Longevity in Jiu Jitsu

Longevity in Jiu Jitsu is something that I think a lot about.

I know I’ll be doing Jiu Jitsu for a long time but I also recognize that many of the moves that younger practitioners take for granted like rolling inverted or speed passing might not carry over well into the masters division.

Not only does your technical ability and focus change the longer you train, but also your mindset and approach changes as well.

While a younger athlete might be solely focused on winning tournaments.

An older athlete might focus more on fitness and maintaining health.

When I look at the demographic of many academies. It’s easy to see that the average student is a late 20’s or early 30’s working professional. Training for fitness and fun, not championships or titles.

Not to knock my older athletes out there. But typically at this point, Jiu Jitsu is more of an exciting hobby or a part of your daily routine that you do in addition to your career, your relationships, children, etc.

Depending on where you are in life. Your priorities will be different.

I’m going to cover a few topics that have allowed me to keep training at a high level despite injuries and other setbacks for many years.

When you’re doing Jiu Jitsu it helps to think long term. Because everything takes so long. It takes time to develop the proper movement skills, fundamental techniques, and conditioning that you will even need before you can fully dive into your practice.

I love the saying, “Jiu Jitsu is a marathon and not a sprint”.

If you really want to get better at Jiu Jitsu then it will help to…

Diet

The more I train, the more I realize how important diet is to your performance on and off of the mat.

It doesn’t take a scientist to know that eating the wrong foods before training, or not allowing yourself enough time after eating to digest can negatively effect your rolling.

Rather than focusing on the word “diet”.
Instead, focus on nutrition–eating high quality proteins, carbs, and fats and most importantly, not starving yourself. The major difference between dieting and nutrition is the sustainability. You can maintain a diet for a few weeks, but nutrition is a lifestyle.

For my non-diet experts out there, you want to avoid most sugary drinks and foods including: soda, fruit drinks, fancy starbucks lattes, and all things processed (if it doesn’t have an expiration date, leave it alone).

Here is a general list of foods to avoid:
Dairy (grassfed is an exception)
Refined sugars
Modern vegetable oils
Processed foods

Knowing what not to eat is the first step in nutrition and it will take time to implement. Nothing is harder than not being able to eat a familiar comfort food (ex. pizza) or not being able to grab a meal with your teammates after a grueling practice.

You just have to find the right balance.

Quitting cold turkey works if you’re experienced in following diet plans or have a lot of self restraint, but for most people, it’s best to wean yourself off all processed stuff slowly.

Quality

Of course, the quality of the meats and vegetables that you get matter. If you have access to grass fed, locally grown items then go for it.

You can find quality ingredients from any grocery store nowadays, but the ones that I personally use include:

Whole Foods
Costco
Trader Joe’s
Fresh Market
Local Farmers Market

For the cash-strapped up-and-comers, get the best quality that you can afford, even if that means looking for deals using coupons, sales, or buying in bulk. A great way to save money is by shopping online through sites like Amazon, US Wellness Meats, and Tropical Traditions.

Sleep

It doesn’t matter how good you are. If you don’t get a proper amount of sleep. You’re going to be off.

Sleep is the single most important part of your overall health. During sleep, your body goes through a lot of integral processes including tissue repair and growth, as well as memory consolidation.

So if you’re training a lot, more than anything else you do, sleep could make the difference in your performance. .

Aim for 7-9 hours nightly if you can. There are apps out there (such as Sleep Cycle) that can help you monitor how much time you sleep and measure the quality of your sleep as well.

Training Partner Selectivity

There are some training partners that you have to be careful rolling with. There’s no shame in avoiding them. Especially, if they have a history of injuring others.

There is nothing worse than worrying about someone injuring you while you’re training with them. There’s a good chance that you won’t get anything out of the training anyway. So you should probably not roll with them or if you can’t get out of it. Focus on rolling conservatively. Being careful not to leave any body parts exposed or in vulnerable positions.

You have to develop a hyper awareness almost like a “spidey sense” because a lot of times your partner might do something crazy or something you don’t see coming.

Prehab and Physical Therapy

I’m a big believer in doing conditioning outside of just training Jiu Jitsu.

For some people this might mean lifting weights, doing yoga, or cross training in other sports.

I make it a habit to really focus on mobility and strengthening those injury prone joints.

You know the ones I’m talking about.

Those knees and shoulders.

Keeping these joints strong makes it harder to injure them and will decrease the time it will take to get them up and running if they do get injured.

Injuries are a part of this martial art. There’s no way to completely safe guard yourself from them. I’m sure everyone has something nagging them.

Just don’t let that keep you from training. But if it’s a serious injury that prevention function and range of motion, then you need to take a break. A lot of Jiu Jitsu practitioners are hard headed in that reguard. They get hurt but they continue training and actually make the injury worse.

This is when you need that long term training mindset.

Take time off when your injury is not serious and let it heal instead of doing more damage.

Of course, consult a physical therapist or doctor and take steps from there.

“Some good habits to develop early on in jiu-jitsu career that will help increase longevity is to work on muscle imbalances and joint restrictions, allow for adequate rest and recovery, and to train smart with no ego.

