Giving and Receiving Feedback

During my last post I covered in detail the 7 different learning styles and how you can improve your retention of techniques by focusing more on your dominant learning style(s).

It seems a natural progression to move on from the topic of learning styles to feedback (giving and receiving it) and the role that it plays in your Jiu Jitsu game.

Getting feedback from training partners and instructors is an important aspect in the life of a martial artist. Feedback is how we correct holes in our games. Feedback is how we help our training partners get better. Feedback keeps us honest and humble.

I was teaching a three day seminar earlier this year and for some reason over the course of those few days I kept bringing up the importance of giving feedback. I didn’t think of it before hand, but you never know when insight will strike. Sometimes you just have to run with it.

But back on topic.

Giving feedback is a way of letting your partner know if their technique is good or if they are missing some key details and vice versa.

Positive and Negative Feedback

There is no bad feedback. It’s only how receptive you are to the feedback and your reaction to it. Whether you will take it to heart and use it to improve your game or let it fall on deaf ears is up to you.

Positive Feedback – Affirming comments about past behavior. Pointing out strengths and praising them for it.

Negative Feedback – Corrective comments about past behavior. Pointing out where improvement is needed and suggesting things that they can do to change their performance.

Examples of feedback

Everyone in Jiu Jitsu has received feedback over the course of their training. Like when you are trying to master a cross choke but you haven’t quite gotten the move down so you change your grip and try the choke again.  But your partner doesn’t tap right away so you have to adjust your grip again and repeat until it works effectively.

Or when your partner is working a toreando pass but it’s missing some details so you have them do it on you until they are able to address the different ways that you were able to stave off their pass.

These are both forms of giving feedback and when I think about it this might be the best way to learn and to improve in Jiu Jitsu.

Feedback: information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement.

Giving feedback and being able to receive feedback is how you grow in Jiu Jitsu and I’m sure this holds true for other parts of your life as well.

Every time you step into your academy you are receiving feedback in some form or another.

Feedback from your instructor

When you are learning techniques you receive feedback from your instructor in the form of them leaving you alone if you are correctly performing the technique well or them giving you even more detailed instruction if you’ve mastered the move set. The flip side of this is when you are not performing the technique well. The instructor will spend more time going over the move again and will keep a closer eye on you throughout the class.

Feedback from your training partners

Jiu Jitsu is built on receiving feedback from your training partner and using that information to improve your technique.

If your move or attack is ineffective, your training partner is the first to let you know.

Then you are able to calibrate your technique for a better response. If not, you keep trying and reworking the key details of the move until it works.

If your move or technique is effective, your training partner will be the first person to let you know.

And you are able to move on to the next move, and when that move gives you trouble or is just a little bit off. You begin the process of calibrating all over again.

As much as we like to think of Jiu Jitsu as a solo art form. At its core it is a collective activity. Without the feedback from your training partners and them allowing you to practice your skills on their bodies there would be no Jiu Jitsu.

Feedback from tournaments

Tournaments are important because they are the fairest test of your techniques and abilities. You are given as equal footing as realistically possible. You are matched against same sized, similarly aged, similarly skilled opponents and set to compete.

Now if only all parts of life were that fair!

During a competition you receive so much feedback, all in real time. You try a move and if it is successful you are positively rewarded with a better position, points, a submission, or medal. If unsuccessful, you risk losing position, your opponent being rewarded points, getting submitted, or not receiving a medal.

Regardless of how you do. The experience from one tournament alone could be worth weeks or even months of regular training in your academy and there lies the value of understanding and effectively utilizing feedback. It’s literally a way of hacking your Jiu Jitsu so that you are able to progress even faster.

Open Communication

Before I started training full-time, I worked part-time as an educator for a well known athletic apparel brand. That means I got to help ladies pick out the perfect pair of stretchy pants while wearing my favorite Jiu Jitsu t-shirts and athletic apparel. Not a bad job really.

But one thing that was always emphasized was this idea of open communication. I’m sure my readers that are in the corporate world have heard of this term before while being exposed to team building exercises. But for those that aren’t as familiar with this term. Open communication is the free flow of information regardless of ability, seniority, or position.

