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.