Evidence shows that the biggest predictor of future injuries (aside from a previous injury), is asymmetry in strength or flexibility. If you only learn to pass going to one side, or only play guard on one side you are over using one muscle group and neglecting another.

When preparing for a tournament we tend to focus on increasing the intensity of our training, or adding a strength and conditioning program but rarely schedule set times or days focused on recovery. To help prevent burnout, we need to make sure we’re getting adequate sleep, having a healthy, well balanced diet and, most importantly, listen to our bodies when we are exhibiting signs of overtraining. These include persistent fatigue and muscle soreness (beyond what’s expected from the workout), difficulty sleeping, irritability, depression and malaise.

Lastly, we have to train smart with no ego. This seems obvious, but in the heat of the moment during an intense roll our competitive nature can get the better of us. Training with no ego doesn’t only mean tapping when a submission is locked in, it is also about knowing when to give up on a position. Twisting your knee that extra bit to help create an angle for the knee cut pass, muscling your way out of the folders pass when your hips are pinned and your back is twisted, or exploding out of a stacked pass to create a scramble will all have a cumulative effect and something is going to give.”

Clinton Gouveia, PT, DPT

Proper Movement

Knowing how to move, and knowing how your body, and your partner’s bodies are supposed to move will keep you healthy and training hard for many years to come.

Does your knee feel weird while knee cutting? Maybe don’t knee cut on that side or try a different passing technique.

Proper movement dynamics is something that you will see in a lot of high level athletes. Having that proper alignment, not forcing techniques, and knowing when to let go or give up a position comes with experience.

I’ve seen so many people put themselves into a bad position and then try to force their way out. It’s scary.

Again, you need to develop that body awareness or grappling “sense” that will keep you from doing anything to injure yourself.

Technique over physical attributes

This is probably one of the biggest factors in determining how long you will be able to enjoy your training.

When you’re young or healthy your physical attributes can and do cover for a lot of your technical holes in your game.

We all know those students that get away with a lot in training because they are phenomenally strong.

There’re practically a superhero in a gi (or rashguard).

But their strength can become a crutch for them. Because of it, they don’t have to rely on as much technique. And this works for while. At least until, they come across someone even stronger than themselves.

There’s always going to be someone stronger, or faster, or more flexible.

We only have so much wiggle room in how far we can push ourselves physically.

But there is no limit to your technique. It can continue to get better the more time and work you put into it.

There is so much that goes into to training Jiu Jitsu. Especially, for a decade or more. But I do think that taking care of yourself, your body. Is what’s going to keep you in the game.

No matter how much you love Jiu Jitsu. If your body is ruined or you abused your body, then you’re going to limit yourself in your training.

All the older guys I train with treat their bodies like a temple. Of course, enjoy life and everything. But it’s important to find balance and to maintain yourself as well.

Bringing in 2017

2017 is quickly approaching and as with each new year this brings with it a rush of new potential clients looking for help in achieving their fitness, personal growth, and life goals.

This time of year can really set the pace for the rest of your 2017. Whether your academy will see real growth (in member numbers and gross income) or if you will continue to just get by.

I won’t lie.

Most Jiu Jitsu academies ignore the potential that the new year brings.

But I can assure you that other martial arts academies and the entire fitness industry are already preparing to take full advantage.

Think about this for one second.

People with cash in hand. Looking for a fun way to sweat and to release stress in a safe environment.

If this sounds like your academy why not help them and yourself?

From bring in the new year (2016):

“January is to the fitness and martial arts industries what black friday and cyber monday are to big retailers. If you’re not marketing your school for the influx of people looking to make good on their New Year’s Resolutions, then you’ll really miss out on the best time to grow your martial arts school.”

Systems

In 2016, I talked a lot about the importance of having systems in place. Specifically, in creating marketing systems to help you generate more leads. I plan on doing a quick review of that but I want you to think bigger picture.

You should have a system in place for everything!

There should be a system that you use in planning your classes.

A system for training new employees and instructors.

You should even have a system for how to clean your academy.

By implementing systems you make your business more efficient. Which means more time and energy for making money and doing what you love.

Examples of systems

Website

Your website is often the first experience a potential client will have with your business.

There should be a process by which visitors (new prospects) can go to your website. Leave you their contact information and you continue to market to them until they try out your services.

There are a few ways to set up a system for your academy that does exactly this but for now I will leave you with a simple checklist of things your website should contain.

  • Branded Items. Have your logo, image, and social media information available so that they know that you are a real business.
  • Contact Information. Phone and email so that interested prospects have a way of contacting you.
  • Schedule. Self explanatory.
  • Instructor information. Post about yourself, who you’re associated with, and of course your credentials.
  • Lead Generator. Have some way of collecting prospective clients contact information. At least a first and last name, a phone number, and an email address so that you can send them more information.
  • Address. Don’t underestimate the power location has in turning a prospect into a paying client. Place your address some where easily accessible and include a map and landmarks if possible.

Live Telephone Answering Service

It seems like common sense but you never know when a prospective client will call.

