Note taking in BJJ – Moving beyond passive record keeping

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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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Weekly Video – Technique Analysis: Sickle Sweep

Lately I’ve been finding myself trying the sickle sweep but was finding it very awkward. When I reviewed Emily Kwok’s video, however, it became clear that the biggest problems were understanding which leg I was attacking and adjusting my hips to that leg.

(Note that she goes into a variation and drills after 1:43 but I won’t be talking about those in this post)

The part that I wanted to point out is 1:35 because it gives a good angle of how you have to focus on one leg.  It’s very clear at 1:35 that Emily is attacking her partner’s right leg (left from the viewer’s point of view) – most of her body is on that side, and actually, she’s almost outside of her partner’s leg.

In addition, she’s almost completely on her right side, so that her hips are facing the leg that she’s attacking.

Why is the direction of her hips so important?

Because that’s where her power comes from. Particularly for this sweep (and perhaps the argument can be extended to all sweeps), Emily needs to have both mobility, since she’s moving each of her legs in opposite directions, and power, which comes from driving up with her hips – which is what allows her to come up so smoothly as well.

It’s a very subtle thing, but I’m finding it to be a concept that keeps popping up. So again main takeaway: focus on one leg, then aim your hips in that direction.

Hope that helps!  Try it out the next time you train :)

Fenom Kimonos Gi Review: When it’s time to upgrade your gi game to a womens gi that fits (and isn’t pink)

One of my training partners graciously gifted me her old Fenom Crystal Weave and I have been wearing it nearly every practice.  Though I still love my Fuji All Around gi, I’ve become a big fan of Fenom.  

I had always been a bit wary of gis that were marketed for women as they seemed to be the same as the mens gi, only pink.  But when I put on the Fenom Crystal Weave, I felt a marked difference in fit and comfort.  Plus, it helps that it’s in black, so I get to feel a little badass :)

Fenom Crystal Weave Gi Review

According to Fenom’s blog, the Crystal Weave is their most popular gi.  And for good reason – it’s a lightweight gi that’s strong yet soft, keeping you comfortable and fast.  

Durable and lightweight

I’ve rolled in gis made of a variety of weaves, but the Crystal Weave definitely has a unique softness that doesn’t compromise its durability.  It’s gentle on the skin, which means you’ll never have to worry about gi burns but also infinitely durable, so you also don’t have to worry about it falling apart after just two training sessions.  Case in point – I was given this gi after it had been used for 2 years; I’m now 3 months into using it twice a week and it has no hint of damage. 

Phenomenal fit

The slim tailoring of the shoulders and torso provides a wonderful fit without being bulky.  The pants were definitely cut with the female form in mind, giving room for certain assets without adding length, allowing you full range of movement without worrying about tripping over your own pants (which I may or may not have done while wearing other gis…)

Mix and match

And probably the most unique about Fenom Kimonos is that you can shop gi tops and pants separately, so you can have the combination that’s right for you.

Here’s their size chart from the Crystal Weave:

  • A0 4’10” – 5’1” 85-115 lbs
  • A1 5’2” – 5’5” 115-130 lbs
  • A1 Curvy 5’3” – 5’5” up to 155 lbs
  • A1 Tall 5’6”- 5’9” 115-130 lbs
  • A2 5’6” – 5’9” 130-165 lbs
  • A2 Tall 5’9” – 5’11” 140-160 lbs
  • A2 Curvy 5’6” – 5’9” up to 180 lbs
  • A3 5’10” – 6’1” 165-190 lbs
  • A4 5’6″ – 5’9″ 190-220 lbs

 

More details:

  • Single Piece 550 grams Crystal Weave Top
  • 100% Cotton Rip Stop Pants with Flat Drawstring
  • Embroidered logos

 

So there you have it!  I’ll try to do more product reviews like this in the future – if you have a certain product you’d like me to take a look at, feel free to leave a comment or drop me a line.

Weekly roundup 1/21/17 – 1/27/17

Here are some videos and articles that I thought were interesting this week:

Articles

Which New Techniques Can You Learn the Fastest? @ Grapplearts.com

Stephan always has a practical mindset when it comes to training and this article was exactly what I needed as I’ve been flitting around from technique to technique.  Focusing on one certain style and going for depth is a much better way to go when you’ve been training for a bit.

(If you don’t have a style, just pick one!  If after a couple months it doesn’t feel right, you can branch off into something else.)

Tim Ferriss Podcast ep. 2 Transcript – Tim Ferriss & Josh Waitzkin @ JoelAlain.com

I’ve been having some technical trouble listening to podcasts lately, but I knew I couldn’t let that stop me from finding out about this episode since I’d heard that it was super helpful for BJJ.  I’m now really glad for the transcript because it’s saved me from writing all of my notes!

There’s a lot of great nuggets of wisdom that can be applied to training, especially being more in tune with your internal self and practicing quality.  There’s really a ton in there so highly recommend reading (and re-reading!) or listening at the fourhourworkweek.com/podcast

Videos

The Proper Way to Knee Cut @ Great Grappling

Absolutely mindblowing concept of driving the hips instead of the knee down to the floor.

