Get better at BJJ by studying videos of yourself

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video must be worth a million. An easy (and cost-effective!) way to get priceless feedback on your BJJ performance is to simply record yourself during training.

I’ve done this regularly and when most folks ask, they often express hesitation in filming their own self because they feel like there would be no point in studying themselves. In their mind, they already know so little, so how could they help themselves?

This is understandable since for many people, “learning” is an act that requires a teacher. But really, there are two ways to learn:

  1. Learning through understanding mistakes or through the giving of advice
  2. Learning through observation of patterns and intention gaps

The first method is what people traditionally think about for “learning” – it’s how our education system is set up, etc.  Learning is done via an instructor who imparts their knowledge to you, be it piecemeal advice or a structured curriculum.

The second method, however, is what is typically chalked up to “experience.”  Over time, you’ll learn – often the hard way – the proper grips for a toreando pass, or the proper escape from mount, for example. However, studying video footage of yourself allows you to shortcut this process.

One of the biggest values of studying footage of your own self is being able to uncover the intention gap.  Only you know what was going on in your head during the roll, which allows you the opportunity to analyze the thought process that led you to making those decisions.

In other words, if you were to give video footage of yourself to your instructor, they would definitely be able to give you valuable feedback and advice – what you should have done in this situation, what other options were possible, etc.  However, only you would be able to suss out what were the intentions or assumptions you had at the time that led you into those situations in the first place.

For folks both starting out or more advanced, being able to pinpoint what patterns are leading to your most common mistakes and also how to capitalize on your successes is crucial in naturally developing a game/style that’s unique to you.

Here are some recommendations on how to get started.

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Kitsune Views and Heroes gi jackets

Kitsune gi review: Views and Heroes

Previously, we talked about some tips for buying a womens gi as a smaller player and mentioned some money-saving options, like getting a cheaper gi to start (I still stand by Fuji as the best starter BJJ gi).

This post, however, is a bit different.  If money isn’t too much of a concern and you like Japanese ukiyo-e prints, I’d like to turn your eye to Kitsune.  Below, we’ll cover why I have two gis from this brand (and contemplating getting even more from them), a comparison of the Views and Heroes gis, and some further thoughts.

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Tips for buying a womens BJJ gi as a small player

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If your default is extra small, this post is for you.

Before we begin, let me be clear: This is not a buyer’s guide. If you’ve never bought a gi before or buying one after a long time, I highly recommend doing a Google search and reading the top handful of results that show up before continuing with this post.  I will not be going over general best practices – this post is meant to be an addendum to those guides.

Finished? Great.

Some background: As of this writing, it’s been 10 years since my first BJJ class and since then, I’ve gone through dozens of gis.  Not hundreds, as I’m not swimming in money and also because I’ve learned a couple things so I’m not swimming in my gis.

This post is a collection of those learnings, a handful of practical tips that have saved me both money and frustration – because let’s face it, BJJ is hard enough without your gi working against you.

This post will consist of two parts: Getting a gi that fits, and extra money saving tips.

Part 1: Getting a gi that fits

What no one will tell you: There is always a chance the gi will not fit. You can follow every buyer’s guide, each thing on this post, etc. but there is no guarantee that the gi will fit. However, you can increase your chances by going through the steps below.

Fit considerations

Before you start taking out your wallet, it’ll pay to do some thinking about your future plans and your current style.

Consider your plans for competing

Most folks prefer a shorter gi (must be nice to have a choice) but if you intend to compete in IBJJF, note that they have specific uniform rules for gi fit – not to mention color, patch location, etc.  Do yourself a favor and familiarize with the current uniform rules on their website here: IBJJF Uniform Requirements

Additionally, if you intend to compete but not in IBJFF promotions, note that many competitions will hold to IBJJF’s rule set, including their uniform regulations.

Consider your game/style

For us smaller folks, movement is both offense and defense.  The less fabric available for someone to grip you and tie you up, the better chance you have at having the upper hand (or just surviving).

However, if you like using your own gi for attacks, it may actually help to get a gi top that’s not too short. For example, I’m fond of this lapel choke from top side control that uses your own jacket to choke your opponent.  I learned the hard way though that it doesn’t work if I’m wearing a gi that’s too short (which led to me being tossed but that’s a different story).

Other submissions affected by gi length: (sleeve) Ezekiel choke, (jacket length) Brabo chokes, (jacket length) this fancy lapel toehold

We’ll talk about going about getting these measurements in the Know thy measurements section.

Laziest Easiest ways to find a gi that fits

Window shop your teammates

Your teammates are walking advertisements for gis.  Look at what folks your size are wearing, especially the women. If there’s someone around your size wearing a gi that you fancy, ask them about their experience with the gi and if you could try it on before class starts to see how it fits.

Just be nice about it – and actually, just be nice in general.  There’s also a chance that, if people know you’re shopping for gis and understand your trouble getting a smaller gi that fits, they may keep you in mind when, say, their gi shrinks too much, or they don’t like the color of their gi (I actually scored a couple hand-me-down Shoyorolls this way – for free!).

