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.

Can you make it in Jiu Jitsu?

I know many athletes pursuing Jiu Jitsu as their career all over the world and the general consensus is that making it in Jiu Jitsu full-time is hard.

Even if you’ve made a name for yourself and established yourself as a skilled competitor and instructor. It’s still hard.

As much as I like writing about Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as a martial art and will continue to. It’s still a business at the end of the day and many athletes will still have to pay tuition to their academy, pay rent, tournament fees, nutritional supplements, health insurance, etc.

As Jiu Jitsu continues to grow, more and more people are going to look to make a career out of it, it’s only natural. In the U.S. we’re always told that you should follow your dreams and do what you love.

But what are the options for someone looking to make a career out of Jiu Jitsu?

The most obvious, and the one that I hear everyone say is that you should open up an academy.

Get a black belt, open an academy.

Win a world championship, open an academy.

No other skills, open up an academy.

I expect most high level Jiu Jitsu competitors have had this thought cross their mind at some point. But running an academy is a business, and just like you have to prepare your techniques before entering a tournament, you also have to prepare yourself to run a business.

Starting an academy takes preparation, patience and resources.

And if you foolishly rush into this it can be an expensive lesson.

I will save my views on opening an academy for another post. But for now I want to focus on those that are maybe not ready for this step or have yet to raise the capital to get to this point. Which I believe is where the majority of my friends and many of my readers are at in their Jiu Jitsu careers.

What can you do?

I think the best thing that you can do at this point is to learn about business in general.

If you are dead set on having an academy one day in the future then you should be learning about the business aspects of running an academy as soon as possible.

Easy test: If you had to work the front desk at your academy for one hour would you be able to handle everything without a hitch?

This could include answering the phone, dealing with unhappy clients, signing up new prospects, etc.

You would be surprised that many academy owners and instructors are completely lost when it comes to handling basic business operations. Let alone doing basic accounting, marketing, and sales. Things that make businesses successful.

All the Jiu Jitsu technique in the world won’t help you when it comes running your business.

However, you don’t have to confine yourself to just learning about martial arts businesses. Really, any business experience would be helpful and translate over well.

One summer, I was lucky enough to intern with a friend’s start up during a break in my training.

Of course, I did a lot of errand running but I was also able to develop an understanding for basic business principles by interact with clients, helping close deals, research topics, and doing whatever else that was asked if me.

I’m a big advocate of working for yourself and starting your own business but you have to start somewhere. You need a base of knowledge in some field to work with but this often takes time.

So you need a way to buy yourself time to develop valuable skills while also allowing time for you to train.

Work Part-time

If you are serious about pursuing a career in Jiu Jitsu as a competitor or an instructor you will need a lot of mat time. I’ve seen a few people manage this while working full time jobs and raising a family. But every year it gets harder and harder.

A decade ago you could train once a day while managing a career and still be competitive, but in 2016 you have blue and purple belts training and competing full time.

So you will need to maximize your time spent on the mat while also being able to support yourself financially.

Benefits of working part time

Working part time is a smart way to make money initially while also transitioning into a Jiu Jitsu career. Depending on the part time position, not being confined to an office for many hours will allow you the flexibility you will need in order to train Jiu Jitsu and improve your skills.

Know your finances

I have to write a little bit about finances. If you’re starting to pursue a career in Jiu Jitsu and you don’t already have other streams of income or savings. You are going to need to have your finances down. There’s just no other way. Things that normal people take for granted such as going out to eat, concerts, and most activities involving money won’t help you get closer to your goals.

Travel costs.

Tournaments cost.

Training costs.

There are ways to subsidies these things once you reach a certain level when you have access to sponsors and other entities helping to cover these costs. But for someone starting out, with no name recognition or major tournament success. Your entire focus should be on improving your skills.

There is money in Jiu Jitsu contrary to what many blogs, social media posts, and Internet memes might suggest. But you have to have the skills either in competition or marketing to gain access to that level.

Teaching Jiu Jitsu

Getting a part time position at your academy would be the easiest place to start.

Most Jiu Jitsu writers will suggest starting with the kids program and moving on from there but I would argue that teaching kids Jiu Jitsu is harder than teaching adults Jiu Jitsu and will take longer to get good at. Kids instructors also don’t start off making a lot so you will be doing a lot of hard work for not a lot of pay.

I started off teaching kids when I was just a seventeen year old blue belt and while I’m grateful for all the experience that I gained. I believe it’s better for new instructors to start out by assisting with adult beginner classes and gaining experience before moving on to teaching kids.

Working with adults will allow you the proper environment in order to develop your teaching ability and all the other skills you will need as an instructor such as the ability to speak confidently, logically conveying techniques, and commanding respect so that you will be ready to instruct kids.

Let me tell you this.

When you’re teaching kids your skills have to be on point. They can smell weakness or inexperience and will eat you alive.