 

Mount escape – Bridge and roll when your opponent has a deep collar grip @ DraculinoTeam

Basic, yes, but Draculino’s way of explaining is amazing here!

Google image search, "BJJ Gi"

The Best Starter BJJ Gi

Buying Your First BJJ Gi

So you want to start BJJ.  Or maybe you’ve already been training no-gi grappling and you want to start practicing in the gi.

You do a simple Google search and suddenly realize, holy crap, there are a ton of gis to choose from.  Single weave, pearl weave, honey-comb — Are we buying bedsheets? Cereal?!  — not to mention the prices.

With some gis clocking it at an insane $500, all sorts of doubts start to crop up.  “Is it really worth it to buy a gi? What if I decide I only want to practice gi once a week?  What if I decide BJJ isn’t for me altogether?”  After all, you don’t want to invest a couple hundred bucks on a pile of useless fabric.

Continue reading

The best escapes in BJJ

Yin-yang
Photo Credit: Free Grunge Textures – www.freestock.ca via Compfight cc

Aggression and BJJ

Been a bit busy lately as I’m currently in between competitions and been thinking about what direction I’d like to take this blog. As I’ve spoken with more people about BJJ, I’ve noticed that those most dedicated to learning BJJ, not simply for winning competitions or promoting, talk less about particular techniques and more about the inner workings of BJJ. These people also tend to have the chillest personalities, a stark contrast to how aggressive BJJ seems to be, especially noticeable in newcomers and white belts.

In general, aggression is taken as an inseparable part of BJJ. I think part of what causes this aggression is how we’re taught BJJ. We learn the positions – mount, guard, side control, etc. – and the escapes and attacks from those positions. We drill each technique with a partner then learn how to bait and fine tune our timing during sparring sessions. The thing is, we roll how we drill. So if we drill just the positions, we roll focus only on the positions.

The key, however, is not just to master the positions, but to master the transitions as well…

Continue reading

Meditation and visualization in BJJ

Meditating in nature

Photo Credit: ShotHotspot.com via Compfight cc

Berimbolo for your brain

My father used to quote Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” to me when I was young and I find myself going back to that text whenever I’m facing difficulty.  Though BJJ is called “the gentle art,” more often than not BJJ feels like a war and I can’t think of a more apt text than “The Art of War.”

In particular, I turn towards the section where Sun Tzu summarizes with the saying, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” I’ve found meditation and visualization to be the best tools to apply this concept to BJJ.

Know yourself: Meditate

Meditation has a ton of benefits for BJJ players and non-BJJ players alike. One of the biggest benefits is being able to understand your self, your body, and your game.  It’s a time where you can critically assess yourself, from your body’s capabilities, to how you’ve been employing techniques. A great place to start is by asking yourself these 10 questions from Inner BJJ.

During this assessment, it’s a great time to review techniques. While meditating, you can go over techniques with as much detail as you can, paying particular attention to how you can adapt the technique to your body.  By focusing on details, it will also help you create goals based on improving technique, not just being able to submit someone.

Lastly, review previous rolls you have had with teammates or in competition and try to understand why there was success or failure. For me, I’ve become aware that there have been many times where it wasn’t my partner’s larger size that caused me to fail, but my own lack of technique and initiative.

Know your enemy: Visualize

Here’s where things get interesting.  Though you can’t necessarily know your “enemy” completely, visualization can help you to understand patterns in people’s reactions and outcomes of certain movements.

It’s easiest to begin by first visualizing sparring against yourself.  Start small: Visualize grabbing your mirror’s lapel.  How do you usually react?  In your mind, explore different actions and reactions (if you grab the lapel and pull, what happens?), then explore the possibilities of each new situation, like submissions or sweeps. It’s a great mental exercise to combine with technique review as well.

Then if you really want a mental workout, start with a successful submission and work backwards. We’re all told to master one technique, so starting from that technique, try to figure out how to get there, keeping in mind the psychology involved. For instance, if you want to go for an armbar, you have to bait something else first.

Add meditation and visualization to your toolbox and you’ll start to recognize patterns and moments of opportunity much quicker and make your BJJ game even more interesting!

6 things to do when you can’t train BJJ

We all get pulled away from the mats at some point, sometimes through things like injury or sickness, other times by that all-too-demanding thing called life.  While it can be beneficial to take some time off every now and then, being forced not to train can be  aggravating.

For example, I fell seriously ill late last month and the whole ordeal has knocked off more than 3 weeks of training – and I have a competition scheduled next week.  As my energy started to come back, it was a real fight to keep myself from jumping prematurely into training and triggering a relapse.  I actually went to class earlier last week, but the next day I was hampered with lethargy and a runny nose – the equivalent of my body issuing a red flag warning.

Forced rest is boring at best, but in the past couple of weeks I’ve settled on 6 things to do when you can’t get on the mats – and I am willing to bet that you aren’t doing the last one. Continue reading