. There really is no substitute for good technique. This is one of the main problems I had when I started Jiu Jitsu. I’ve always been an athlete and I’ve always been pretty strong. Not only will you gas quickly by relying on attributes like strength and speed, you also handicap yourself from actually ingraining good technique into your muscle memory. It’s one thing to power out of a triangle because you’re strong, it’s another story when you’re training with an opponent who has a nasty triangle technique just laughing at you as you start to pass out!
Position before submission- This is probably one of the most important things you will ever learn in Jiu Jitsu but it’s also one of the worst habits that most guys have up until high level purple and above. This has always been my biggest problem and the biggest hinderance to my advancement in Jiu Jitsu. One of the most fun parts of learning Jiu Jitsu is the submissions. How cool was it when you first started to tap people out? I remember being a white belt and going against guys that were way bigger than me, more athletic than me or just plain scary looking and seeing the defeated looks on their faces when I got a hold of their arm or neck and made them tap. Just remember, you can’t get a submission when an opponent is crushing you from the mount position or you are on bottom in side control and your opponents shoulder is pressing so hard into your jaw that you think your head might pop off. At the same time, how are you going to finish an opponent if you can’t control him? Learn your escapes, defense, sweeps and control positions and drill the hell out of them. My instructor always told me that if you control your opponent well enough, the submission would present itself….I told you so!
Flow Train- Flow training is an amazing tool for your advancement in Jiu Jitsu and a great way to warm up, but if you flow trained like I did my first few years, you were most likely still sparring. Learn to flow train properly! Flow training allows you to explore new positions, chains of attacks and ways of moving your body, just to name a few. Remember that flow training is a give and take with your partners. A good rule of thumb is to never stop moving for more than three seconds and do not use any real resistance. When flow training you are not looking to tap someone out. You should still practice your combinations and finishes but to a different end. Let’s say my partner and I are flow training and he allows me to sweep him from the closed guard and end up with an armbar; as I sit back to finish the armbar, my intent is to now let him work on escaping the armbar and going to his next position. Remember give and take…flow training is not a competition!
Train without ego (kind of)- Okay, this is going to be the hardest rule to follow and maybe even a bit unrealistic at times but here we go. If you treat every sparring session like a must win event you will end up losing in the long run for several reasons. One- we all know that guy who goes 150% at all times and gets angry if he loses and no one likes to train with that guy. Two- you run a much higher risk of hurting yourself and/or your partner thus reducing people willing to train with you and spending lots of time rehabing your own injuries. This all equals less Jiu Jitsu and is very counter productive to the learning process. Three- you limit your own ability to learn escapes and proper defense if you are so scared to lose that you do not let yourself be put in a bad situation….even against a lower belt.
We all have ego and I don’t think the majority of us truly train without it 95% of the time but that’s just my opinion. I think that you should train hard and train to finish fights but at the same time, be aware of who you are training with and be respectful. If you are an advanced belt and you are training with a new white belt, your goal should not be to see how fast you can tap him. Your goal should be to work on something you haven’t yet perfected or maybe trying a guard or sweep that you’re not yet comfortable with. Let him move around and try to give you a hard time. You will both benefit from this. If you are a purple belt training with another purple belt, try to dominate him (in a respectful way). If you lose, learn from it…analyze what you did wrong and work on fixing it, don’t get pissy and let it ruin your day.
Drill- It took me a long time to appreciate drilling and it’s one of those things that I really wish I would have spent more time on during my first few years of training. What really made me realize that I had neglected this simple but amazingly effective tool was when I began preparing for the US Open. Yes, it took me over four years to really start preaching to drill techniques over and over until they become a part of you….better late than never I guess. How often does an instructor show you a sweep for instance; you grab a partner, maybe do the sweep 5 or 10 times each and then you start chatting or working on some technique you saw on YouTube? Drilling isn’t as fun as rolling but when you commit to adding more drilling to your routine, I promise you that you will see significant benefits in the long run. Drill, drill, drill!
That’s it for now. I hope this helps you shave some time off of your Jiu Jitsu evolution. Don’t wait for someone to tell you “I told you so!”
Thanks for reading,