Because we spent so much focus on open communication we became accustomed to giving and receiving feedback so that everyone on our staff was on the same page at all times.

In the academy this would mean instructors being able to openly communicate with students and students being able to communicate openly to the instructor and other students.

Open Communication

Training partners are encouraged to share their thoughts and concerns, both good and bad, without worry of retaliation from other students and/or instructors when feedback is negative.

What usually happens

What happens a lot with beginners and lower belts is that they often won’t give detailed feedback as they might not have the knowledge to identify when a move is not being applied correctly.

This also happens when you have a higher belt paired up with a lower belt, but the higher belt doesn’t do the technique properly.

Again, most lower belts won’t speak up out of respect for the hierarchy of rank. Allowing the higher belt to continue practicing the move improperly.

When you have an academy built on open communication it is much easier for students to give feedback without worry of unsettling their training partners or more senior students. This feedback will only make your training partners, students, and your academy better.

But this change has to come from the top from instructors and the heads of the academy.

Giving Feedback

Everyone can give feedback. In fact every time a training partner performs a technique on you is an opportunity for you to give them feedback.

Yes! That move worked well.

No! Try repositioning your body to your side.

When giving feedback there are a few tips that will help you NOT come off as an asshole or a know-it-all.

  • Timing of Feedback
  • Balanced Feedback
  • Be Specific

Timing of feedback – It’s best to give feedback in real time or during a period when it’s relevant (like immediately after class) versus waiting a full day or longer when it’s less helpful.

Example. Coaching during a match.

Balanced Feedback – Balance both positive and negative feedback. I like to lead with something that the person does well before moving on to areas where they can improve upon.

Specificity – Be specific about the move or detail they should focus on that way they will know exactly what they should be working on.

Being Receptive

Jiu Jitsu is one of the most effective martial arts in the world due to the level of feedback that we absorb throughout our training. Between our training partners, instructors, rolling and getting tapped or doing the tapping. We receive so much information.

Being receptive to feedback is an important part of Jiu Jitsu because it is the only way that you will be able to improve.

Receiving Feedback

  • Actively listen. Respond and remember what is being said.
  • Say thanks. Regardless of whether the feedback is useful or not.
  • Evaluate feedback. Think about how you can effectively apply the feedback to grow your Jiu Jitsu game.

It’s telling that many of best competitors and instructors are also some of the most receptive to feedback. There is only so much time in which you can train. Why not utilize the knowledge and insight gained from your training partners to better yourself?

“Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings, so that you shall gain easily what others have labored hard for.”

-Socrates

Seeking Feedback

As you get to a higher level of training, I think you will be more proactive in seeking feedback.

Every roll will be a chance for you to collect more data. You try a technique and if it works then good. If not, you use that feedback to improve your technique or your timing or whatever until it does work.

There is no secret to success on the mats but the first step to improving, and this is what separates those who click with Jiu Jitsu on a higher level from those who have a lot of trouble picking up techniques, is all in actively (as opposed to passively) seeking feedback.

The best way to receive feedback is to ask for it.

Ask open ended questions such as:

“I’m having trouble in this specific position. What can I do to improve my chances of getting past it?”

“How can I get this sweep to work if my opponent does this to counter?”

By asking open ended questions you allow the responder to give you a useful, detailed response that you will be able to put into action.

Conclusion

You will always be receiving and giving feedback whether you are aware of it or not.

When you first start training the majority of the feedback that you will receive will come from your training partners and your instructor(s).

But you have to be open to it no matter the source.

Be it your rivals.

Lower belts.

Higher belts.

You want to find balance when giving feedback. Balance both the positive and negative. Of course troubleshoot what needs to be worked on but make sure not overlook the good stuff as well.

At the end of the day the feedback will be there in your training and in your interactions with your training partners and instructors. Though it’s up to you in how receptive you are to it and how you are able to frame it and use it to improve.

Remembering Techniques

I recently had a blue belt training partner approach me after class one day. He asked me how was I able to remember all of the moves that the instructor taught.

That day in class we covered one major position. But many different complex options that we could utilize depending on our opponent’s reactions.

I offered him a few suggestions that help me personally.

But I didn’t think much of it. Looking back a lot of the students (from blue belt all the way up to black belt) seemed to struggle stringing together the techniques.