Buy another one

another

The next easiest way to find a gi that fits is, if your current gi fits, just buy the same gi again. Yes, it’s nice to have new, different stuff, but if the gi fits, might be worth investing in another set.

(Big caveat: Getting the same gi and getting a gi from the same company are two different things.  If a company offers several lines of gis, they may use different fabric or a different cut, etc. for each of those gis, all of which can affect fit and shrinkage.)

Know thy self measurements

Getting your measurements takes only a couple minutes and will save you a bunch of heartache later on (more on that in the next section).  Enlisting a trusted person with a tape measure is the best method.  However, if it’s only you or you don’t have a tape measure, you can just use some string and measure that against a ruler, or just lay a set of clothes down on a flat surface and measure those instead.

Recommended measurements

Most gi companies will give measurements for the width and length of each gi piece, so it’ll help to get the matching measurements of your own body.  Below is a chart with general guidance.

Note: Make sure to take down both imperial (ex. inches) and metric (ex. centimeters) measurements as gi companies often only use one system.

Measurement Body Clothes
Wingspan Wrist to wrist Cuff to cuff of a jacket or long-sleeve shirt
Sleeve length Shoulder to wrist Shoulder seam to cuff of a jacket or long-sleeve shirt
Chest *Over the middle of chest *Shirt with a padded bra underneath 
Jacket length *Collarbone to belly button Shirt collar to shirt hem
*Pants width Hip bone to hip bone Pants width (recommended at the hips)
Belt Circle around the hips Belt buckle to preferred belt hole
*Leg width  Middle/thickest part of thigh Middle/thickest part of a one leg of a pair of pants
Pants length Hip bone to ankle bone Outside seam of a pair of pants from top of pants to pants hem
Inside seam Crotch to ankle bone Inside seam of a pair pants from crotch to pants hem (or above depending on fit)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Why these measurements:

  • Over the middle of the chest/Shirt with a padded bra underneath: Unisex or mens gis tend to be boxier, straighter cuts.  A traditional “chest” measurement would be underneath the boobs for women, but to take into account the extra space needed, I recommend going over the middle of your chest.
  • Collarbone to belly button: As mentioned earlier, jacket length is important to consider if  you tend to use your own gi for submissions.  One way to get an ideal measurement for jacket length is to also measure the distance from your belly button to the middle of your thighs, and add this to the measurement of your collarbone to your belly button.
  • Pants width: Again, this is especially important if you’re looking at unisex or mens gis, which tend to have straighter cuts and also narrower in the hips (i.e. it won’t do you any good if the length is okay but you can’t get the pants over your hips).
  • Leg width: Some gi companies share this measurement, which can be extremely helpful if you have thicker legs (ain’t no shame!).

Ask for the gi measurements

Now that you have your measurements, you can compare them against the gi measurements. Note that I didn’t say “size chart” – often, these charts only note height and weight.  But as we’ve seen above, there are some nuance that’s worth looking into (remember, we’re trying to increase our chances of getting a gi that fits).

Before reaching out to the gi company, do check the product pages for a couple gis as sometimes the pictures include a size chart at the end. If the size chart doesn’t have the gi’s exact measurements (common) or if you can’t find a chart at all (also common), reach out using the company’s contact form/info from their site (usually “Contact Us”).

What you can say:

Hi, I was looking to buy one of your gis, but was hoping to look at a more detailed size chart first.  Do you happen to have a chart that includes gi measurements like sleeve length, pants inseam, etc.?

I’ve used the above before and have typically received an email response with a PDF attached within a day or two.

A note on heartbreak

Once the company shares this information, it can be sometimes heartbreakingly clear that things won’t be a good match.  For example, there have been plenty of times where I’ve come across a beautiful gi, only to find that there was no chance that their smallest size would be close enough to fitting me. Yes, most gis shrink a bit, but not more than an inch – and with my size and my style, even an inch is already a risk.

The consolation, however, is that there are new gi companies appearing almost every day.  Trust me, it’s worth the wait to find a gi that matches your measurements.

Look up the return policy

Even after you’ve taken all of these steps, it still helps to look up their return policy.  Some places are quite generous, allowing you to even train in the gi before returning it. That said, do wash it before you send it back!

Part 2: Extra money saving tips

Now that we’re armed with some practical tools to find a gi that will (hopefully! most likely!) fit, let’s add a couple tips to soften the blow to your wallet.

Check cheaper places

Outlet/warehouse type stores often house extra gis at a discounted price.  While it can take some time to look through all of the offerings, the time spent can be worth the money saved.

I recommend identifying a gi you like first, going through all of the steps in part 1 to doublecheck that it’s within your size range, then finally going to one of these outlet/warehouses sites to see if they hold that gi in your size. One particular place I’ve had success purchasing several gis from is Rollmore, but just like gi brands, there are more of these type of companies coming up everyday.