It reminds me a lot of when a substitute teacher would cover a class in grade school and the entire class would descend into chaos.

I think many academies have this backwards. They often put their least experienced instructors to teach their kids classes. When I have observed that it’s often better to have your best instructors working with those impressionable minds. But that’s a topic for another day.

Front Desk/Manager

Even if your plan is to teach Jiu Jitsu or to compete. I think you should spend some time working or helping out at the front desk at the academy that you train at.

If you really want to understand how a martial arts business works this is where you need to be. I know so many really talented instructors, with great techniques and knowledge of all things Jiu Jitsu but never took the time to actually learn basic business concepts.

This is okay if you decide to partner with someone with actual business experience. But most academies start off small time and are self financed.

Take a look at just about all of the top academies and you will realize the world champion instructor was just the talent in the equation. Often there is an investor with way more business experience and financial backing that handles everything outside of instruction, at least initially any way.

Examples. The Art of Jiu Jitsu academy and RVCA or Marcelo Garcia and Josh Waitzkin.

The point that I’m trying to impress upon you is that the top academies, the ones that are really grossing six figures or more per year, all have a strong business foundation.

Things that you can learn working the front desk

  1. How to interact with clients
  2. Generating leads
  3. Converting those leads into clients
  4. Organization
  5. Following systems
  6. Talking to people
  7. Writing emails
  8. Responding to emails
  9. Negotiating
  10. Having uncomfortable conversations
  11. Dealing with past dues
  12. Dealing with special cases
  13. Getting shit done

Even if your academy isn’t in need of a front desk manager that doesn’t mean that you can’t discuss business with them or the owner or whoever is in charge of running the business. I’ve found that most times it’s as easy a just asking, especially if the person in charge is business savvy and actually enjoys talking about their business.

I’ve also found that less knowledgeable and less business savvy academy owners are less open to talk about their businesses.

What if there are no openings at your academy?

At larger academies there might already be a large supply of instructors on hand to teach and cover most of the classes.

Even smaller academies might not be able to bring on any supplementary instructors.

I still suggest finding a way to get experience even if you have to volunteer to do it. Think of it as an internship or an apprenticeship that will pay off largely in the future.

Alternatives

There are a lot of part time positions available. Your biggest resource will be the network of students that attend your academy. Many of whom probably have their own businesses or are in positions to hire.

Begin promoting your brand

For higher level athletes and instructors looking to make it in Jiu Jitsu now is the time to start building your own brand. Competing and winning in major tournaments will be the easiest way to get your name out into the collective Jiu Jitsu community.

The first step is the hardest.

I will never forget during my last year as a brown belt. I was working part time for a popular yoga apparel company and still uncertain of my future as a competitor.

I was visiting my former instructors’ academy after a few years of not seeing each other and he sat me down after the training session and we just talked. We talked about my goals and what I was doing to achieve them and he gave me much of the same advice that I’m sharing with you right now.

What I took away from this conversation is that we all have doubts but when you’ve poured so much of yourself into this art. You owe it to yourself to see it through and sometimes it takes someone to just say some motivating words to help you get through those rough patches.

It seems so simple now but having someone that I looked up to, someone that I trusted, say those words to me aloud really motivated me in a way that had an instant impact.

Have you ever had a lightbulb moment when something just clicked?

Well, that’s how I felt after this conversation.

Even if you haven’t had a lot of success there are ways that you can use to differentiate yourself. Competing and winning is definitely the easiest way to do this but I can name many others that were able to find their own unique niche in which they were able to promote themselves.

Alternative sources of income for high level athletes

  • Seminars
  • Private lessons
  • Professional tournaments
  • Online product
  • Instructional DVD/digital download
  • Association
  • Sponsorships

There are a lot of options out there if you have the skill and knowledge. Sometimes it just takes you putting yourself out there. Letting people know that you available for different opportunities and taking advantage of those opportunities when they arise.

Start small by teaching a few private lessons, even if you have to discount them. Just focus on building a clientele until people start actively seeking you for lessons.

The same concept applies to getting seminars. Offer to teach a seminar for a charity event and then leverage that into getting paid to teach.

Keep developing yourself

I think it’s important as athletes and martial artists that we continue to develop ourselves outside of just our techniques on the mat.

One day you won’t be as fast or as strong as you once were. Even if that is a few years off, one day your priorities might change so that you are not able to maintain the same level of training. Whatever the case, you will want to have other skills to fall back on.

The worst case scenario is that you become a really talented competitor that has failed to develop outside of competing. What happens when you become less relevant?

I started writing this post as a guide for many of my friends grinding out there. But I think now more than ever they need encouragement to continue on the paths that they have chosen.

So many people in Jiu Jitsu are struggling. Many of them academy owners struggling to keep their doors open while trying to make ends meet. Others trying to make it as full time competitors in Jiu Jitsu while struggling to get their names out there in the Jiu Jitsu community so that they can do seminars and private lessons.