As much as I like to think that I have a great memory and am a Jiu Jitsu wiz. There are times when I’m slow to pick up a move or the technique doesn’t seem to “click” at first.   

Starting Out

When you first begin training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu everything is new to you.

Even if you have a background in other sports or martial arts. Jiu Jitsu is unlike anything else out there.

Take for instance the simple act of shrimping. The concept of moving on the ground sounds easy enough. Actual doing it is hard.

I remember being a white belt and seeing my instructor show a technique (multiple times and with lots of details) and by the time it took to walk back to my partner and practice the move. I would completely blank out.

When you start doing Jiu Jitsu, it’s very much like learning to swim all over again.

You’re uncoordinated. Swore all over from using muscles that you didn’t even know you had, and a lot of it doesn’t make sense.

It doesn’t help that most people’s interaction with the ground is limited to rolling around on their bed or getting off of the ground when they happen to slip and fall.

Even if you do understand the concepts behind the moves. That doesn’t mean that your body is physically prepared to turn your understanding into action.

You will see this a lot when someone takes time off of training. They will know exactly what moves to perform but their timing will be way off. Their body literally cannot keep up with their mind.

Experience

A lot of remembering techniques comes from experience.

Experience seeing the movements being done over and over.

The experience of trying the move and having it not work. Then having to troubleshoot the move.

Find Your Learning Style(s)

For new and more seasoned students, I think it’s important for you to understand how you learn best.

Jiu Jitsu is an introspective art form. I know many people use Jiu Jitsu as a cathartic release. A way of relieving strong emotions and stress. But if you really want to improve you will need to put a lot of thought into your practice. There’s no other way.

“The best advice that John Danaher gave me is to continually have intentionality in jiu-jitsu; in the immediate term, intentionality of movement, every grip, every set up must have a clear purpose. In the longer term to always have focused goals for your skill.”

-Ottavia Bourdain

The 7 Jiu Jitsu Learning Styles


Visual (spatial):

  • You prefer using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.
  • Visual learners learn by watching the technique being performed.
  • They are also great at visualizing moves and outcomes in their mind.

Aural (auditory-musical):

  • You prefer using sound and music.
  • Aural learners learn best when there is sound and music.
  • You will often find that they hum or sing songs while training.

Verbal (linguistic):

  • You prefer using words, both in speech and writing.
  • Verbal learners work best when being told detailed instructions on how to perform a technique or action.
  • The more details the better. Often seen carrying around a Jiu Jitsu journal to write down new moves.

Physical (kinesthetic):

  • You prefer using your body, hands and sense of touch.
  • Physical learners think while moving their bodies.
  • They might have trouble picking up a move just from watching it. But will get it down once they get a chance to perform the technique.

Logical (mathematical):

  • You prefer using logic, reasoning and systems.
  • Logical learners work best when taught through the use of concepts and systems. They are the go to when it comes to solving problems and figuring out different positions.
  • Logical learners love examples and connecting techniques to other movements.

Social (interpersonal):

  • You prefer to learn in groups or with other people.
  • Social learns work best by bouncing thoughts off of their training partners and listening to their feedback. The more group energy the better.
  • Social learners enjoy open mats and taking private lessons.

Solitary (intrapersonal):

  • You prefer to work alone and use self-study.
  • Solitary learners will often learn through self study of videos and online training programs.
  • Solitary learners enjoy working independently and figuring out different positions and techniques on their own.

Great Instructors

The best instructors are able to teach to multiple styles of learning all at once. They are able to find a way for every student to understand the techniques that they show.

Student of Jiu Jitsu

As a student of Jiu Jitsu it is your job to understand the way you learn best.

In the ideal world your instructor would be able to cater to your learning style but due to class size and time limits this isn’t always possible.

Regardless, as you progress in your study of Jiu Jitsu. You instructor will go from holding your hand and walking you through techniques to becoming more of mentor.

Conclusion

A lot of the confusion in learning techniques (and remembering them) is that you don’t utilize your dominant style(s) of learning.

