Training without a gym: 6 degrees

While the Feynman technique is helpful in testing the depth of your knowledge of a certain technique, position, etc., the below exercise can help find the connections between these seemingly disparate pieces.

6 degrees

From Wikipedia:

Six degrees of separation is the idea that all people are six, or fewer, social connections away from each other.

We can apply this idea to BJJ by trying to find the connections within – and between –  these three broad categories:

  • Positions (different guards, positions of dominance)
  • Transitions (sweeps, passes)
  • Submissions

For example, if I’m just trying to wake up my BJJ brain, I’ll start with just the “Positions” category and choose two at random. Let’s say De la riva and mount. The exercise is then to connect these two positions together in 6 “degrees” – moves – or less.

Things can get even more interesting when the other categories are added. For example, if we use all three:

  • Position: De la riva
  • Transition: Torreando pass
  • Submission: Armbar

The exercise then becomes more like a game with dozens of possibilities. You could try to connect each one within 6 moves, or try to connect all three in 6 moves total. Or set a timer and try to brainstorm as many connections as you can within the 6 “degrees” you’ve defined.

Further, each category can be tweaked to your liking. For example, “Positions” could be narrowed down to only certain guards, “Transitions” limited to only passes, or “Submissions” limited to a certain limb.

Lastly, this is an exercise that can be done without any equipment at all, a more exploratory cousin to visualization that can be used to get the creative wheels turning, no matter if you’re on or off the mats.

Training without a gym: Feynman technique for BJJ

How you train off the mats can be just as important as how you train on the mats. In addition to my note taking routine, I also do the following exercise when doing a monthly review or just looking to add new things to my game.

The Feynman technique

Named after Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, this technique has four simple steps:

  1. Get a sheet of paper and write the concept you’re trying to understand at the top.
  2. Explain the concept as if you were trying to teach it to someone who has never heard it before.
  3. When you get stuck, or find that your answers are lacking detail, go back to your source material for the answer.

(Credit: Ultralearning by Scott Young)

I’ve found that this is particularly helpful when learning a new guard.  I’ll write the name of the guard at the top of a piece of paper and then answer the below questions:

  1. How does this position meet the “three controls” criteria? (Control of the body, distance, posture)
  2. As the guard player, what are the pros and cons to this position?
  3. What are some variations to this guard/combinations with other guards?
  4. What sweeps do you know from this position? From its variations?
  5. What passes do you know from this position? From its variations?

If you’re unable to answer any one of these completely or find that your answers are lacking in substance or detail, then that can help you identify where there may be a gap in your understanding and focus your study.

It’s a pretty quick exercise but I’ve found that it helps a ton because it can be applied to learning not only different guards, but also passes, escapes, high-level concepts etc.

For example, for learning an escape, I’ll have most of the same questions with some slight adjustments:

  1. How does this position meet the “three controls” criteria? (Control of the body, distance, posture)
  2. As the top player, what are the pros and cons to this position?
  3. What are some variations to this position?
  4. What escapes do you know from this position? From its variations?
  5. What submissions should you be wary of from this position? From its variations?

Note that here, you not only are reviewing the escape as the bottom player, but also the controls needed as the top player, rounding out your knowledge of the position.

Lastly, it can help to do this exercise on the same topic multiple times over the course of several days (or months!) so you can see how much you’ve internalized and deepened your knowledge over time.

The best part of your gym (The Importance of You, Again)

“We want this place to be the best part of your day.” It was the smile on my professor’s face that made me believe he was speaking from his heart.


Last week, the world lost one of my coworkers: a hard-working, pup-loving young man whose life had been cut short just when we started to know the best of him.

It was one of the hardest days I’ve ever had at my job.

We were allowed to leave early and I eventually did late in the afternoon, bright-eyed and dazed. At home, the only thing I could do was sit on the couch and stare at the wall.

A notification on my phone broke through the darkness. It was my reminder for BJJ class.

My body moved on autopilot. Somehow, I had made it to the gym. But it wasn’t until I was walking back home that I realized I’d been able to do normal things for a while – and not think about his passing.

I remember pausing in the middle of the sidewalk, overwhelmed with gratitude.

‘How lucky am I,’ I had thought to myself while staring up at the moon with watery eyes, ‘To have a place to go to in a time like this.’


Things didn’t really register until this week. Concerns about COVID-19 had already entered the dialogue at work, not to mention the texts from my parents. But it was when my teammates started talking about it during BJJ class that I truly understood.

The gym would have to close.

Every time the world seemed dark and uncertain, I’d always turned to the gym. There, my instructors worked their BJJ magic so that for just a couple hours, everything would be all right.

But this time, closing the gym was the best “magic” they could do.

The thing is, it won’t be for just a couple hours. And likely more than a couple days – or even weeks.

No one knows how long it will take for COVID-19 to slow down, let alone pass completely.

But what I do know is that I want my gym to still be there when it does.


I’m in a lucky spot: My job can be done from anywhere, so during this time of crisis, I’m still receiving a paycheck. But I know that there are many that can’t say the same.

And I’m willing to bet that most BJJ instructors and gym owners are in that group.

If you can, please continue your membership with your gym. Help them survive the dark uncertainty of this time. They opened their doors to build community; they’ve closed their doors to protect it.

Let’s do what we can so that when this all passes, we can all enter through those doors and be together again, sharing the best part of our day.