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.


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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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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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 the Feynman technique can be easily applied to BJJ. For example, here is how I’ve used it when learning a new guard.

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Training without a gym: Introduction and contents

As I write this, Covid-19 has brought the world to all but a standstill. For those in the BJJ community, it has brought fear and frustration as gyms have closed and training as we used to know it has ceased for what will be an uncertain amount of time.

What can you do if you can’t train? If you can’t go to the gym, or if you don’t have a partner? This series of posts proposes some alternatives and supplements to popular advice circulating on the internet.

While this series has stemmed from the current situation, there will be more added with the intent that all of these posts may be found useful whenever you find yourself unable to go the gym to train.

Training without a gym contents:

    • Feynman technique for BJJ – An overview of how to adapt a learning technique developed by Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman to deepen your BJJ understanding and focus your study
    • 6 degrees – An application of the six degrees of separation idea to BJJ
    • How to study BJJ videos – An in-depth article that provides a framework for deliberate study of BJJ video resources
    • Pre-mortem – An application of the risk management strategy to BJJ; explores a light version (ex. reviewing just-learned technique) and in-depth version (ex. competition preparation)