There are lots of exercises and tools that you can use:

  • Visualizing yourself performing the techniques.
  • Filming moves
  • Keeping a Jiu Jitsu journal
  • Watching the technique being done multiple times
  • Having your instructor physically place you in the right position

There are no shortages of tools that you can use to help yourself retain techniques and moves. But I think the most important step is the first step. You have to make a conscious decision to improve and a conscious effort to take the action.

Common Ground

With the 2016 presidential election out of the way. I think now more than ever the Jiu Jitsu community needs to come together.

This past year I’ve witnessed friends and training partners bickering, fighting, and name calling.

I’m sure that a lot of friendships were damaged on and off the mats.

In Jiu Jitsu we aren’t strangers to dealing with politics. It’s everywhere around us.

There’s politics in belt graduations. Who gets promoted versus those that are held back longer.

Politics in which academies that you can visit. Being allowed to only train at affiliated academies while being deterred from training at non-affiliated academies.

Politics in tournaments between different teams, tournament rule sets, and referees.

There is no shortage of examples on how politics affect each and everyone of us.

But I believe that it’s important not to let our differences separate us.

Diversity

The Jiu Jitsu community is a really diverse environment. It brings so many unique individuals together in a positive environment that you don’t see in many places.

Recently, I went out to lunch with a group of my training partners after a Saturday session. And when we all got up to leave, a woman approached our group asking how we all knew each other and what brought such a diverse group of people together.

This seemed so out of the ordinary to this lady. But to us it was just a normal day.

What other place can you have executives, doctors, and lawyers training with small business owners, college students, and blue collar workers.

A place where there is no social class, division by wealth, politics or whatever else that separates so many of us in our daily lives.

A place where people from all over the world gather on a daily basis to sweat together and to learn together.

While there is a hierarchy. The upper ranks are equally accessible to all members considering they put in the time and effort.

That’s as fair as life gets!

Politics

While there will always be politics inside and outside of your academy. Every academy has politics. It’s just to what degree those politics affect you.

Academies with more politics do tend to have more drama. If possible try to avoid them. But you never really know until you actually spend some time in that academy.

But again all academies will have some degree of politics. Whether or not it is a deal breaker will be up to you to decide.

Bond created and shared through Jiu Jitsu
Bond created and shared through Jiu Jitsu

Special breed

It takes a special breed of person to endure the grind that is martial arts. Especially the grappling arts such as Wrestling, Judo, Sambo, and of course Jiu Jitsu.

It’s such a physical and mental martial art that you have to develop a deep trust and respect for your fellow training partners and instructors.

For example consider the action of doing a hip throw (O Goshi). While it is a simple technique, there is a lot behind it that makes it work. For one, the thrower must have the proper technique to perform the throw and the receiver (uke) must trust that the thrower will put him/her down safely. The thrower must also trust the receiver to not get injured on the way down by properly doing a break fall.

When you’re dealing with potentially dangerous techniques that can injure, choke, break, twist, tear or whatever combination that you can think of. There has to be this deep level of trust to insure that everyone stays safe.

Support

From day one in Jiu Jitsu you are confronted with your limitations in conditioning, strength, technique, and experience.

And yet people continue training. Until, slowly but surely their conditioning gets a little bit better. They can make it through the warm up and a few rolls. As they continue their training they gain the strength necessary to play in those intricate guard positions and passing positions. Now they can develop good technique and not have to rely on their strength as much. Until they’ve gained the experience to utilize everything that they’ve learned throughout their journey.

While Jiu Jitsu is a seriously introspective art form (in a way all martial arts are). The only way to make it is through the support of your training partner’s and instructors.

You might not consider it but even those people that you compete against in tournaments make you better.

Conclusion

We need to stick together now more than ever.

In a society that is ready to separate us based on social status, gender, race, etc. We have to stand together.

From my experience, training Jiu Jitsu (in the right environment) makes one

  • More respectful of other cultures and religions
  • More open to different and opposing ideals
  • Less judgmental

These are all qualities that we should hope to embody and to impart on those that we interact with on a daily basis. Be it friends outside of our Jiu Jitsu circle, coworkers, family members, etc.

Just by doing Jiu Jitsu we have this incredible thing that connects us all together. It doesn’t matter if you do gi or nogi, if you’re male or female, white belt or black belt. Jiu Jitsu is for everyone. It’s our common bond.