The worse thing you can do is let your telephone calls go to voicemail.

It’s like having an attractive girl text you late at night to see what you’re doing.

If you’re wide awake at that time and able to respond to her message. All is good.

But what if you happened to be really tired that night and end up sleeping through her message.

You can bet she’s going to be less interested the next time around!

That’s why you have to strike while the iron is hot.

With an automated telephone service, new prospects will call your number and speak to a virtual receptionist available 24/7 when you’re not able to get to the phone. This works really well because they can forward calls to your sales staff to close the deal, or they can collect the prospects contact information and even input their email address into your other systems.

Once you get a prospective student’s email or phone number you can gauge their level of interest and react accordingly. If they’re really gung ho, go right ahead and sign them up, but if they’re not quite ready to give your program a try, use email to build a relationship with them. Inform them of the benefits that you offer, tell them your history, offer them free guides and videos. Whatever it takes to build interest and eventual get them in your doors.

Lesson Plan for Fundamental/Beginners

Coming up with a lesson plan each week from scratch is really time consuming and it sucks.

I’m talking from experience here.

With more advanced classes you have more freedom in planning classes and working different concepts.

But when you’re dealing with with beginning students it’s best to stick with the basics and have a structured game plan.

At my academy we implement a system of lessons for our beginner (white belt) and intermediate level (blue belt) students. That’s designed to teach them the basics of Jiu Jitsu without overwhelming them.

If your academy is smaller and just starting out then it doesn’t make sense to divide your members up. But as you continue to grow and you have students at all levels. It will become increasingly harder to add brand new students to your (mixed) classes without the higher belts feeling like they have to slow down in order get the lower belts up to speed.

At that point, it becomes more effective for the newer students to work on techniques that are appropriate to their experience level (i.e. learning how to shrimp before learning heel hooks).

Eventually you will need to have a system in place that will help your beginner students learn the fundamental techniques of Jiu Jitsu and prepare them for more advance techniques/classes.

Again, developing systems creates less headaches and worry for you. Which means that you can focus you energy and attentions to other areas of your business.

Marketing Your Academy

You should be marketing your academy and your services year round. Especially during the first quarter of the year (January to March).

This time is great because people are actively seeking solutions to their health and fitness goals.

I know a lot of Jiu Jitsu academies have a negative view on marketing.

Why do you have to market your academy when you are the best in the city, or you have the best competitors, or the highest ranked students?

While this is all good. I can tell you right now that the average person off of the street or visitor to your website has no clue how good your academy is compared to the academy down the street.

They don’t care about how many tournaments you’ve won.

They don’t care about how many champions you’ve produce.

But I do know what they do care about.

They care about themselves and how your business can help them reach their goals!

“Our job is to connect to people, to interact with them in a way that leaves them better than we found them, more able to get where they’d like to go.” – Seth Godin

An easy way to get started is to research the local academies in your area.

Check out their websites.

See what they’re offering prospective clients to try out their programs.

Then use that information to create your own marketing strategy.

A strategy that will set your apart from all the rest.

“Think different” – Apple Computer, Inc.

Online Marketing
This is a fairly broad topic but it includes all of your online marketing efforts and social media, digital products, etc.

We talked about setting up your website earlier. Above all else, it should be informative and simple to use and share.

A few questions to help you get started

  • How is your social media presence? Are you posting new things about your academy and programs daily/weekly/infrequently?
  • Are there any videos of your classes, you teaching, interviews, etc?
  • Are your clients sharing your posts, pictures and other content?
  • What comes up when someone searches your name or your academy? How can you use that to promote your brand.

Direct Mail
I’m talking about good-old fashioned physical marketing tools such as flyers and mailers. It may seem old school but it’s still effective and relevant for a physical location. A well designed mailer, with a modest list depending on the population in your area could generate massive returns.

For example if you purchased a list of 10,000 lead addresses and only had 5%(0.05) of those leads contact your academy. That’s potentially 500 new clients.

Referrals
Your biggest resource and best ally is going to be your loyal clientele.

Do you have a system by which your clients can refer their friends, family members, and coworker’s?

A free trial pass.

A business card.

Even a brochure that your clients can give out would be a low investment -> high reward tool that you can easily implement.

Improving Your Academy

There are going to be a few days during the holidays when you’re academy will be less busy or even closed.

Why not take this time to make some minor (or even major) improvements in and around your academy?

Little touches like:

  • Deeply cleaning your entire academy
  • New coat of paint
  • New/different furniture in your reception area
  • New mats
  • Adding more fitness equipment
  • Wifi for members
  • Complementary body wash

Show that you value your current clients as well as helping you sell your brand to prospective clients.

There is no shortage of things that you can do that will help prepare your academy for the new year.

Having systems in places to help run your academy and focusing on those little touches that will set you apart from those other martial arts/fitness businesses in your area is a good step in the right direction.

The more value you give in terms of the programs you offer, the amenities, and instruction.

The easier it will be to market and sell your services.

This could be the difference between running your academy like a side hustle that barely covers your living expenses versus a business that can generate wealth for many years to come.

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.