There is so much potential in Jiu Jitsu and it’s growing every year. It’s been a slower growth relative to MMA, but compared to many of the other combat sports/martial arts there are a lot of possibilities.

Just like how I saw that there was a ray of hope out there. I want you to know that there are ways for you to make it in this industry. No one’s going to lay it all out for you and sometimes it will be hard and you will be discouraged from moving forward. But there is a way.

One of my favorite sayings in Jiu Jitsu is that each person’s journey is a marathon and not a sprint.

Sometimes it takes just hearing that you can make it to actually inspire you to take action and continue on your path.

Losing

This is a topic that’s hard for many athletes to talk about it.

We put so much hard work into achieving our goals but sometimes we end up falling short.

I’ve seen people handle losing in different ways. The humble ones are able to acknowledge their loss(es) and learn from their mistakes which I think is the best possible action. While others might not handle losing so well.

Rio 2016

If you were watching the 2016 Olympics in Rio, there was a lot of controversy over an Egyptian judo athlete refusing the shake the hand of an Israeli athlete after losing in their match. While there are obvious political and religious factors at play. Which I will not touch on. I’ve seen this behavior a few times even absent those factors.

I don’t know what causes athletes to act so unsportsmanlike or maybe sportsmanship is more dependent upon the individual athlete and their values and attitudes. But I think we can all recognize bad sportsmanship when we see it such as in the case above.

I’m not going to talk about the numerous reasons why losing occurs but instead I’m going to focus on how we all can better handle dealing with losing.

Losing is something that I have personally experienced during my career in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

It kind of sucks writing about it but it’s true.
I will say that there are times when losing and having the right mindset can drive you to achieve more. But without the proper mindset, it can become a pit of despair and really hinder your growth and potential.

I’m going to draw from my own personal experience for a bit.

My Past

I received my purple belt during my first year of college. This also coincided with a well know World Champion moving to my academy. I had everything that I needed to succeed. I had great training partners that were a lot better than me, I had the best instructors in the world, and I had all the time in the world to train in between attending my college classes. You would think that I would start tearing up the competition circuit.

But I didn’t. In fact, I lost my first campaign at purple belt, losing my first match at the World Championship that year. I don’t remember if I was down or not, but I do remember being really frustrated. So, I went back home and decided to train harder.

The next year I had a little bit more success than the previous year. I even made it to the finals of the world championship this time. But again, I didn’t come out on top.

It took me three long years at purple belt before I was able to win at the major tournaments like pans and worlds. During that time I trained my ass off and competed as much as I could.

But if I never lost during those earlier years I’m not sure if I would have stuck with Jiu Jitsu and be where I am now. My losses forced me to focus even more on my technique, train harder and smarter, and to continue competing. Losing really is a learning experience but it’s up to the individual in how they handle their losses and move forward from there.

Current favorite athlete to follow

One of my favorite athletes to follow right now is Tammi Musumeci because she writes a lot about her experiences on and off the mats and she doesn’t sugarcoat her life. It’s really refreshing to get that level of insight into the inner workings of a high level competitor and how she deals with the same emotions that we’ve all experienced.

Namely, dealing with setbacks, the expectations, and the obstacles that athletes face in trying to make it to the top. I think we often put our favorite athletes and competitors on a pedestal. We admire their victories and personalities but we often don’t understand the time and the amount effort that it took to get them to that point.

But what about those people that don’t handle losing well?

I believe the people that have the hardest time dealing with loss are those whose entire identities are completely tied to Jiu Jitsu and how well they do in competitions, rolling in the academy, etc.

When they’re winning they feel great. As anyone would. But when they are faced with a setback, or loss, then a lot of times they don’t know how to handle it.

I’ve seen this a lot with students that were considered really talented. Jiu Jitsu came easy to them and they didn’t have to work hard to improve initially. But when it was no longer easy or when they lost to someone with the same amount of experience or less, but considered less talented or gifted. Their first action was often to just quit. That’s why it’s important to have instructors and higher belts to help encourage students through these rough periods.

Higher belt duties

It’s easy to let these students fall off and quit than to actually help them. But from the standpoint of a martial arts business owner, an instructor, and a student. You are losing out on an important part of your academy.

Jiu Jitsu is a people business. Not only are you training their body but you are also developing them. Molding them into something more than what they were when they first began their journey. But if you just let them walk out, not only are you missing out on a client that sustains your business, but also a precious student to pass your knowledge on to, and a valuable training partner.

I remember when I was a brown belt and being one of the best prospects to do well in the 2011 world championship. I felt great going into this tournament and was tearing up the competitions leading up to the event. But I didn’t win. In fact, I didn’t even place.

