Note taking in BJJ – Moving beyond passive record keeping


Some of my BJJ notebooks from the past few years

For most people, note taking in BJJ is a list of techniques and drills that were covered that day, or subs and passes performed successfully while rolling.


Note taking in this way is a logical way to start, especially if you’re brand new to BJJ. Not only does the act of writing help with knowledge retainment, it’s also a good way to keep yourself accountable and make sure you come to class regularly, which is arguably the most important element of progressing at all.


Passive to Proactive


However, I think note taking becomes more useful after you have a bunch of notes already accumulated. My recommendation is twofold – first, set aside time at a regular cadence (ex. every weekend, end of month) to sift through these records and find patterns in your performance.

These patterns can be things that show areas of weakness (subs you keep getting caught in, guards you’re having trouble passing, etc.) or they can be patterns of opportunity (positions you’re hitting sweeps from, positions you’re able to get to in general, etc.).


From here, you’ll likely take some sort of step to strengthen your weaknesses or dig into whatever curiosity you’ve unearthed. For example, a fairly recent pattern I noticed was that I was getting to North South but was getting swept from there. After identifying that weakness, I immediately went to Youtube for videos on maintaining and attacking from North South.


But regardless of what research you do, the second part of my recommendation is to go back to your notebook – and this time, write down proactive notes, things you want to try for the next couple of classes.


This is where I believe note taking can be transformed from a memory aid to a training aid. It builds self-awareness about your own training, helps you set goals to strive for, and provides a private feedback loop which is necessary as you move into higher belts and have to take more ownership over your training.


For me, since adding this reflection/feedback cycle into my routine, I’ve found that not only do I feel like I’ve learned more in the last few months than I have in the past couple years, I’m even more excited to go to class, and more convinced that BJJ is something I’ll be doing for a long time to come.


An addendum: What to note


I’m not going to lie: I’m an obsessive notetaker.  You may find the below to be excessive, and I’m certainly not saying that you should follow all of this.  Rather, I’m sharing the below to help give some ideas on what you could take notes on and highly encourage that you experiment by adding/removing things specific to you.


Post-class notes format:

  • Drills drilled
  • Techniques learned
    • Tip: When writing steps/directions, try to use terms like “inside/outside” or “top/bottom” for limbs because “left/right” is only going to screw things up if you switch sides
  • Who I rolled with and any notes about the roll
  • General thoughts
    • Tip: Write at least 1 positive thing!
    • Note: This is also where I talk about whether or not I hit the proactive notes/goals that I had set for the week


My weekly reflection is much looser and more of a journal entry in a separate notebook and is usually spawned by a series of questions that I ask myself.


For example, if I identify a pattern of weakness:

  • What’s happening before this?
    • i.e. Am I giving up something/creating this situation by doing something unconsciously?
  • What’s one thing I can try?
    • Note: This is usually after I’ve binge-watched Youtube videos, so I force myself to focus and choose just one thing to try that week
  • How can I break down this thing into small bits?
    • ex. If I’m trying for a new sweep, I break things down into the position, the grips, the reaction, the timing, and will focus on one portion for a couple classes/weeks 


Or if I’m reflecting on the proactive notes/goals that I set for myself that week:

  • Was this the right answer to the problem?
  • Is there a movement I need to drill to be more successful?
  • Did I break it down small enough?

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