Wait for random deals

If you’re willing to wait, some other options open up: Sales sites like BJJHQ can sometimes slash up to half off of a gi (and sometimes even throw in some free accessories).  Additionally, if you sign up to the mailing list of a certain brand, you can get special access to sales and the like.

The only downside is that this truly is a waiting game, and sometimes you’ll have to wait several months or more. But if bargain shopping is your jam, this may be for you.

Get a cheaper gi first

10 years ago, buying a “cheap” gi really did mean you were selling out on quality.  I don’t think the same can be said nowadays, to be honest.  For example, I’ve seen plenty of people at my gym wearing gis bought from Amazon and holding up to training multiple times a week for over a year.

(For personal recommendations of solid women’s gis that are also reasonably priced, check out my reviews of Fuji and Fenom Kimonos.)  

Secret tip: Kids gis

If you’re small enough, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with getting a kids gi. While children’s gis may be slightly less quality, they can be more than worth it since they’re often half the price of an adult gi. For example, I’ve owned a couple kids gis, each lasting for at least a year (and a couple outlasting some of my adult gis!).

Some things to note though:

  • Pay special attention to pants width: If you thought unisex or mens gis were narrow, kids gis will be even smaller.  (That said, sometimes you can buy two different sized kids gis and still end up paying less than what you’d pay for an adult gi)
  • Many kids gi pants will have elastic waistbands.  While they’re very comfortable, it also means they can be easier to pull down compared to regular pants (this may or may not be why I’m diligent about wearing compression leggings underneath my gi now).

And there you have it, 10 years of wisdom packaged in 2000 words.  If you’ve found any of this useful or have any other tips you’d like to share, drop a comment below!

Pandemic perspectives

Every one of us has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, especially with regards to training BJJ. Curious as to how others were dealing, I reached out to several women in the BJJ community to find out how they’ve been facing this unprecedented time. The short answer: Head on. The long answer: It’s complicated, it varies, and it’s likely to change.  

An accompaniment to the article Lessons in Lockdown for Girls in Gis, the below is a Covid-19 style asynchronous, social-distanced round-table crafted from the reflections of three women navigating this uncertain moment in our world.  

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Training without a gym: Pre-mortem

Previously, we discussed using mental exercises such as the Feynman technique and 6 degrees to deepen knowledge in a particular aspect of BJJ and find connections between different areas (respectively). In doing these exercises – and training BJJ in general – it can be easy to feel overwhelmed with all the details, variations, and situational nuances. To help level-set and remember the core ideas and concepts, I suggest performing a pre-mortem.

Pre-mortem

From Wikipedia:

A pre-mortem, or premortem, is a managerial strategy in which a project team imagines that a project or organization has failed, and then works backward to determine what potentially could lead to the failure of the project or organization.

The beauty of a pre-mortem is that it can be adjusted based on your needs at the moment. A light version can be performed to quickly review what you’ve learned and identify the core ideas and concepts to focus on. In contrast, a more in-depth version can be performed while preparing for a competition, identifying the most important areas of your game to solidify and key opportunities to take advantage of while you still have time to train.

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When we say goodbye (An ode to my gym)

The mats were blue. They were long enough to fit at least seven forward rolls during warmups, wide enough to fit five pairs for footsweep drills, though someone always ended up swerving last minute, either to avoid the pair next to them or the soft spots between the mats.

On Saturdays, sometimes six pairs could fit for rolling, with a corner coned off for drilling, and a rope laid down to mark the space for those practicing Muay Thai. “Don’t get too close to Muay Thai land,” was the caution if you didn’t want an errant knee to your head.

The mats were chilly in the winter, slippery in the summer. Enough give for us to dive recklessly, enough resistance to make us think twice, but still try again.

(When we say goodbye, the mat is damp, clean, shining in the sunlight.)

*

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Fear of forgetting (When we return to BJJ)

‘Will I remember,’ I wondered in the middle of a butterfly sweep, legs lifting an invisible partner, ‘Will I remember what to do when we’re all back on the mat?’

*

2020 was supposed to be a big year. I had gotten promoted near the end of 2019 and the tug of competition had grown more insistent at the turn of the decade.

Injury kept me from the first competition of 2020. Part of me regrets not participating in spite of it.

Who knows when the next one will be now.

*

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Training without a gym: How to study BJJ videos

The main way BJJ practitioners learn BJJ is through live training with an instructor leading the class.  Video can be a powerful supplement to live training if utilized effectively. Unlocking the potential of studying BJJ through video lies in how you go about choosing what, who, and when to study videos.

Note: At the time of this writing, the COVID-19 pandemic is in full swing, causing many BJJ practitioners to completely halt their training.  While videos do have power, using videos to learn brand new positions are best when coupled with live training (see Choosing what to do after studying). 

Since we don’t yet have a way to download abilities a la The Matrix, a general recommendation during this time is to study videos to supplement positions you already know.

Choosing what to study

Video resources can be roughly separated into two types: Tutorials and rolling footage.

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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:

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