When I got back home I was so angry and down on myself. I was even bringing my emotions into my training and being an asshole to many of my training partners. I feel like I could have easily continued down this path until something bad would have happened. If it wasn’t for my friend Chris reaching out to me, I might have quit doing Jiu Jitsu.

Chris is someone that I’ve always looked up to and was the top guy in our academy but I’m sure he had been in the same position as me at some point during his competition career. Everyone that competes a lot, or wishes to compete is going to experience loss. We are pretty much courting defeat.

I was lucky enough to have Chris to help me get through this at an important part of my development and it shows the power that a higher belt can have in helping junior students struggling.

That’s why I now make it a point to help lower belts whenever I can, either in person or through my writing and videos. You never truly know what impact your words and actions will have on others. So, let it be for the better.

Asian Influence

This is something that I gleaned from Asian (Japanese) culture that seems lost to us in the U.S. Of course we have respect for elders and those more experienced than ourselves. We have that part down, but the part that we seem to lack is the emphasis of senior students and instructors looking after the well being of the junior students.

In Japan, this is considered the sensei-sempai-kohai relationship. The sensi being the instructor or teacher. The sempai being the older, more experienced student and the Kohai the younger, less experienced student.

Don’t get me wrong. Some academies have a similar setup but it’s not built into the framework of Jiu Jitsu like how we show respect for our training partners before sparring with the fist bump and slap.

I would like to see a greater emphasis from Jiu Jitsu and martial arts instructors in promoting their students in going out of their way to help the lesser experienced students. Of course make sure that they get their technique down and train hard, but to also to take an interest in them personally and their wellbeing as well. As I said above, Jiu Jitsu is a people business.

Development

I remember when I was just the Jiu Jitsu guy. I knew a lot techniques and I did well at tournaments but outside that I really didn’t have any other life experiences or knowledge outside the mats. No one was going to ask me for relationship advice, or my opinion on business matters or anything for that matter.

Now, imagine all you’re good at is one thing and you lose or fail in that one thing.

I hated that feeling.

When you limit yourself to only being good at Jiu Jitsu. Then, what are you left with when you’re not good at Jiu Jitsu either due to circumstance or injury?

I’ve known so many great Jiu Jitsu instructors and competitors over the years that simply got by because they were good at Jiu Jitsu and surrounded themselves with people that looked up to them and only told them what they wanted to hear because they were a black belt world champions.

But there’s no balance in that.

Develop yourself outside Jiu Jitsu

because it’s so important to develop yourself outside of Jiu Jitsu, outside of your career, or your family. Because you need to be more than that, because you are more than that.

Develop other interest, have some skills that you can hone that doesn’t involve Jiu Jitsu or that utilizes your Jiu Jitsu in an entrepreneurial way. Jiu Jitsu is a great martial art. But it’s also a great tool that you can use to better and improve yourself.

For me going to college, traveling, and working in business helped give me a sense of purpose that didn’t revolve around me being good at Jiu Jitsu. There will come a time when we will no longer be able to compete at the highest levels or when other obligations will side track us. That’s when you will be happy that you have other skill sets.

Let go

Learn to let go of your losses. There’s so many things that can cause you to not perform to your best such as:

  • Not feeling well
  • Bad weight cut
  • Opponent had a better day
  • Bad refereeing
  • Wrong gi

There will always be factors that get in your way and sometimes it does temporarily block your progress. At that point it’s up to you to learn from your losses and try to fix whatever might have caused you to not perform at your best.

Even after all of that, sometimes you still won’t be where you want to be and that’s okay. It’s okay to not win every match, it’s okay to be nervous, it’s okay to be the underdog. As long as you’re able to get back on your feet and try again with even more focus and effort, I know you will be alright.

Surviving in Jiu Jitsu

Listen, there is no way to survive in Jiu Jitsu without experiencing loss. Starting out you will be losing to everyone in your academy. That’s just the way that it is, but if you stick it out you will improve and get better.

I think at the colored belt level is when thoughts of losing, or overcoming loss becomes harder. We let our egos get in the way of our development.

I’ve talked about this before in the white belt mindset that white belts are more free in this regard because there really are no expectations for them. Any small victory is a step in the right direction. Every set back a lesson.

But like any skill. The white belt mindset can be developed and honed for any imaginable task.

Martial arts is about being more and gives you the tools to be more. I promise you that after a few weeks, months, and years from now you won’t remember the majority of your losses and setbacks.

In fact, those that you do remember you might begin to think of fondly as the point in time that you decided to rededicate yourself to your training, or as the event that you needed to overcome in order to improve.

Every loss is a lesson

When dealing with losing it’s best to learn whatever you can from the experience and then move on. Keep developing yourself outside of Jiu Jitsu and help others whenever you can. Even a few words could keep someone from completely quitting Jiu Jitsu.

Every loss is a lesson but it’s up to you to figure out what you need to learn from the experience.